18 January 2010


Mexico – 1996
Director – Enrique Lecuona Saiz
Lecuona Films, 1996, VHS
Run Time – 45 minutes

So it should come as no surprise that I love this documentary, I’ve been into the culture of the ancient Maya and modern Mexico for quite a few years now. This tape came up in a random online search for all things related to the former. Really it’s not much of a documentary since there’s not whole lot of historical information divulged in the narration. It’s more of a video tour, which is fine, I can get the information I want from a book. But, Yaxchilan happens to be one of the hardest to reach ancient Maya cities in Mexico, at least it was last I read. It’s cradled in a deep loop of the Ucumacinta River which forms the border between far south eastern Mexico and Guatemala. In that case it’s pretty cool to get some quality video footage of a place I may never get to visit, and there is some incredible stuff to see at Yaxchilan.

Several years ago when I presented this tape to my friend so that he could make a DVD transfer for me he returned it saying that he had been disappointed because it wasn’t more informative. I can only assume that he was looking for the entertaining but sensationalized fare typical of National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. I’ll admit, I’m entertained by that type of show, but this is not one of them, it’s a much drier thing. Its entire 45 minute running time actually consist of a heavily edited walking tour of the ruins. By heavily edited I mean that there isn’t any actual walking, but slow pan shots of the site and architecture with narration that describes the buildings, their hypothesized purposes, and some general history of the ancient Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula. Some of the stuff on offer can been in the photographs I’ve included here in lieu of screencaps. I got them both from the Wiki Yaxchilan and associated pages.

It has the feeling of a vacation home video that’s been really well edited, scored with some tinny synthesized tribal music and narrated by an attractive sounding man with a latin accent. At the end he reads a poem over a series of camera pulls and some piano music. Mossy stones and epic ruined cityscapes abound. Seeing these images puts in perspective the complexity and advancement of the indigenous New World cultures of which the Maya at Yaxchilan were only one. It brings to mind the kind of dystopian collapse most of us normally associate with European empires like Rome and Greece.

Y'know, just for posterity and the like, I have scanned and posted the entire pamphlet included with the Yaxchilan cassette. Just click the link below.

No comments: