When Peter met Sergei: Art cinema past, present and future in Eisenstein in Guanajuato

Brian Hoyle (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    Peter Greenaway has established himself as one of British cinema's most distinctive film-makers. Yet he also remains one of its most controversial and problematic figures. In the 1980s and early1990s, alongside Derek Jarman, Greenaway came to embody British art cinema. He subsequently has taken on the paradoxical status of a major film-maker who simultaneously exists on the margins. He has also become a self-imposed exile who believes that his unique brand of art cinema is best appreciated on the continent. In effect, Greenaway has become British art cinema's prodigal son. This article focuses on Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015), a semi-fictionalised account of the ten days that Eisenstein spent in the city of Guanajuato while filming the uncompleted Que Viva Mexico! The article argues that what makes Eisenstein in Guanajuato so resonant is the way in which Greenaway both celebrates cinema's past while also daring to suggest a possible future. Indeed, while this article will show that the film is part of a new phase in Greenaway's career which is devoted to biographical films about artists, Eisenstein in Guanajuato is no simple biopic of Eisenstein. Rather, it offers a complex fusion of both the Russian and British film-makers' theories about the cinema, particularly their shared interest in film aspect ratios and the concept of the total art work. Furthermore, it stands as a superb illustration of Greenaway's vision of cinema as an interactive and encyclopaedic medium. As this is a co-production between the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Finland and Mexico, which featured no British investment and, at the time of writing, has yet to be shown in the UK, this article will also show that we require new ways of theorising art cinema not only in British but also in international contexts.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)312-330
    Number of pages19
    JournalJournal of British Cinema and Television
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2016


    • Art cinema
    • Biopic
    • Eisenstein in Guanajuato
    • Peter Greenaway
    • Sergei Eisenstein
    • Total cinema

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
    • Communication


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