chapter  5
14 Pages

Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Qué viva México! through time: Historicizing value judgement

ByJulia Vassilieva

Sergei Eisenstein’s short filmography which typically includes only six titles – Strike

(1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1927), Old and New (1929), Alexander

Nevsky (1938), and Ivan the Terrible (1944-1946) – would have been considerably

longer had his works, such as Bejin Meadow (1935), not been destroyed or if he had an

opportunity to realize projects such as Glass House, American Tragedy, Fergana and

Capital. Among these latter works, which have had only a shadowy presence in

Eisenstein’s heritage, none is as enigmatic as ¡Que

´

viva Me

´

xico! – the footage for which

was produced in 1931 in Mexico, and which Eisenstein, tragically, had to leave behind on

his return to the Soviet Union. ¡Que

´

viva Me

´

xico!, which had been conceived by

Eisenstein as ‘a big poem about life and death’, covering three millennia of Mexican

history, was never edited by its creator and never achieved the form of a completed film

that he had intended. Its material remains, however, continue to re-emerge in different

guises, haunting the unconscious of film history. As such ¡Que

´

viva Me

´

xico! occupies the

place of a cult phenomenon, if not a cult film, attracting cinema scholars and mesmerizing

generations of new viewers. Some indication of this unabated interest can be seen in the

recent research monographs, such as In Excess: Sergei Eisenstein’s Mexico (Salazkina

2009) and Savage Junctures: Sergei Eisenstein and the Shape of Thinking (Nesbet 2003), a

massive museum project featuring the program ‘Eisenstein in Mexico’, the exhibition

‘Sergei Eisenstein: The Mexican Drawings’ in Kunsthal Antwerpen (May 2009), co-

curated by Oksana Bulgakova, and a flurry of recent essays (Robe

´

2004; Salazkina 2007;

Murray 2009).