7 December 1998 | Aleksand
First video version of a flawed masterpiece (nevertheless ****)
Although its coscenarist and director, Sergei M. Eisenstein did not live to complete "Que Viva Mexico?," the Russian who reconstructed this 1979 version for Mosfilm, Grigori Alexandrov, co-authored the film and worked closely with Eisenstein in 1931 and 1932 in the filming of the footage ultimately fashioned into several pictures, including butchered versions released by Sol Lesser and even some Bell and Howell documentaries! At some point, the man who initially commissioned the movie, Upton Sinclair, donated all or almost all of Eisenstein's footage to the Museum of Modern Art, which made it available as it was shot (take by take by take) in a "study" film. This is the first time, to my knowledge, that an edited version has appeared in video, and for that, Eisenstein fans and lovers of cinema should be jubilant! Even if Alexandrov had cut the footage completely out of order and in a form that would make Sergei Mikhailovich roll over in his grave, we can appreciate the dynamic power of the images, so ingeniously composed and photographed by Eisenstein with his longtime cameraman, Eduard Tisse. Of course, Eisenstein's remarkable scenario could never be realized EXACTLY as he wrote it, but Alexandrov did an admirable job all the same. In whatever form we see it, Eisenstein's footage reminds us that this aborted masterpiece, had he been able to complete the movie, would have been just that -- one of the greatest motion pictures of all time. It is a tragedy for film lovers that Eisenstein could not obtain the negative from the Sinclair cabal (which included the American author's Pasadena, California Standard Oil cronies!) at the time. But this 1979 version is better than nothing, and a lot better than many so-called movies churned out by Hollywood today. The film should be studied by every student of cinema, and especially photographers and editors. In truth, Eisenstein probably was planning as many as six different films, but Sinclair sent his alcoholic brother-in-law to ride herd on the Russians, to the result that the "plug was pulled" on the production short of its completion by Eisenstein. Frankly, had the latter managed to complete the movie and edit it himself, I am convinced film buffs would put it right up there with "Citizen Kane" and "Casablanca" (i.e. among the greatest masterpieces of cinema). I recommend the film highly, if only as a reminder of what might have been!