Cast & Crew
Sergei M. Eisenstein
In 1906, on the Hacienda Tetlapayac in Mexico, Sebastian Enriquez lives happily as a poor peon who works in the fields of his master, as he is engaged to be married to the beautiful, young Maria. The two are married in a native ceremony because both families are too poor to pay a priest to officiate the wedding. Before they can consummate their marriage, however, tradition requires that Sebastian present Maria to his patron at his hacienda. That same day, the patron's daughter returns from her honeymoon with her new husband for the Feast of Corpus Christo. When Sebastian and Maria arrive at the hacienda for his patron's approval, the master becomes upset, claiming that Sebastian has insulted his daughter, and refuses to approve their marriage until the feast is over. Maria is then taken to the west tower, where she is assaulted by one of the master's guests. When Sebastian learns of his young bride's rape, he goes crazy with anger. Some of the other peons join Sebastian in open revolt against their master. A man hunt is formed to capture the rebellious peons, during which the master's daughter is accidentally shot. After capturing Sebastian and his comrades, the grieving master takes his revenge by ordering their execution by "the punishment of the horses," in which the rebels are buried alive, with only their heads exposed, then the master's horses are ordered to run over the peasants until their heads are crushed.
Sergei M. Eisenstein
Dr. Hugo Riesenfeld
Francisco Comacho Vega
S. K. Wineland
This record only represents the 200,000-plus feet of unedited film that Sergei M. Eisenstein, Grigori Alexandrov and Edouard Tisse shot in Mexico 1931/32 for Mary and Upton Sinclair and three American co-financiers. It was Eisenstein's vision to end up with movie about Mexico in six parts called "Calavera", "Sandunga", "Maguey", "Fiesta", "Soldadera", and "Epilogue". The project was cancelled before it was completed due to cost overruns and months-delayed completion, and the producers refused to let Eisenstein attempt to edit anything from the material he had finished after Stalin called him back to the USSR. From this footage the following pictures were subsequently edited by other hands: Thunder Over Mexico (1933), Eisenstein in Mexico (1933), Death Day (1934), Time In the Sun (1940) and !Que Viva Mexico! - Da zdravstvuyet Meksika! (1979). Since this record covers only the unassembled original footage, no reviews/comments should be placed in this record, but rather with the applicable, released version listed above.
The summary for this film is based on story information found on the original release of Thunder Over Mexico. The credits were taken from copyright records and contemporary sources, not the viewed print. Included in the copyright material for this film is the transcript to Upton Sinclair's original prologue for the film, which modern sources indicate was removed shortly after the film's initial release. The following information was included in the prologue: Sinclair stated that Sergei Eisenstein came to him for help after plans to make a Hollywood film fell through, and that the Russian director did not want to return to the Soviet Union a failure. Eisenstein asked Sinclair and his wife, Mary Craig Sinclair, to help finance a "simple travelogue" about Mexico, an idea given to Eisenstein by noted Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Sinclair and his friends then agreed to finance this small project, but Eisenstein "fell in love" with Mexico, and instead of making the planned travelogue, devised an epic cycle of five films. When filming was stopped, over 200,000 feet of film had been shot. Eisenstein was called back to the Soviet Union, and Sinclair stated that the Russian director was not allowed to return to the United States by the American government. Unable to send the film to the Soviet Union, Sinclair had the film cut in Hollywood using Eisenstein's own scenario as a guide. Sinclair ended the prologue with two endorsements made at a private screening, with Charlie Chaplin stating, "It is lovely; it is revealing; and it is powerful," and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. noting, "It is a thrilling thing to see a film unroll itself with beauty, with charm and with purpose."
The working titles of this film were Viva Mexico, Que viva Mexico, Mexico and Eisenstein's Mexican Film. The film was also known under the Spanish titles Tormenta sobre Mejico and Relampagos sobre Mexico.
According to modern sources, Eisenstein was first brought to Hollywood by Paramount head Jesse Lasky, under the advice of British screenwriter Ivor Montagu. After Eisenstein's projects at Paramount, which included An American Tragedy and Sutter's Gold, were cancelled, his contract with the studio was voided in October 1930. Leon Moussinac indicates that Eisenstein then hoped to make a Mexican film, an idea he had cultivated since adapting Jack London's short story "The Mexican" for the Protetkult Theater.
A 1934 Experimental Cinema article reported that Eisenstein was introduced to Mexico by film student Agustin Aragon Leiva, who also acted as his "guide, interpreter and go-between" during the actual filming in Mexico. Modern sources state that Eisenstein originally went to Sinclair for help on the advice of Charlie Chaplin. Modern sources credit Isabel Villasenor with the role of "Maria," and include the following additional production credits: Gen mgr Hunter S. Kimbrough; Mexican adv to Eisenstein Gabriel Fernandes Ledesma; Assistant Camera Horst Scharf.
