Mexico / USA, 1940 (MIFF 1955, Programme 6)
Director: Based on material by Sergei Eisenstein
In 1931 after an abortive attempt to work at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, Eisenstein went to Mexico where he planned to make “a living history” of the country and native Indian people.
The projected film was to be called Que Viva Mexico and was to have been a monumental production recounting the story of Mexican civilisation from the native culture which existed before the Spanish conquest up to the present time.
Within a "frame" of documentary material dealing with the celebration of the ancient ceremony of "Death Day" in pre-Spanish and modern settings, Eisenstein intended to show four personal stories each typical of a particular period and social group.
The common factor linking these stories was to be the birth and insistence of life; but the preoccupation with death, established by the documentary prologue, was to form a continuous thread in the narrative.
Before the work was complete and after he had shot 170,000 feet of film, Eisenstein quarrelled with Upton Sinclair, who had arranged the financing of the film, and all the material he had directed, which was in the USA for processing, was retained by Sinclair.
In spite of Sinclair's promises to send the material to Moscow to be edited by Eisenstein, he eventually engaged Sol Lesser at Paramount to edit a film which was released in 1933 as Thunder Over Mexico. Using routine editing technique, it conveyed the story of one of the original episodes.
Immediately there was an outcry. “Experimental Cinema” printed - and the English journal “Close Up” followed - a denunciation of this Lesser version as “the worst crime in the annals of cinema” and demanded the return of the material to Eisenstein.
Meanwhile Eisenstein had returned to Russia, broken-hearted at the loss of what he described as “the work he loved more than anything else in his life”. Some years later, he spoke of the film at length to Marie Seton, idea by idea, and on the basis of these conversations she has tried in Time in the Sun to give an indication of his intentions. The film was made in 1939/40, when, having discovered that the material was still intact and made further efforts to have it made available to Eisenstein, she bought the rights to 16,000 feet, but the war put an end to all remaining hopes of rescuing the negative.
Marie Seton has said “This film is not Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico, but a skeleton of his intent made with the remembrance of what he had told me with such great pain”.