Budapest Times: “Where is the Hollywood Magic?” (Aug 11, 2010)

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  • several European countries have followed Hungary’s film tax incentives, providing many cuts/discounts for foreign producers (especially Hollywood-based) to film within their borders
  • this is in direct response to Hungary’s major film incentive policies enacted in 2004; furthermore, various studios have been constructed/developed over the past 5 years to show Hollywood companies the benefits of using Hungary as a filming location
    • ex) Korda Studios, built in 2007 in the city of Etyek
    • ex) 2010, US-based Raleigh Studios built a huge complex in Rakospalota
  • few years of great success wooing Western European and Hollywood filmmakers, but then with economic crisis, there has not been so much investment in the past year (yet some hope remains with the new interest by Raleigh Studios)
  • **there is a list of prominent (new) studios in Hungary at the end of the article…might be good to look into to see if any have their own sites**

HC: The 1960s: New Directors, New Films, New Wave

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  • Kádár political reign opened up time of relative laxity in Hungary in 1960s
  • “What Kádár attempted was the foregrounding of material improvements, particularly in the sphere of consumerism, combined with the removal of politics from the public sphere” (94)
    • great effect of an easing of censorship in the context of film
  • positive impact of György Aczél (95), yet with some traces of the old system of surveillance/control
  • growing fame of Miklós Jancsó (ós_Jancsó) and István Szabó (án_Szabó)

István Szabó

  • the new Hungarian system “allowed for greater flexibility between studios, including the possibility of directors having their project accepted by a studio to which they were not attached” (96)
  • 1960s saw growth of film education also; boom in youth interest
  • 1965, 1st Hungarian Film Week, Nov 10-14 in the town of Pécs
  • another period of more co-productions, especially with studios/film figures in other countries
    • showed deliberate mvmt away from Soviet policies with openness
    • ex) 1964 Hungarian/American film of “The Golden Head” (Az ananyfej)
  • Hungarian New Wave film mvmt: new filming techniques and thematic values by some of the directors (not a total shift)
  • technological developments as well: “lighter, and therefore more portable, cameras and sound equipment enabled hand-held shots to become common…and for shooting on location to be the norm” (102)
    • tech as instigating aesthetic changes; ESPECIALLY as the medium of television became more affordable and popular, cinema had to find a way to distinguish itself
  • 1960s, also the beginning of films reflecting (albeit indirectly/figuratively) on recent events like WWII, 1956 Uprising and lingering Soviet influences
    • ex) “Twenty Hours” and “Cold Days”
  • yet this critical reflection wasn’t without some faults: “history was being exposed in a critical sense, behind held up for public examination…yet there was also a sense that the way history was portrayed encouraged a kind of ‘historical victim’ mentality, the idea that Hungary and Hungarians were swept along by historical tides over which they had little or no control” (109)
  • **Political/social significance of passivity being shown in cinema –> the effect of this on the formation of a distinctively Hungarian identity
    • and how this relates to the significance of Indian/Hungarian relations — both historically and now!

HC, Ch 6: Upturns, Downturns, and Merry-go-rounds: The Road to 1956

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  • 1954-1956: critical time of mvmt away from Socialist Realism in film-making
  • yet still there weren’t too many non-Hungarian options at the cinema: “frequently the only alternatives were from other Eastern Europe countries, the Soviet Union, and the occasional offering from a non-aligned country such as India” (81)
    • **this reminds me, I need to do more research into the non-alignment status of India and how that came into play during the 1956 events in Hungary**
  • more variety of topics/POVs in films at this time
  • 1955: Felix Máriássy directed “Springtime in Budapest” (Budapesti tavász)
  • 1956: Zoltán Fábri’s “Merry-Go-Round” (Körhinta) was very successful and significant for its thematic, technological, and aesthetic contributions in the film industry
    • (here is a clip from the movie; I tried looking for the scene with the actual carnival but couldn’t find it)
    • during this period there was also a growth of Hungarian presence at film festivals, esp the emerging Cannes Film Festival
  • after Uprising in 1956, “apart from the films which slavishly followed official policy, many directors turned their attention to non-controversial topics, light-hearted romances, fantasies, and literary adaptations” (91)
    • fantasy as a genre/setting that would have allowed more freedom in filmmaking, with the “protection” of impossibility as a way to say/show things that otherwise would have been frowned upon