Unless otherwise indicated as coming from modern or specific contemporary sources, the following information is based on the correspondence of Upton Sinclair, as published in modern sources: On November 24, 1930, Eisenstein signed an agreement with Mary Craig Sinclair in which he agreed to go to Mexico and direct a picture "tentatively entitled Mexican picture" that Mrs. Sinclair agreed to finance. Under this contract, Eisenstein agreed to complete filming of the picture in "three to four months," and that "the picture will be non-political, and worthy of his reputation and genius." In return, Mrs. Sinclair agreed to finance the film for not less than $25,000, and in exchange she would retain all rights to "all negative film and positive prints" and would be able to "market said material in any manner and for any price." The agreement was amended on December 1, 1930, in that Mrs. Sinclair agreed to "provide that the Soviet Government May have the film free for showing inside U.S.S.R." She then wrote prospective investor Aline Barnsdall on December 9, 1930 informing her that the budget for the film had been increased to $50,000. She also stated in this letter that her brother, Hunter S. Kimbrough, would be the representative for the Mexican Picture Trust, the corporate name for the project's investors, in Mexico and would have full financial control over the Eisenstein party.
When Eisenstein and his company first arrived in Mexico, they were immediately arrested for being political agitators. Kimbrough wrote Upton Sinclair on December 22, 1930 that the party had been released from "house arrest" without incident and suggested that the Mexican representative for Fox Film Corp. May have been behind the arrest. When an earthquake hit Oaxaca, Mexico on January 14, 1931, Eisenstein and his crew rushed to the site in hopes of capturing some exclusive footage of the event. Kimbrough's letter of January 28, 1931 indicates that due to problems in clearing the footage through Mexican censors, their film was "scooped" by other newsreel footage.
While the company was filming in Mexico, Sinclair tried to raise additional money to finance the film. On February 20, 1931, Sinclair wrote Kimbrough that Eisenstein was not to spend more than $40,000 in Mexico, as he hoped to reserve $10,000 for post-production work. Sinclair revised this estimate on March 5, 1931 when he was advised to reserve at least $12,500 for post-production work, having learned that the music alone on German director F. W. Murnau's Tabu had been $9,000. A day later, Sinclair informed his publisher, Stanley Rinehart, Jr., that Carl Laemmle, Sr. of Universal was very interested in the Mexican picture. On March 31, 1931, Kimbrough wrote Sinclair that Eisenstein had begun to film some bullfighting sequences, which were to be part of the "Fiesta" episode, with David Liceaga, a champion bullfighter. In his letter of June 1, 1931, Sinclair told Kimbrough that approximately $29,000 had been spent on the film, with 121,000 feet of footage being shipped to Mexico, which Sinclair feared was excessive for a seven to eight reel film.
On June 16, 1931, Eisenstein wrote Sinclair that the newly proposed budget of $35,000 for location filming was unrealistic, that the film should use the full $50,000 for filming, and suggested that they arrange for the distributor to pay for the post-production work. Eisenstein also told Sinclair that the film would be eight or nine reels in length, and that he should not worry about the amount of footage being shot, as he had used much more while shooting his earlier film, Potemkin. That same day, Sinclair wrote to L. I. Monosson, the head of Amkino, the Russian film distributor in New York, seeking that company's financial participation in the film. Sinclair informed Monosson that Eisenstein now estimated the cost of the film in the $70,000-75,000 range, and requested that Monosson arrange that Sinclair's book royalties in Russia, which the novelist had yet to receive, be invested directly into the Eisenstein film.
At this same time, Sinclair wrote Otto Kahn, one of the investors in the film, that he and his wife were considering selling their interests in the film. During this period, Eisenstein was in Tetlapayac filming elements of the "Maguey" episode at the hacienda of musical composer Juan D. Saldivar. On June 20, 1931, Sinclair sent Eisenstein a letter warning him that the director had only $5,000 left to finish filming. Eisenstein wrote him back on July 1, 1931 that it would be impossible to finish the film for $5,000, that the entire $15,000 reserve must be used. Film Daily reported in July 1931 that production had stopped on the film due to Eisenstein's illness, which occurred shortly after actor Felix Balderas accidentally shot and killed his sister while filming a scene for the film. On August 7, 1931, Sinclair applied for a loan from the Amalgamated Bank of New York City. In his letter to the loan officers, Sinclair informed the bank that 140,000 feet of raw film stock had been purchased, of which 75,000 feet of negative was processed and stored by Consolidated Film Industries, Inc. in Hollywood. To protect the investment, the negative was insured for $30,000, with an equal amount given to a life insurance policy on Eisenstein. The bank, however, did not grant the loan.
On August 27, 1931, Sinclair finally received Eisenstein's outline, which he had been requesting from the director for months, from Kimbrough. This outline detailed the six stories Eisenstein planned to film. The first story, a short prologue called "Calavera," was to show the history of Mexico through its ancient ruins and end in the modern fiesta "celebrating the triumph of life over death." The second story "Sandunga," filmed in Tehuantpec, was to show the preparations for a traditional Mexican wedding and the wedding ceremony itself. The third story "Maguey," made at the Hacienda Tetlapayac, was to concern itself with the persecution of the peons by the haciendados before the Mexican Revolution. The fourth story, originally entitled "Spanish Milagro," later to be known as "Fiesta," was to be concerned with the Spanish "social and religious influence" on Mexico through the Feast of the Holy Virgin of Guadalupe, which was to culminate in a bullfight. The fifth story "Soldadera" was to tell the story of the wives of the soldiers fighting in the Mexican Revolution. The film would end with the sixth story, the "Epilogue," showing modern Mexico and its relationship to the past. Modern sources indicate that Eisenstein was influenced in the structure of his planned film by author Anita Brenner's Idols Behind Altars. Modern sources also indicate that Eisenstein had planned to dedicate many sections of the film to the artists who inspired them. The "prologue" was to be dedicated to David Alfaro Siqueiros, "Sandunga" to Jean Charlot, "Fiesta" to Francisco De Goya, "La Soldadera" to Jose Clemente Orozco and the "epilogue" to Jose Guadalupe Posada. Modern sources further indicate that each segment of the film was to be defined by a single piece of music, such as "Sandunga," "El Alabado" and "Adelita."
On August 29, 1931, Sinclair wrote Eisenstein suggesting that the "Maguey" episode be made into a separate film, as 45,000-50,000 feet of footage had been shot for it. On September 3, 1931, Sinclair reiterated this position on the "Maguey" episode, while informing the director that M-G-M had exercised its option on his book The Wet Parade, money from which Sinclair intended to invest in the Mexican film. (On April 15, 1932, Sinclair wrote his daughter-in-law, Betty Sinclair, that he had invested the $18,000 that M-G-M had paid for the film rights to The Wet Parade into the Eisenstein picture.) Also on September 3, 1931, Sinclair wrote Monosson that if he did not receive the Russian royalties on his books, he would have to shut down Eisenstein's production in Mexico. In early September 1931, Eisenstein wrote Sinclair, refusing to separate the "Maguey" episode from the rest of the film and suggesting that Sinclair contact Universal to see if they would fund the film on a fifty/fifty basis. Eisenstein suggested that the novelist do this by contacting Carl Laemmle, Sr. directly upon his return from Europe. On September 10, 1931, Monosson informed Sinclair that Amkino would agree to invest $25,000 in the Mexican film. Sinclair wrote Eisenstein on October 5, 1931 to complain once again about the prolonged filming, arguing that the original investors only agreed to a $25,000 film. Sinclair then pointed out that Eisenstein had, at that time, already spent over $40,000 and was now requesting a budget of $60,000-65,000, which would not include post-production costs that he estimated would escalate the final budget of the picture into the $100,000 range.
Later, on October 15, 1931, Sinclair wrote Monosson concerning Amkino's investment and explained the current financing of the film. The investors listed in this letter were Mary Craig Sinclair $20,000, Kate Crane Gartz $5,000, S. Hillkowitz $15,000, and Kenneth Outwater $15,000. Sinclair explained that Outwater was an alias for a New York banker (which later letters indicated was Otto Kahn). Monosson wrote Sinclair on October 16, 1931 amending the Amkino financial offer, and stated that the Russian money was to be for post-production work only, though he might be allowed to release $3,000-5,000 for production work if it became totally necessary. As Sinclair became more perplexed with the situation in Mexico, he wrote Eisenstein on October 23, 1931 that he had shipped 175,000 feet of footage to Mexico, well in excess of the amount Eisenstein had earlier demanded, and now was informed by Kimbrough that the director needed another 50,000 feet to finish the film.
On November 21, 1931, the situation reached a new crisis when Sinclair received a telegram from Soviet leader Joseph Stalin accusing Eisenstein of being a "deserter who broke off with his own country." The next day Sinclair wrote a lengthy reply to the Soviet leader defending Eisenstein, stating that the director had been attacked in Hollywood for his loyalty to the Soviet Union, that Sinclair would never have financed the film if he believed Eisenstein was disloyal, and pointing out that Amkino was now an investor in the film, thereby showing their belief in Eisenstein. Eisenstein, unaware of the crisis he faced in his own country, wrote Sinclair on November 25, 1931 insisting on an increased budget and rejecting the proposal that the unfilmed "La Soldadera" episode, which was being called "the Soldier Story" at that time, be dropped, stating that the film would be "an absolute flop" without it. On November 27, 1931, Victor F. Smirnov informed Sinclair that he was replacing Monosson as head of Amkino, and hoped to continue his company's association with the Mexican film project.
