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Although its coscenarist and director, Sergei M. Eisenstein did not live to complete "Que Viva Mexico?," the Russian who reconstructed this 1979 version for Mosfilm, Grigori Alexandrov, co-authored the film and worked closely with Eisenstein in 1931 and 1932 in the filming of the footage ultimately fashioned into several pictures, including butchered versions released by Sol Lesser and even some Bell and Howell documentaries! At some point, the man who initially commissioned the movie, Upton Sinclair, donated all or almost all of Eisenstein's footage to the Museum of Modern Art, which made it available as it was shot (take by take by take) in a "study" film. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an edited version has appeared in video, and for that, Eisenstein fans and lovers of cinema should be jubilant! Even if Alexandrov had cut the footage completely out of order and in a form that would make Sergei Mikhailovich roll over in his grave, we can appreciate the dynamic power of the images, so ingeniously composed and photographed by Eisenstein with his longtime cameraman, Eduard Tisse. Of course, Eisenstein's remarkable scenario could never be realized EXACTLY as he wrote it, but Alexandrov did an admirable job all the same. In whatever form we see it, Eisenstein's footage reminds us that this aborted masterpiece, had he been able to complete the movie, would have been just that -- one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. It is a tragedy for film lovers that Eisenstein could not obtain the negative from the Sinclair cabal (which included the American author's Pasadena, California Standard Oil cronies!) at the time. But this 1979 version is better than nothing, and a lot better than many so-called movies churned out by Hollywood today. The film should be studied by every student of cinema, and especially photographers and editors. In truth, Eisenstein probably was planning as many as six different films, but Sinclair sent his alcoholic brother-in-law to ride herd on the Russians, to the result that the "plug was pulled" on the production short of its completion by Eisenstein. Frankly, had the latter managed to complete the movie and edit it himself, I am convinced film buffs would put it right up there with "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca" (i.e. among the greatest masterpieces of cinema). I recommend the film highly, if only as a reminder of what might have been!
This is the greatest documentary fiction I've ever seen, despite this
movie was incomplete the beauty of the images is great, with a great
culture you can make magic with the camera. The Mexican people have a
wonderful big culture and personally I didn't know a little things
about my own country.
About the part of fiction is great that this reality is happening know and the sense of revolution is present, i think that only a Russian could understand the sense of the work people.
The drama and the courage of the indians in the defense of the honor and the repression is a symbol of the revolution that needs the country.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1931, Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov and another crew
member moved to USA, to work for Paramount, but the agreement never
happened. The team decided to go to Mexico to make a movie about its
history and culture. They joined some Mexican intellectuals, traveled
around Mexico trying to assimilate the culture of the people, and shot
film. However, for some unexplained reason, the laboratory that
revealed the films in Hollywood, kept them and sent them to a Museum in
New York, and Eisenstein was never able to edit his movie. In 1979, the
Soviet Union government retrieved the fragments and Grigori Aleksandrov
edited this movie, based on the notes and storyboard of Eisenstein.
"¡Que Viva Mexico! - Da zdravstvuyet Meksika!" is divided in three
parts. The first one (introduction) gives a historical panel of Mexico
and the Mexican people. The second part is a fiction based on the
dramatic fate of a bride, submitted to the powerful farmer of the area
close to her wedding day, and her fiancé, his brother and two friends
trying to rescue her. The conclusion of the story would be called
""Soldadera", the wives of the soldiers, and would be based on the
revolution of Mexican people. Unfortunately Eisenstein had no more
budgets to film the rest of the story. The last part, called Epilog, is
about the celebration of the "memorial day' (day of the dead "dia de
finados"), with the population wearing masks of skull and celebrating
death. The footages are amazing, considering they were shot in 1931. My
vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Viva Mexico!
