Ian Christie, Chiemi Shimada

Scen.: Ian Christie. Prod.: Animatograph. DCP. Col.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Sergei Eisenstein spent six frustrating months in Hollywood in 1930, during which all his projects were vetoed, despite the lavish promises that had brought the director of Battleship Potemkin to California. As he discovered, being world-famous cut little ice with Paramount Pictures. So what were he and his comrades Alexandrov and Tisse to do? Making a revolutionary epic in Mexico, with the freedom of sympathetic private funding, must have seemed a brilliant escape route. But the Mexican adventure proved even more frustrating than Hollywood, despite producing many hours of footage, which miraculously survived both the producer’s and Stalin’s efforts to stifle Eisenstein’s vision.
In 2012, I managed to visit and film Hacienda Tetlapayac, where Eisenstein spent much of 1931, frantically reading and writing, while shooting amid the giant maguey plants that produce the alcoholic drink pulque. Unexpectedly, Tetlapayac remains just as it appears in Eisenstein and Tisse’s footage, having served as a location for a surprising range of films, including several Mexican telenovelas. Indeed, we were only able to piece together the hacienda’s filmic biography long after my visit. And that experience mirrors the current state of Eisenstein scholarship, with researchers still making discoveries like archaeologists among the vast legacy of his manuscripts and drawings.
Our film draws on these, following some of the idiosyncratic twists and turns in Eisenstein’s memoir Beyond the Stars. Like this, it has a large cast of characters and references that runs from Douglas Fairbanks as the first screen Zorro, stirring the young Sergei’s interest in cinema, up to Antonio Banderas as his most recent incarnation, also part-filmed at Tetlapayac. Others guest appearances include Leon Trotsky, Spencer Tracy, Serge Daney and Derek Jarman, filming his Imagining October in Moscow with Peter Wollen, just before the start of Gorbachev’s perestroika.

Ian Christie

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