At this point, modern sources indicate that Sinclair, feeling renewed faith in the Mexican film, took over his wife's right to the film "in exchange for The Wet Parade and all profits to be derived from it." In Kimbrough's report to the Mexican Picture Trust, covering production work from November 15, 1930 to December 10, 1931, he told of two extra projects the film crew made during production of the Mexican film: the aforementioned newsreel footage of the Oaxaca earthquake and a "government film" made for the "Paritdo National Revolutionario," the governing party in Mexico. This film was made in exchange for government cooperation throughout filming, and with the promise that the Mexican government would furnish soldiers, cannon, guns, ammunition, equipment and transportation for the unfilmed "La Soldadera" episode. Kimbrough also noted that many of the delays in filming were not the fault of the crew, but due to poor weather, Mexican bureaucracy, and the extended illnesses of both Eisenstein and writer Grigori Alexandrov.
In December 1931, the film faced a new crisis when Amkino informed Sinclair that it wished to withdraw completely from the project. Sinclair wrote Smirnov on December 11, 1931 arguing against their withdrawal, which was based on the belief in Eisenstein's "traitorism." Despite their legal contract, Sinclair told Smirnov that he would not sue Amkino, as that would be an embarrassment to the Soviet Union, while at the same time appealing to the Russians to reverse their position, particularly in light of the work done on behalf of the Soviet Union by the film's liberal investors, who would suffer greatly by such a move. Ignorant once again of his political problems and their implications, Eisenstein wrote Sinclair on December 29, 1931 to inform the novelist that the hacienda footage for the "Maguey" episode had been completed, and that he was now ready to begin production on the "La Soldadera" episode.
In the meantime, Sinclair prepared his report to the Mexican Picture Trust, covering the period from November 15, 1930 to December 31, 1931. In this report, Sinclair stated that 232,000 feet of stock had been shipped to Mexico, 125,000 feet had been returned, processed and stored in Hollywood, and another 45,000 feet was in transit. He noted that the negative was now insured for $40,000 by the American Negative Film Syndicate, and that another $5,000 insurance policy had been taken out on the camera equipment in Mexico. At that time, a total of $51,522.30 had been spent on the film, subtracting monies derived from the earthquake footage and the government film. Sinclair also explained the delay in shooting the "La Soldadera" episode, which was due to the mobilization of the Mexican army to fight the rebel "Cristeros" and the Christmas holidays. He stated that Eisenstein had asked for 75 more days to film this episode, but that he and Kimbrough, who was in Pasadena with Sinclair at that time, believed that they could significantly shorten Eisenstein's proposed schedule.
On January 1, 1932, the film faced another crisis when Eisenstein wrote Sinclair an extended letter, complaining of Kimbrough's management of the film crew and threatening to cease filming if Kimbrough was to return to Mexico. In the ensuing onslaught of letters to Eisenstein, Sinclair stated his full faith in his brother-in-law, reiterating numerous times that he did not believe Eisenstein's assertions that Kimbrough was a drunkard, and that he was now placing Kimbrough in complete control of the Mexican crew. Sinclair wrote New York Times critic Morris Helprin on January 18, 1932 that he would be willing to sell the film "to a first class responsible concern for $145,000 and fifty percent of the profits." According to modern sources, upon Kimbrough's return to Mexico, he fired one of Eisenstein's Mexican assistants, an ex-policeman named Garibay, who then threatened to kill Kimbrough. Finally having had enough, Sinclair telegrammed Kimbrough on January 24, 1932 to stop all filming and bring the party back to the United States. Eisenstein responded to this action the very next day with an official written apology to Kimbrough, in which he stated that he would make no further attacks upon Kimbrough's character. On January 27, 1932, Kimbrough and Eisenstein entered into a new agreement in which shooting would continue in order to finish the already started episodes, which was to take no more than ten days nor cost more than $1,000. In this agreement, Eisenstein also agreed to eliminate "forever" the "La Soldadera" episode from the film. That same day, Eisenstein wrote his friend, Salka Viertel, and once again attacked Kimbrough, stating that the "La Soldadera" was the key episode in the film, that he had 500 soldiers, 50 cannons and 10,000 guns courtesy of the Mexican government for 30 days to use in the episode, and that he needed only $7,000-8,000 to finish the film. The next day, unknown to Eisenstein, Kimbrough wrote Sinclair advising the novelist to allow Eisentstein to film the "La Soldadera" episode if he completed the other work in the agreed upon ten days. When Sinclair learned of Eisenstein's attempt to use Mexican government pressure to force the producers to allow the filming of the "La Soldadera" episode, the novelist ordered the immediate end to all further filming in a telegram of February 5, 1932, and once again demanded that the party return to the United States.
