(1979) dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori Aleksandrov
This film is an interesting artifact, a partial documentary that wraps itself around a reconstructed, never completed film by Sergei Eisenstein, one of cinema’s earliest masters and theorists. Even more unusual is that this film was shot in Mexico in 1930-1931 with a convoluted story around its funding, its concept, and the reason that Eisenstein never got to finish the film. Associated with the writer Upton Sinclair, Charlie Chaplin, Diego Rivera and others, the story of the filmmaking itself would probably make a good movie. And close companion and co-director, Grigori Aleksandrov, reconstructed the film from shooting scripts and designs that Eisenstein left behind. The footage was not returned to the USSR until the late 1970’s.
The movie is a mishmash, segmented into six parts, all disparate, ranging from the many characteristics of Mexico that awed Eisenstein. One can almost imagine his rapture and the starkness of the landscape and culture to a native Russian in those times. He drinks up the pyramids and the sculptured faces of Mayan and Aztec gods, compares them to the faces of the native peoples. He is utterly in love with the “Maguey” cactus and its harvesting for the making of liquor. The cactuses are as prominent a feature in the film as anything.
Though he delves briefly into colonial trappings like bullfights and the more European upper class boat rides and styles, he aligns himself with the common man in his portraiture and interest. One segment of the film has the rich land owners in a fight with the poorer folks in something that is almost like a true Western, gun fights and action, oh my!
There are flashes of his classical Formalist compositions, aligning images within the frame in aesthetically pleasing but completely unnatural ways, while much of the time, he drinks the landscape and people’s faces as they are. But some of those moments, such as in a scene of dancing, when two couples part the screen in separate directions to reveal a small lamb, some of those things are amazing.
But it is the little bits and pieces, not the whole, I would say. There are many and this film could be interesting to know more about. Eisenstein himself would be good to know more about.