Considering that Que Viva Mexico was (mostly) made by Sergei
Eisenstein, and funded by Upton Sinclair, the most happy surprise is
that the film isn't overloaded with the kind of communist/socialist
propaganda that would be immediately expected. It's not that this would
be a bad thing in the technical sense; Eisenstein, on the front of
being a pure visionary, couldn't be stopped no matter how thin he
stretched himself for his means as a director who had to stay to
party/country guidelines. And for Sinclair, the meatier the context the
better the hyperbole. But with Que Viva Mexico! we get a view of the
people and customs like out of a measured fever dream. We're given
more-so the customs and the traditions, the practice of a marriage, the
bullfights, some of the context of the history behind those 'Day of the
Dead' parades. Only here and there are any blatant pleas seen and heard
loud and clear (mostly involving the poorest of the poor in the lot).
Actually, it could be something, in a sense, comparable to Werner Herzog in attempting the documentary form. It's not quite fiction, but it's presenting documentary in a stylized manner, where things aren't simply stock footage but very much a set-up of the construction of drama in the scenes and scene-location specific shots and angles. And like Herzog, Eisenstein has a poet's eye for visions that many might only see in the most remote history books or travelogues. While the accompanying narration for Que Viva Mexico is a little on the creaky end, there's no lack of splendor for the senses as far as getting an eye full of carefully picked locals (i.e. the girl Concepcion for the marriage scenes) or for mixing real documentary footage of the bullfight with careful constructed shots of the bullfighter before and after the fact. Even the music plays a nifty role in the dramatization of events. And here and there, especially as the film rolls along in its last third, a subtle sensation of the surreal drifts into the proceedings.
Unfortunately, like It's All True for Orson Welles, Que Viva Mexico remains something of a carefully plucked fragment from a lost bit in the director's career. It's a minor marvel, and certainly more than a curiosity for the die-hard documentary or Mexican history buff, but it's stayed obscurer than Eisenstein's more infamous pieces (Potemkin, Alexander Nevksy) for a reason. Despite all the best intentions to simply reveal the cultural day-to-day workings and a little of the socio-political context of the Conquistadors' impact, it's a cool curiosity at best.
Film buffs know the history of this lost all too well- Eisenstein came to
Hollywood to work for Paramount, Paramount and Sergei never really saw eye
to eye. Before giving up on making an American Production, Upton Sinclair
invited Eisenstein to make a feature film about Mexico.
Eisenstein shot miles of footage, and the money and interest from backers
ran out. Eisenstein was forced to return to his native Russia without his
Mexican footage. The footage was cut together by others at about this time
to make THUNDER OVER MEXICO, and they did not follow Eisenstein's editing
notes (They simply made an edit every four seconds. Watch the film and
count, you'll see what I mean...) This version, completed by his associates
30 years after his 1948 death comes close to Eisenstein's intent, but
without Eisensetin at the editing board, something is missing.
This resulting video is entralling. His incredible shot compositions (which influence me to no end as a film-maker) are all there. There's one scene, which involves a shoot-out reminds us what a John Wayne western directed by Eisenstein would of lookied like.
It's unbelievable how everything can be art when you look through the eyes of a genius. Sergei Eisenstein: the master of editing, the great father of Russian cinema, a role model for other famous directors like Charlie Chaplin or Andrei Tarkovski; author of cinematic masterpieces like Battleship Potemkin, Ivan the Terrible and Alexander Nevsky. Now we have his version of his Mexican adventure: "Que Viva Mexico!" an epic semi-documentary lost in time. Why was it lost in time for decades? Because no one in Russia or in the USA trusted this film enough to show it. Eisenstein was a nobody when he arrived in the USA to plan another project, the soviet authorities didn't want him in the USSR due to his polemic point of views of the October Revolution and the czarism. Sergei adored Mexico because of its beauty and its hospitality. Famous Mexican painters like Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo and David Alfaro Siqueiros, along with his Russian partner Trotsky, helped him to inspire. Eisenstein filmed his version of the Mexican traditions and he was very close. As a Mexican, I didn't realized how magical these traditions were until I watched this film. A really good film maker knows how to show the real life in a fantastic way. Now, do I have to say the name of this really good film maker? I don't think so, I think you already know. "Que Viva Mexico!" highly recommendable, Mexican fellows: watch it, this is your real country.
