An Alternate Tradition
Eisenstein's Que Viva
For a number of reasons Eisenstein's Que Viva Mexico! has remained, in film criticism, a significant event unassimilated. The main reason is of course that he never completed the film and no less than three versions of it exist—Thunder Over Mexico assembled in America soon after Eisenstein returned to Russia after shooting whatever he could; the Marie Seton version; and the one put together by Grigori Alexandrov, which is the one available to us through Sovexportfilm. Beyond a point it becomes difficult to be specific on what Eisenstein must have intended from simply a set of assembled shots.
But in both its innate quality, of a conflict—his basis of montage—taken to its most epic as an extraordinarily advanced revolutionary consciousness comes to grips with a complex, contradictory, ancient civilisation, and the forms he brings to bear, the film is one of Eisenstein's most important. Theoretically Eisenstein took pains to extend his montage principles well beyound the boundaries of film, precisely to demonstrate how a form such as this permits a redefinition of the entire tradition that has given birth to it. In Que Viva Mexico! there is a cinematic elaboration of this to a greater extent perhaps than in any of his other films.
There is also a third reason why we should take up this film for discussion in the Seminar. Most of his other films, in particular Battleship Potemkin have been written about extensively by Eisenstein himself. In sharp contrast Que Viva Mexico! involves not only an independent exploration but also the deconstruction of the Alexandrov version. Alexandrov claims in the film that it has been put together exactly as Eisenstein had planned it, but clearly this has been done in a way that
Journal of Arts and Ideas 63