Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mindblowing Raw Camera Roll Footage from Sergei Eisenstein's Doomed Mexican Adventure


Back in 1930, Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet film pioneer responsible for BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, was offered a chance to make films in America. Paramount Pictures honcho Jesse L. Lasky brought him to Hollywood and he got to work on a number of projects which never materialized for various reasons. Eventually an anti-communist wave of sentiment drove him off the lot and he ended up forming a new company with leftist author Upton Sinclair (THE JUNGLE, OIL!) and his wife to produce an apolitical film about Mexico.

The consent of the Mexican government was acquired and Eisenstein, along with his Soviet crew, travelled to Mexico and began work. They met with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, shot hundreds of reels of film and mustered their resources for large scale recreations of battles. But elsewhere pressure was mounting. In Hollywood, Sinclair and his wife worried about the drain on the budget with seemingly little progress. In Moscow, Stalin was calling for Eisenstein to return or risk being branded a deserter. The Sinclairs canceled production and recalled Eisenstein and crew to the states.

At the border, customs officials found drawings they deemed sacrilegious and pornographic so the whole retinue was detained near Laredo and denied re-entry. Finally a visa was produced which allowed them to travel to New York and from there to return to the USSR, so they went east for good and the film returned to Hollywood where it was chopped into several travelogue style films.

Eventually, in 1979, a film was constructed that was believed to be close to Eisenstein's vision of his original film. It is called QUE VIVA MEXICO and it won several awards and reminded the world of the potency and purity of Eisenstein's vision.

Here are some of the raw, unedited shots direct from Eisenstein's camera. It's powerful stuff, both as a documentation of Mexican ritual at the time and of the eye for composition of one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.

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