The general plan of this film is strongly reminiscent of two films that
Walt Disney made at the request of the State Department during World
War II, namely SALUDOS AMIGOS and THE THREE CABALLEROS. The content
here is serious and dramatic, the Disney approach is funny
entertainment in cartoon form, but similarities are unmistakable.
It is also my understanding that the U.S. State Department sent Orson Welles to Brazil to make a film. Reels and Reels of film were shot, the funding fathers were not given progress reports that convinced them that anything like they wanted would ever result, and the funding was cut off. The fate of the reels and reels of Welles shot film seems quite similar to what happened to Que Viva Mexico.
As a personal evaluation and comment, I would like to add to what others have written, that I saw nothing in this film that could possibly be construed as blatant propaganda. Great films like CASABLANCA and GONE WITH THE WIND have a strong propaganda element to them, the first one, wartime "Us are Good Guys, Nazis are Bad" and the second one "Slavery and the Ku Klux Klan were the good guys, Dixie and the Old South were just wonderful". QUE VIVA Mexico has less propaganda.
If you know about Sergei Eisenstein's "Que Viva Mexico! - Da
zdravstvuyet Meksika!", you probably know that Eisenstein ran out of
money and left the movie incomplete, so collaborator Grigoriy
Aleksandrov organized the footage as close to how Eisenstein envisioned
it. I personally thought that it was a fascinating movie, but one of
many films where they throw so much at you that it's really hard to
Knowing that Eisenstein met with the execs at Paramount Pictures but didn't see eye to eye with them, I get the feeling that he may have made this movie in part to indict US involvement in Latin America. As we Americans were supposed to view our southern neighbor as the land of sombreros and senoritas, he wanted to show that there was a more serious-intellectual side, and of course the indigenous aspect.
In my opinion, the combination of the Day of the Dead sequence and the rebellion at the end really constitute the movie's strength, sort of like the rebellion in "Battleship Potemkin". Much of the rest of the film consists of very exaggerated facial expressions (the Russians love those, don't they?). But either way, I still recommend the movie as an important installation in cinematic history, exactly the sort of thing to show in film classes. If anything surprised me, it was that they were allowed to show nudity; I always sort of assume that no major movie in any country was allowed to back then (but don't get me wrong: some of those women were really hot!).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Viva La Riza! The movie portrays Mexican culture in a great way. It show the history of Mexico from pre-Conquest civilization to the Mexican revolutions of the early 20th century. Despite that, the movie is still a flawed masterpiece from Russian avant-garde director Sergei Eisenstein. The production for the film was beset by difficulties that Sergei couldn't stop. First off, shooting for the film was delay, by the Mexican government, due to the fact, that Sergei Eisenstein's films are known for their political subversion. Fearing that, Eisenstein would spark, yet another national revolt, toward communism. The Mexican government would only allow the Soviet filmmakers entry into their country, if they agree to their condition about how the film was going to be portray. In their agreement, the film was not to show or imply anything that could be construed as insulting to or critical of post-Revolution Mexico. This condition meant, that Sergei's original intended to document the mythic struggle of a Mexican people in a perpetual state of unrest, would not happen. If Sergei didn't comply with the agreement, the filmed material would be subject to censorship and taken by the Mexican government. In the end, the movie was never molded into the film that he has intended. Maybe it's a good thing, because Communist Propaganda driven movie, would be a harder film to watch. Another problem that Sergei face, during production was the lack of money, funding the trip. Most of the film's American financiers back off when the filming for the film went a little over budget during shooting. Things got worse for Sergei, when lead financier, Upton Sinclair stop funding the film, due to their disagreement on how the film was going to be shot. Upton Sinclair wanted an artistic travelogue; while Eisenstein wanted a multi-part film, almost like an anthology with each part focused on a different subculture of the Mexican peoples. The movie was supposed to be divide into six parts: Prologue, Sandunga, Conquest, Fiesta, Magey, Soldadera and Epilogue. The film as a whole, would have parts, base on some primal element (stone, water, iron, fire, air), and have a overlooking story of romantic as the movie moves from themes of life and death, culminating in the mockery of death. The soundtrack in each case would feature a different Mexican folk song. Sadly, the movie didn't