Remarkable! Pure Visual Poetry
Curtis Allan | Seattle, WA | 08/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sergei Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico is a film that captures the majesty, awe, and tragedy of Mexico better than any other I have ever seen. And it does so not with dialogue or plot, but rather thru "a sequence of short novellas" (Eisenstein's words) which each develop and play convincingly into the next. Each of these vignettes to me display a celebration of real Mexican culture and a subtle depreciation of those things which came from Spain. They evoke the heart of true Mexican patriotism as if it were struck directly from a Rivera mural. For anyone interested in Mexico or Mexican cinema, Que Viva Mexico is an absolute must.
Que Viva Mexico is certainly one of the most famous "unfinished" films in history, with a tragic star-laced history about which whole books have been published. In a few words, Sergei Eisenstein went to Hollywood but was almost immediately ostracized by the old studio moguls. Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin led him to the famed moralist, communist, and novelist Upton Sinclair, who agreed to finance a south-of-the border film. The budget was $25k and shooting was to take four months. Sinclair's brother-in-law was to tag along and supervise. A couple of Eisenstein's Russians comrades would handle the cinematography and equipment.
Exactly what happened after that is a matter of some dispute, including countless cross and counter accusations of extremely lewd behavior and fabulous revelry. What is certain is that after 11 months in Mexico the film was still missing its final section and Sinclair pulled the plug on the whole operation. Furious, he then managed to block Eisenstein's return to America and convince Stalin he had been a poor communist. Sinclair kept all the footage and Eisenstein was sent back to Russia in shame.
Eisenstein still believed he could make a great film out of his footage and fought to get it back, but Sinclair refused and had it edited by his own Hollywood producer. From this work came the feature Thunder Over Mexico (1933) and the shorts Eisenstein in Mexico (1933) and Death Day (1934). While these versions influenced great future directors like Welles, Huston, Bunuel, and Leone, they were not the real vision of the great director. In the 1970s, the Russians finally got the reels, and Grigori Aleksandrov, who had been there and assisted with the original filming, put it back together following Eisenstein's original plan.
Back to the film, it is essentially a silent with narration, a music track, and limited sound effects added. I don't have any problem with this as the alternative would have been to fabricate intertitles which would have been even less natural. Anyway talkies were already completely dominant by 1932 and Chaplin used a sound effect track in all his later silents. The musical track is sheer magic and certainly benefits from the extra years. There is an abrupt break when the final unfilmed section is reached, before we are taken back to the Day of the Dead epilogue. Frankly, I don't think much was lost here: Eisenstein was right when he said he didn't need that last segment to finish the film. The third segment was already just a bit long, and adding the fourth (a continuation of the third) would have unbalanced the film. Hence I would have just run the third segment straight into a more somber start of the epilogue. But the way it was done does show us what was "lost", so in that sense it is valid. My only qualm with this DVD is the fact that it doesn't have Spanish subtitles, as I think all Mexicans should experience this film!
One last thing: the 1946 epoca dorada classic Enamorada by famed Mexican director Emilio Fernandez could be seen as a sort of tribute film to Eisenstein and Que Viva Mexico, as it basically fills out a story based on the sodadera lost segment of this film.
The Mexico We'll Never See Again!
Lewis T. Pace, Jr. | Queretaro, Mexico | 06/30/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was introduced to Eisenstein in college (Radio/TV/Film), but saw the film (Russian soundtrack -- Spanish subtitles) while living in Mexico. Eisenstein's gift to us is two-fold. First, the sheer artistry of his images. Second, and even more important to me, the images themselves were drawn from a Mexico that no longer exists. Maguey plants so tall that a man can "STAND" on a leaf more than 20 feet above the ground to get a better shot at his enemy! Young girls preparing for a wedding in the Yucatan -- wearing only grass skirts as they paddle dugout canoes from hut to hut built on stilts above the water. The people are timeless. The rural Mexican is an Aztec who politely condescends to speak Spanish. You see that in every face on which the camera rests.The film was assembled by the original cameraman, working with the master's original shooting script (with editing instructions in Eisenstein's own handwriting in the margins).Obviously "pieced" together as a compendium of what was meant to be several films, these vignettes are truly a classic treasure!"
Eisenstein has captured the elusive soul of Mexico!
Fredric G. Posner | USA | 02/08/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Eisenstein's film crew pieced together this incomplete opus of the histroy and spirit of Mexico years after the great director's death. The result is a mixture of documentary and docu-drama that reflects the great Soviet filmmaker's unique sensibilities and dramatic stylings. The story of the film's genesis is the subject of several books on the art of Eisenstein's cinema. The film is presented in a collage of segments that delve under the masks and into the layers of the mysterious Mexican soul. The film is a must if you are a Mexicophile or just a film buff."
Eisenstein's Mexican Odyssey
Scott T. Rivers | Los Angeles, CA USA | 05/17/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Que Viva Mexico" (1931-32) remains among the best-known "unfinished" films. So much has been written about this visually impressive yet disaster-ridden production that it has become a cinematic legend. The influential Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein never was allowed to edit or complete his passionate study of Mexico's cultural history. However, his footage survived in the form of several abridged versions. In 1979, Eisenstein's one-time colleague, Grigori Alexandrov, produced a 90-minute re-edit based on his first-hand recollections and the director's notes. The existing film is a compromise - evocative and dazzling at times, yet an enigmatic blueprint for a more ambitious project. It is one of cinema's great tragedies that Eisenstein was prevented from fully realizing his Mexican odyssey. Though much has been lost, the surviving images from "Que Viva Mexico" linger in the memory - notably the disturbing parade of skulls and death masks in the Day of the Dead sequence. The influence of Eisenstein's exotic, surreal vision can be found in the works of legendary filmmakers such as Luis Bunuel, John Huston and Orson Welles. Most importantly, Eisenstein's love affair with Mexico has been reciprocated by the country and its artists.