Flaherty, Day Four

Another foreshortened day at the Flaherty; in the middle of the afternoon screening, I began developing a massive headache, so when it was over, I headed home, took a nap, had a quiet dinner, and did some reading. Print is so soothing after such intensive experience with images — which only surprises me because my usual experience over the last twelve years has been soothing myself with images after ingesting too much text.

Anyhow, yesterday’s bill, as far as I made it:

Tuesday, June 14, 9.00 am

Paradox (dir. Leandro Katz, 2001, 30 min)

Afrique, je te plumerai (Africa, I will fleece you, dir. Jean-Marie Temo, 1992, 88 min)

Tuesday, June 14, 2.00 pm

— clip from Time in the Sun (dir. Sergei Eisenstein, 1940, 55 min)

Un Banquete en Tetlapayac (dir. Olivier Debroise, 2000, 100 min)

Yesterday’s films were fascinating, but it’s easy for me to understand why my brain short-circuited in their midst. Paradox is a meditative exploration of the disjunctions of contemporary existence in the so-called “banana republics”; Katz alternates between silent, eerily still images of an ancient idol (the Dragon of Quirigu?°) and the frenetic activity of the banana plantation and industry that surrounds it. The paradox manifests both in these contradictions between past and present, stillness and activity, freedom and labor, as well as in the mysterious absence of their mediating, causal term: the colonialism that destroyed one and installed the other.

Afrique, je te plumerai likewise explores the damage done by successive forms of colonialist rule in Cameroon, but does so with an emphasis on communication, on the role of language, print, and visual media forms in continuing a post-colonial oppression.

The afternoon’s films were of a quite different order, and I wish I could have fully concentrated on them, as I’m pretty sure that what I’ve comprehended is a mere skimming of the surface. The basic backdrop is this: in 1930, Sergei Eisenstein traveled to Mexico to begin filming what was intended to be his epic study, Que Viva Mexico!, funded in large part by Upton Sinclair. Two years later, however, Eisenstein was forced to leave Mexico, both by the deepening economic crisis of the Depression and by Josef Stalin’s demand that the filmmaker return to the Soviet Union. Eisenstein lost control of the footage he’d shot; Sinclair tried several times to send the footage to Eisenstein in Russia, but as the filmmaker had by this point been denounced as a Trotskyite, the Soviet film industry blocked the importation of the film. As a result, only pieces of Eisenstein’s film have been released, and only as edited together by others, including Thunder over Mexico (1933), by Sol Lesser, and Time in the Sun (1940), by Mary Seton. (A project aimed at the restoration of Eisenstein’s original plan now exists, though it’s a bit of a stretch to understand how such a project could ever be “definitive.”)

In any event: in 1998, Olivier Debroise returned to Tetlapayac, the hacienda where Eisenstein spent much of 1931, in an effort to explore the mysteries surrounding this unfinished film. Un Banquete en Tetlapayac begins with the shooting death of Rosalita, the sister of one of Eisenstein’s actors, and then proceeds through a kind of imaginative reenactment of the events of that period. Debroise brings together a collection of contemporary writers and artists, each of whom inhabits the role of one of the figures who spent time at Tetlapayac while Eisenstein was there, figures including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Katherine Anne Porter, Elie Faure, Frances Flynn Paine, Hart Crane, and others. The film becomes a fascinating series of meditations on the mode of history, and particularly on the impossibility of fully apprehending that for which there are only incomplete records — a circumstance that we come to understand describes the entirety of the past, which is never fully gone, but can never be experienced, either.

I’m going to hope to see this film again at some point; it’s exceedingly rich, both visually and thematically, and my poor over-taxed brain simply couldn’t process it.

No screening this morning, so I’ve got a bit more time to recuperate, before re-entering the theater…

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