go that way. After various projects proposed by Charles Chaplin and Paramount Pictures fell through. The studio released him from his contract, leaving the production with little to no budget. It didn't help that his own country, the Soviet Union was turning their back, from him, due to Eisenstein's foray onto the western culture. They saw it, as an act of betrayal. When Eisenstein try to defect to the United States, by entering American border, during production. They decline him, when they found out, that his re-entry visa had expired. With no studio to edit his film, he was forced to return to the Soviet Union, after production, but due to his vision of communism. It brought him into conflict with officials in the ruling regime of Joseph Stalin until Eisenstein's death in 1948. Due to these reasons, the film was shelf for years. In 1979, the Soviet Union government retrieved the fragments of the film, and forced assistant director, Grigori Aleksandrov to edit this movie, based on the notes and storyboard of Eisenstein. The film was divided in three parts. The first one introduction gives a historical panel of Mexico and the Mexican people. This part, was well-shot and felt like a documentary. This part in the film was very much influenced by the works of with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera as it moves as if the frames were frescoes. The second part doesn't feel like a documentary at all. The second part had a fiction story about a bride kidnap by a powerful farmer on her wedding day, and her fiancé, his brother and two friends trying to rescue her. It was a bit odd to watch. This part is example of avant-garde aesthetics, an exercise in form rather than documentary realism; but indirectly, recreate the Mexican culture atmosphere. Unfortunately, the conclusion of the story was never finish, as Eisenstein had no more money to film, the rest. The last part, called Epilog, tells the celebration of Day of the Dead AKA dia de finados, with the population wearing masks of skull and celebrating death. This part of the film was supposed to be the incarnation of Surrealism, but somehow the message was lost in this version of the film. Overall: It kinda hurts, that the movie was release, a little late. In many ways, the movie looks and feels somewhat dated. While, the film still displays all of Eisenstein's revolutionary techniques. It looks pretty cheap, looking. It didn't do a good job, proving his narrative style nor does it show Mexican in a realistic light. It look good, but just think, if the film didn't have all those roadblocks. It could have been great. In the end, this awe-inspiring film stands as a testament to what might have been.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1929: Sergei Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov and Eduard Tisse headed
West in search for contracts. A short documentary (unfinished) for a
German client, then in France their first sound movie (Romance
Sentimentale). Nevertheless the target was Hollywood, where Eisenstein
would not succeed to find a contract (neither would Leni Riefenstahl, a
couple of years later).
After one year, in 1930, Upton Sinclair sponsored the Soviet team for a movie about Mexico. The movie couldn't be finished: lack of more money, lack of more time. The guys went back to Moscow and the filmed material remained at Upton Sinclair.
There are several contradictory versions about what happened and why it happened; anyway, the footage arrived eventually at Moscow, in the seventies. Eisenstein and Tisse were dead by that time. Only Aleksandrov was alive. He restored the material and asked Sergei Bondarchuk to be the narrator: the result was да здравствует Мексика! (¡Que viva México!).
The movie has six episodes: a prologue (Tisse moving slowly the camera over pyramids, Aztec sculptures, motionless people along carved deities, a country that's extremely diverse, where all ages of history coexist, timelessly and motionlessly) - a wedding (in a place where the society is still living in matriarchate) - a religious procession (superb images again: three youngsters carrying the cross, toward three priests like Aztec masks, facing three skulls) - a corrida - a story with three young peasants killed by a landlord and buried alive (Tisse gave here a very shocking image, while one of the most powerful cinematic scenes I have ever seen) - the epilogue (a joyful festival for the All Souls Day, a fabulous celebration of the Dead). A seventh episode was no more shot, Soldaderas, Eisenstein had in mind to focus it on women, the female Revolution soldiers.
The restitution made by Aleksandrov seemed to me very honest - he didn't add anything, and, very important, he didn't edit the film - I'm sure Eisenstein would have put the episodes in parallel like in Griffith's Intolerance; Aleksandrov let them sequential, which was fortunate - one needs the genius of Griffith or Eisenstein to not fail. Only a titan has that power to tell four or five stories in the same time, following their rhythm.
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