In his report to the Mexican Picture Trust of February 13, 1932, Sinclair explained that he stopped filming in the belief that Eisenstein would not be able to film the "La Soldadera" episode within an acceptable budget. He also explained that the Amkino contract had been cancelled because Moscow did not believe that Eisenstein intended to return to the Soviet Union. According to modern sources, Eisenstein's party was refused re-admittance into the United States on February 17, 1932 at the border town of Laredo, TX. In his next report to the trust on February 28, 1932, Sinclair stated that, because of the American government's refusal to re-admit the director into the United States, Eisenstein would be returning to the Soviet Union and that it was agreed upon by all parties involved that the film positive would be sent there through Amkino so that Eisenstein could edit the film himself. Sinclair later changed his mind on this matter, as he explained in his letter to Smirnov of March 19, 1932. In this letter, Sinclair complained that Eisenstein had included some of his "obscene" drawings and photographs among the equipment and supplies shipped back to the United States, and when U.S. Customs agents discovered this material, they threatened to confiscate the entire shipment, seriously jeopardizing the investment of $60,000. On March 24, 1932, Sinclair telegrammed Smirnov that he had been authorized by the film's investors to recall the print from the Amkino office in New York City, in direct response to Eisenstein's extended trip from Laredo to New York, which lasted seventeen days, an amount of time that Sinclair called "inexcusable." Peter A. Bogdanov, an executive at Amkino, replied to Sinclair's telegram on April 8, 1932, arguing that he had made all the necessary arrangements that Sinclair had sought in order for Eisenstein to cut the film in Moscow.
In a telegram to Bogdanov on April 21, 1932, Sinclair considered Bogdanov's idea of making two separate versions of the Mexican film: one cut in Hollywood, one cut in Moscow by Eisenstein. After meeting in New York with Bogdanov on Sinclair's behalf, Ernest S. Greene, Sinclair's former secretary, wrote to the novelist on April 30, 1932 that Bogdanov wished to keep the print in New York until Eisenstein left for Moscow on May 1, 1932, in order to avert any adverse publicity concerning Eisenstein's possible removal from the film. By that time, Bogdanov also hoped to learn from Moscow if the Soviet government would be willing to buy the film outright from Sinclair and his investors. Greene also warned Sinclair of possible attacks by Eisenstein's friends and followers if the novelist should decide to remove the Russian director completely from the editing process. At this same time, modern sources indicate that Albert Muldavin, one of the investors in the film, was considering the outright purchase of the project himself, believing that he could employ Leopold Stokowski for the soundtrack. (Modern sources state that Stokowski had agreed in January 1931 to do the film score for Eisenstein.)
With negotiations broken down between the two parties, Sinclair telegrammed his lawyer, Bernard M. L. Ernst, on May 4, 1932, and demanded that the print be returned by Amkino immediately, believing that the Russian company was only attempting to hold the print in hopes that Sinclair would change his mind and allow its shipment to Eisenstein in Moscow. On May 6, 1932, Ernst wrote Sinclair that his firm had impelled the shipment of the print back to Hollywood the day before, despite significant resistance from Amkino. When the film was returned to Hollywood, Sinclair was distressed to learn that some footage was missing. This was confirmed by A. J. Guerin, plant manager for Consolidated Film Industries, who informed Sinclair on May 17, 1932 that footage was indeed missing, as the print now contained new "hand-made" splices. Modern sources indicate that the missing footage was approximately 442 feet in length. Guerin also noted that the film had been viewed, because many of the reels were wound backwards. Mary Sinclair then re-entered the situation, and wrote Amkino on May 21, 1932, demanding information on who had viewed the print when it was in their possession and questioning if any of the material had been illegally duplicated during that time. Smirnov replied to this letter on June 3, 1932, denying any duplication and stating that there was not "excessive" footage missing, only the few feet that Sinclair had authorized Amkino to remove for inspection purposes.
In a letter of July 9, 1932 to Seymour Stern, editor of Experimental Cinema and one of Eisenstein's most strident defenders, Sinclair indicated that he intended to make four pictures out of the Mexican footage, following Eisenstein's scenario. He also accused Stern of knowing all along that Eisenstein had intended to make six films from the Mexican footage and reprimanded the editor for asserting that Sinclair had "confiscated" the film from Eisenstein, reminding Stern of Eisenstein's original contract with Mary Sinclair.
