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USSR, 1979 (MIFF 1980, Programme 69)

Director: Sergei Eisenstein

"Sergei Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico! (1930-32) occasioned one of the 1930's messiest artistic brawls. Following Eisenstein's fruitless Hollywood trip, novelist Upton Sinclair raised funds to allow the director to film a Mexican 'travelogue'. Eisenstein overran his modest budget, Sinclair seized the unfinished film and hired a producer of Tarzan movies to make a narrative of it. The unhappy result, Thunder Over Mexico, precipitated a torrent of ink, international defense committees for the protection of Eisenstein's concept, and picket lines around the Rialto. Sinclair never recovered his reputation, nor Eisenstein his film. Some 30 years after the director's death, what was left of the footage made its way back to Moscow. Now, Grigory Aleksandrov, Eisenstein's longtime associate, has edited the material the way they had planned...

"Despite the logistical hassles, Eisenstein enjoyed a tremendous surge of creative energy. He returned to drawing for the first time since adolescence, filling cartons with his sketches. Sinclair was later shocked to stumble upon a cache of satirically blasphemous and homoerotic cartoons. Eisenstein fabricated a dream of Mexico out of what he found, lavishing miles of footage on rituals and fiestas, with an eye for the most baroque costumes and grotesque masks. He posed naked boys amid the ruins of Chichen Itza and draped barebreasted Indian madonnas across sun-dappled hammocks. Everything was sexualized - a peasant revolt triggered by the rape of a peon's bride. Mexico became a sensual, death-obsessed hallucination. Children feasting on sugar-candy skulls, lines of pilgrims crawling towards the shrine of Guadalupe on their knees."

Extracts from an article by J Hoberman in The Village Voice.

Although it is possible to quibble with the organisation of the material, it still bears the majestic hallmarks of an Eisenstein film and its re-release is a cultural event of the greatest importance.

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