Date of Award

5-8-2012

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

First Advisor

RodrÌ_guez N̼̱ez, VÌ_ctor

Abstract

This essay studies ¡Qué viva México!, a production filmed by the distinguished Russian director Sergei M. Eisenstein in 1930 that, for various reasons, was never completed. The version analyzed in this study was produced under the supervision of Grigoriy Alexandrov in 1979. The cinematographic analysis pays special attention to the characteristics of the work, its content and form, which signified a distancing from socialist realism, the official aesthetic of the Soviet Union beginning in 1932, and a move toward revolutionary visual art in Mexico, specifically muralismo. With his unfinished work, Eisenstein, while although representative of participatory metropolitan art, refuses to assume a dogmatic position. Rather, he opens himself up to the art of the periphery, characterized by an opposition to colonialism. Furthermore, the experience of ¡Qué viva México! not only transformed the aesthetic of the Soviet director but also the newly created and growing Mexican cinema. While some critics consider it a touristic work that romanticizes and even degrades Mexican village life, others argue that it indicates the beginning of a cinematographic aesthetic for Mexico. In 1930 Eisenstein traveled to the United States on an invitation to make a film in Hollywood. The director never successfully finalized a project and afterward continued on to Mexico, where he began to make a film financed by the American writer Upton Sinclair and his wife Mary. Eisenstein worked on his film during a crucial period for both Mexico and the Soviet Union. The countries experienced revolutions in 1910 and 1917, respectively. The career of the filmmaker had had notable development and his name was already known in Europe and the United States. ¡Qué viva México! is considered, at the same time, both as one of Eisenstein's most important films and as the greatest failure of his professional life. Due to limited funds and being denied reentry into the United States, he was never able to complete the film. The sequences of ¡Qué viva México! that the director had sent to producers remained in the United States until the second half of the twentieth century. The first version of the film, Thunder over Mexico (Lesser, 1933), premiered in Hollywood in May of 1933. Viewers immediately expressed their concerns over the lack of consideration producers had given to Eisenstein's true vision. On May 21st, The New York Times published an article that declared: "Those who regard Eisenstein as the greatest exponent of communistic art were openly hostile that Hollywood should lay hands on the film. It was desecration, they said" (Activities 3). The same article mentions that even the police had to control the premier showing due to fear of violent confrontation. (Activities 3). Despite the controversy, Thunder over Mexico did not gain much popularity. The same occurred with the other films made from material filmed by Eisenstein in Mexico. Upton Sinclair consented to the production of these films, including Day of the Dead (Lesser, 1934), Time in the Sun (Seton, 1940) and Mexican Symphony (Kruse 1941) (Salazkina 1). Eventually Sinclair conceded the film material to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it was edited for academic purposes. The version studied in this essay, which is most loyal to the original project, was restored and finished in the USSR by Grigoriy Alexandrov, one of Eisenstein's principal collaborators, in 1979. But the history of this film does not end here: seven years ago, a German film maker, Lutz Becker, began using new digital techniques to create a new version of the film for a contemporary audience. The methodology for the cinematographic analysis of ¡Qué viva México! is socio-historic, taking into consideration the context in which the film was produced, and including a narrative of the Mexican and Russian revolutions and their respective cultural politics. Using this knowledge as well as that of the life of Eisenstein, this work analyzes the film in search of what Timothy Corrigan calls "key moments, patterns, or images within the film," as well as "unfamiliar or perplexing elements" (Corrigan 23). I investigate the characters and the mise-en-scène - costumes, setting, lighting and decorations. I try to establish a parallel between the Russian director's film and Mexican visual artists of the same era, considering previous studies by specialists in the field. Finally, I focus on the question of Soviet socialist realism to try to understand Eisenstein's defiance and his transformation of revolutionary art with implications for both Mexico and Russia.

Comments

Includes bibliographical references (p. 75-78)

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