Modern sources indicate that a rough cut was screened in Los Angeles on June 13, 1932 for the Sinclairs and a small group of their friends. On July 22, 1932, Sinclair wrote Smirnov once more, telling him that the material had been cut into three films: a nine-reel version of the "Maguey" episode, and two five-reel films of the "Sanduaga" and "Fiesta" episodes. He then offered once again to sell the film to Amkino, stating that the cost of the film, up to that time, was $75,000. Sinclair stated that the Mexican Picture Trust would agree to sell the negative to Amkino for that amount, with payment in the form of a six-month note, as well as fifty percent of the film's gross outside of the Soviet Union. Sinclair argued that, according to Amkino's previous timetable, the note would allow enough time for Eisenstein to cut the film and Amkino to market the film sufficiently to pay off the debt. Then, on August 3, 1932, Sinclair wrote Muldavin that Amkino, through J. A. Lambert, an official of Amtorg, the Russian trade outlet in California, had accepted this offer in principal, only to have the trustees of the film decide that they could make a better deal with a Hollywood company. Sinclair told Muldavin that he was pleading with his fellow investors to "let Moscow have the picture, and avoid an unhappy situation." He had then been authorized to amend the offer to a bond of $100,000, at six percent interest and a fifty-fifty split on the gross above $100,000. To emphasize this position, Sinclair wrote Stalin on August 15, 1932, warning the Soviet leader that if the film was not purchased by Amkino, the investors would sell it to a Hollywood company, and both Sinclair and Eisenstein would lose any control over the project.
On September 5, 1932, Sinclair wrote fellow novelist Theodore Dreiser that the deal with the Russians had not materialized, then falsely denied that the film had been edited, except for a rough cutting by "expert cutters" that ran at a length of thirty-five hours. Variety then reported on September 19, 1932 that Viva Mexico had been edited by an unknown female editor whose name remained secret because of the "political dynamite" that surrounded the film. Modern sources report that a rough cut of the "Maguey" film was shown at that time to executives at M-G-M and RKO, who expressed little interest in the project. In his letter to investor George D. Pratt of November 22, 1932, Sinclair stated that he had been informed by an unnamed source that Eisenstein had stolen, then sold 20,000 feet of raw film stock to a Mexican production company. He also stated that Paramount was currently looking at forty reels of bullfighting footage from the "Fiesta" episode, and that Universal was interested in purchasing some of this episode as stock footage.
On November 29, 1932, Smirnov sent Sinclair another offer by Amkino to take over the project. Smirnov offered to pay back the investors their actual investment, plus ten percent, from the initial film gross. The next series of gross receipts would be collected by Amkino to recover the cost of post-production. After that, Amkino offered the Mexican Picture Trust a sixty-five/thirty-five split of the worldwide net profits. Under such an agreement, the film positive would be sent to Moscow, where it would be edited by Eisenstein, to be followed by the negative, for the "purpose of matching it and printing the first sound copy." This final point was in direct contradiction to Sinclair's repeated insistence that the negative remain in the possession of the Mexican Picture Trust. Because of this, modern sources indicate that Amkino later offered to put up a $50,000 bond in New York against the return of the negative, but this was rejected by the Sinclairs and their investors as well.
According to Hollywood Reporter, an agreement was reached in December 1932 with independent producer Sol Lesser to release a silent nine-reel version of the film with musical accompaniment within five weeks. In March 1933, Film Daily reported that Lesser had signed Hugo Riesenfeld to provide the musical settings, with the sound recording supervised by Abe Meyer. New York Times reported that Harry Chandlee, a noted "script doctor," was brought into the project to make a story out of the miles of footage. Unlike most sources, New York Times states that Chandlee constructed his story without the benefit of Eisenstein's script outline.
Motion Picture Herald reported in May 1933 that the film was shot in exactly 186,000 feet and that the finished version of Thunder Over Mexico would be 7,200 feet. Accounts of the actual amount of footage shot in Mexico vary widely in contemporary sources, as Variety reported 220,000 feet and New York Times stated over 285,000 feet. Motion Picture Herald then stated that the film was to be previewed in both Los Angeles and New York by Lesser in hopes of acquiring a distribution deal with a national company, with Lesser distributing the film himself should such a deal not materialize. According to New York Times, the film was in fact turned down by all the major studios. Variety reported that the film was previewed on May 19, 1933 at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles. A protest was held outside this screening in an attempt to force the producers to send the negative to Eisenstein in Moscow and "prevent sale of 180,000 feet of excess film by Sol Lesser to others." Variety also reported that Experimental Cinema planned to mail 2,000 "manifestos" to film critics and newspapers throughout the world protesting the Sinclair/Lesser version as being "fascistic." Motion Picture Daily reported that Sinclair and Lesser then planned to roadshow the film after its screening before the Forum Club in New York City.
