Close Up

9 January 2016: Time in the Sun + Bezhin Meadow


Time in the Sun
Sergei Eisenstein, edited by Marie Seton
1940 | 55 min | B/W | 35mm

"One of the most celebrated controversies in the annals of Hollywood was that raging some seven or eight years ago over a picture which was never released. In 1931 Sergei M. Eisenstein, the famous Russian director, had gone to Mexico to film what he presumably intended as an epic study of the Mexican people, the title of which was to have been ¡Qué Viva Mexico!. But for reasons variously disputed, Eisenstein never cut and edited the vast and assorted footage which he gathered; and, in 1933, when Upton Sinclair presented a picture culled from this celluloid mass under the title of Thunder Over Mexico, there were persons around and about who hotly held it didn't follow at all the intentions of Eisenstein. 

Well, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, so a more dispassionate view is therefore likely to be taken of Marie Seton's latest reworking of the Eisenstein material. And furthermore, Miss Seton, who is a British journalist, claims that the director himself outlined the rough scenario that she followed in editing this second version, called Time in the Sun, which opened at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse yesterday. So the boldness of her endeavor will probably cause neither riots nor bloodshed.

As a matter of fact, from this distance, the earlier controversy seems slightly foolish, and the film which Miss Seton has produced from the couple of hundred thousand feet which Eisenstein shot is probably as good a picture as could be distilled into a reasonable length. Basically, it is documentary in nature – a magnificently photographed account of Mexican native life which attempts to get beneath mere externals to spiritual forces. For, whereas Thunder Over Mexico was concerned mainly with the question of peonage, Time in the Sun visualizes the inherence of a free, pagan spirit which has survived in the Mexican native, despite Spanish civilization and slavery. From the Mayan ruins in Yucatan, it traces the evidence of this spirit through the nature and customs of the people which have continued for centuries, and concludes with a spectacular display of the Mexican's attitude toward death.

Many technical faults are obvious in Time in the Sun: it does not flow smoothly, its construction seems contrived and the main idea is conveyed more in narration than in picture. But the photography of E. Tisse is so stunning and of such dramatic strength that each individual shot offers an exciting experience. This, we feel, is the chief distinction of the film – this, and the fact that it should make an end to the ¡Qué Viva Mexico! controversy." – Bosley Crowther, The New York Times, 1 October 1940

Bezhin Meadow
Sergei Eisenstein
1937 | 30 min | B/W | 35mm

"Bezhin Meadow seems to have been cursed almost from its inception, and the film’s fate serves as a fitting allegory for the difficulties Eisenstein faced upon his return to the Soviet Union in 1932 after four years abroad. Although its title comes from a Turgenev story, the film is based on the 1932 death of young Pavlik Morozov after informing on his father to the authorities. Although the facts of the case remain murky, the official version held that Morozov was murdered by his family, and Stalin’s regime instantly turned Morozov into a martyr, killed by reactionaries for his ideological fervor. Early versions of the film ran afoul of the authorities precisely as a result of the use of religious imagery and the charge, now seemingly inevitably attached to Eisenstein’s work, of "formalism." All that remains of the film today is a fragmentary reconstruction set aside for reference during editing, presented as a series of still images." – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our Sergei Eisenstein season