On June 7, 1933, playwright Sidney Howard wrote Mary Sinclair concerning a preview screening of Thunder Over Mexico that had been arranged for the Film Forum the day before. Howard commended the film's photography, but stated that the picture as a whole did not work in its present form. He strongly suggested to Mrs. Sinclair that Eisenstein or Alexandrov be allowed to edit the film, as that would be "the only key to commercial success for this venture." Mary Sinclair responded to Howard's letter on June 11, 1933 and informed him that she had received many such letters by groups and individuals asking the Sinclairs to allow Eisenstein to edit the film, but not one of these groups or individuals was willing to support such a venture financially. In further support of Mrs. Sinclair's statement, Sinclair himself wrote Harry Dana on July 26, 1933 that Seymour Stern had stated that he was going to raise $100,000 from "all the wealthy and prosperous admirers of the great master throughout the world" to buy the film outright for Eisenstein. Failing at this, Stern then proposed to raise $5,000 to purchase a lavender print of the footage that would then be sent to Eisenstein in Moscow. Sinclair stated that Stern failed in this fundraising attempt as well, then challenged Dana or anyone else to raise the money for such a print, which he would then gladly send the Russian director.
In September 1933, Motion Picture Herald reported extensively on the New York premiere of the film at the Rialto Theater. At that time, Sinclair stated that the film had cost $100,000 to make, and called it "the bastard child of the shot-gun wedding of Hollywood and Moscow, and like most such children, a great deal prettier than either of its parents." When he was accused of selling bullfight footage from the film to Samuel Goldwyn for use in the Eddie Cantor film The Kid from Spain, Sinclair denied such accusations and stated, "Besides, neither Eisenstein nor Eddie Cantor had any labels on their bulls." The premiere at the Rialto required New York Police Commissioner Bolan to position a squad of policemen around the theater to stop any "communist protests" over the film. Lincoln Kirstein, editor of Hound and Horn, organized a group called "The International Defense Committee for Eisenstein's Mexican Film," which stormed the Algonquin hotel in an attempt to confront Sinclair with their letters of protest. (Kirstein had earlier been ejected from a preview screening of the film at the New School for Social Research.) Sinclair was escorted from the hotel to the theater by ten members of the police radical squad, and the audience members were searched for weapons prior to the screening. At the premiere itself, Sinclair described the troubled history of the production and maintained his commitment to the artistic integrity of the project.
Attacking one of his main detractors, Sinclair stated that Seymour Stern had offered to edit the film himself, but insisted on a salary of $200 a week for eight months. Sinclair argued that Stern only began his attack on the producers after they rejected his business offer. In response to general criticism of the film, Sinclair stated, "The Mexicans think we've made a picture which debases them-but they haven't seen it; the Communists say we have murdered Eisenstein's conception of revolutionary Mexico-there was no such conception in his scenario, which was approved by the Mexican government. And the funny thing is that both Kirstein and Stern are rabid anti-Marxians." NYSA listings indicate that Thunder Over Mexico was released in that state at 6,193 feet in length, with a separate prologue of 405 feet.
Along with protests in the United States, the film was met with boycotts in Mexico as well. According to Los Angeles Times, the planned May 3, 1934 premiere of the film in that country was prevented by a boycott conducted by the Federal District Cinematographers' Syndicate, a labor union representing motion picture operators. The boycott was based on the belief that the film represented "a distortion of the ideas of Sergei Eisenstein...that hundreds of Mexicans gave their services free to Eisenstein to assist in carrying out his aims and that the picture has been mutilated by the American producers." Cinematografica Central, the Mexican distributor for Thunder Over Mexico, sent a personal appeal to Mexican President Abelardo Rodriguez to "dissolve the boycott." When this failed, they arranged a screening of the film for Vicentz Lombardo Toledano, the noted Mexican labor-union leader. After this screening, Toledano, a friend of Eisenstein's, refused to lift the boycott, stating that he considered the charges of "mutilation" justified.
Sinclair and Lesser also released two short films made from unused footage of the Eisenstein project, Death Day, also known as Kermesse funebre, and Eisenstein in Mexico. Both shorts were registered with the New York State censors: Eisenstein in Mexico at 4,629 feet in 1933 and Death Day at 1,469 feet in 1934. Modern sources state that Eisenstein in Mexico had its premiere at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York City on October 31, 1933, while Death Day had its premiere at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on June 27, 1934. Release charts indicate that Death Day was released nationally on April 10, 1935 at a running time of 17 min. No national release date for Eisenstein in Mexico was found. Modern sources indicate that the negatives to both Thunder Over Mexico and Death Day were later destroyed in a fire.
In May 1939, Marie Seton, an English newspaperwoman who would become Eisenstein's biographer, signed an agreement with the Mexican Picture Trust to purchase 16,000 feet of negative, in an attempt to construct Eisenstein's original film. In information found among Sinclair's published letters, Seton agreed to purchase this footage on May 10, 1938 for $3,500, with additional footage available to her at ten cents a foot. According to Variety, Seton claimed to have an outline from Eisenstein on which she based her version. In October 1939, she finished re-recording the soundtrack for her version, entitled Time in the Sun, and planned a preview for later that month. This version was registered with the New York State censors at 5,350 feet in 1940. The film had its world premiere at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in New York City on September 30, 1940. The following people were involved with Time in the Sun: Producer Marie Seton; Editing Supervisor Paul Burnford; Scr and narr Marie Seton and Paul Burnford; Adaptation Anita Breener, Franz Blom and Samuel A. Datlowe; Asst to prod Dorothy Baldwin; Music Director Ponce Espino; Sound Recording Harry Smith; Narration Charles Frederick Lindsley, William Royal, Ponce Espino and Carlos Tarin; Mexican adv Adolpho Best-Maugard and Agustin Aragon Leiva; Research Bertha Malnick. The film included in its musical score "Itsmos," "Susanna," "Todo Se Acabo," "Maquinaria" and "Muertos" by Carlos Tarin, and "Gallito," "Ultimo Abrazo" and "Los Machetes" by Ponce Espino. The sound was recorded at Cinematone Studios. Hollywood Reporter reported in August 1939 that Clarence Muse was to narrate a portion of this version, but he was then replaced by Lindsley. New York Herald Tribune states that Seton's version included all "five films" in Eisenstein's original conception, with the unfilmed segment "La Soldadera" represented by a title card.
According to modern sources, Sinclair sold much of the remaining footage to Bell and Howell, which edited this footage into five educational shorts under the title Mexican Symphony. While some sources stated that Sinclair sold 184,000 feet of footage to Bell and Howell for $10,000 in 1939, other sources indicate such an agreement was not reached until 1941. Modern sources indicate that Sinclair presented the original negative to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in April 1954. In 1958, three hours of rushes from this footage, presented as Eisenstein's Mexican Project, were screened by the museum under the direction of Jay Leyda, Eisenstein's one-time student and colleague. Modern sources indicate that avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger screened his version of Que Viva Mexico in France in the mid-1950s.
In 1962, Mosfilm Studios in the Soviet Union announced its plan to restore Que Viva Mexico, as well as Eisenstein's earlier work October. Modern sources state that the Museum of Modern Art made a trade of film material with the Russians in 1969. In exchange for several thousand feet of lavender print from the Eisenstein footage, the museum received a number of films from the Russian organization Gosfilmofond. Grigori Alexandrov, the sole surviving member of Eisenstein's crew, then undertook the monumental task of supervising the construction of the film from this material. In 1979, Alexandrov's version of Que Viva Mexico was released by Sovexport at a running time of 90 min. The film was produced by Mosfilm, with the film processed and presented by the U.S.S.R. State Film Archives and subtitles by Filmexport. This version included the following credits: Narration S. Bondarchuk; Editing Esfir Tobak; Chief consultant Rostisklav Yurenev, D.Sc.; Prod misc Nikita Orlov, Nikolai Olonovsky, Yuri Yakushev, Victor Babushkin, Leonid Nekhoroshev, Vera Nikolskaya, Raisa Lukina, Yuri Sobolev and Alexander Goldstein.
Like Time in the Sun, the 1979 version contained material from all six sections of the planned film, with the unshot "La Soldadera" sequence represented by photographs. Unlike Eisenstein's outline as received by Sinclair in August 1931, this film switches the order of the "Fiesta" and "Maguey" episodes, and the "Epilogue" wholly concerns itself with the November 2nd "Day of the Dead" celebration, described in Eisenstein's outline as part of the "Prologue" episode. Alexandrov also provides some narration himself as to the history of the project within this version, injecting that the artists Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros and Jose Orozco acted as advisors to Eisenstein prior to and during filming, and that the company filmed the originally planned travelogue for two months in Mexico before deciding to make a feature film instead.
Released in United States August 1998
Released in United States on Video August 1998
Eisenstein began this film in 1931, but financial difficulties made it impossible for him to finish it. In 1979 MosFilm in Moscow and Eisensteins's then 80 year old editor used Eisenstein's notes to complete the film.
Released in United States August 1998
Released in United States on Video August 1998