HC, Ch 5: Somewhere in Europe: Reconstruction and Stalinism

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  • famous director Szőts laid out plan in an essay for renovation/rebuilding of Hungarian film industry: “there should be a dramatic shift in emphasis, away from the notion of film as a business which exists purely as entertainment, to a much broader and also more complex notion of film as a dynamic part of culture, as an art form to be taken more seriously and nurtured at all levels of society” (61-62)
  • post WWII: Feb 1, 1946: Hungary declared as Republic by the Smallholders’ Party (in direct opposition to the Communist groups forming that were rallying around the idea of collectivizing the country’s farmlands)
  • yet more political instability: cinema seen as an effective propaganda tool…many of the nation’s theaters were nationalized so that various pol. parties could use them and show their own film productions
    • all the while, the Communist party was growing, exploiting the fear of many Hungarians who did not want a return to fascism
  • 1948: Hungary became a Soviet satellite w/ major political/social/economic policy changes
  • 1946: Hungarian Film Research Institute formed –> today, called Hungarian Film Institute
  • 1948: Hungarian film industry nationalized again
    • although this set up various restrictions for the content, it ALSO create a more cohesive infrastructure for the industry and provided the necessary financing
  • Socialist Realism: certain genre of filmmaking pushed by the Soviet Union that boosted importance of community, etc:
  • many of the films during this period were related to factory/industry environment (or the collectivization of the agriculture sector)
    • subtle political messages conveyed through the shots of community/singing to imply happiness with the increasingly Communist policy changes
  • one main route of censorship focused on the script: “The script had become  the dominant element in the film-making process in Communist countries…[but] this emphasis on the script ignored the simple fact that a film is the end product of a complex artistic and technical process” (76)
    • way of Soviet control in the context of the film industry becoming more tangible
    • also showed the Soviet POV of the function of cinema (and how this deviated so much from earlier Hungarian POVs)
  • March 1953: Joseph Stalin died; led to a re-evaluation of Soviet future (especially related to the satellite countries)
  • July 1953: Imre Nagy took control with a new gov administration (much more open)
    • among other things, his New Course policies allowed more flexibility by individual filmmakers, slow divergence from “Socialist Realism” methods

HC, Ch 4: The 1930s and the Second World War

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  • 1930s, Hungarian film industry was still mostly imitations of Hollywood productions
    • little cinematic effort put towards films that were social critiques in any way: simple plots, settings mostly
  • first wave of stars/heartthrobs at this time
  • as 1930s progressed, however, more politically-focused plots; yet they were still fairly conservative (more of admiration of past tradition rather than suggesting a change in the present moment) & reflected the overall shift towards conservative gov policies
    • real political strife: increasing tension between Soviet Union and Hungary, more inter-class conflict especially w/ urbanization, anti-Semitic movements
  • 1938 formation of gov body: Chamber of Dramatic & Film Arts reflected this conservative shift
  • increase of anti-Semitic policies/restrictions led to another wave of migration by artists/film figures
  • as WWII approached, Hungary got involved in an intricate political/military dance to help Hitler (trying to avoid too much investment) and regain territories lost in the Treaty of Versailles
  • but the small country got sucked in more and more: “The complications and compromises come in the details, however. Hungary was drawn increasingly into the orbit of the Axis powers, and short-term territorial gain was achieved only at the price of Hungary’s increasingly hollow pretense at neutrality” (52)
  • **look into 1942 film “People of the Mountains” (Emberek a havason) directed by István Szőts as significant milestone**
  • as the war proceeded, the market audience for Hungarian cinema increased because of the populations in the annexed regions
  • Feb 1945: Red Army captured Budapest; Dec 25, 1945: Red Army took partial control of the film industry (by taking over the Hunnia Studio)

HC, Ch 3: Quotas, Foreigners, and Co-productions

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  • “With its unevenly developed economy, particularly over-reliance on the fragile agricultural sector and lack of adequate social provisions, Hungary was ill-equipped to deal with the resulting economic depression, which soon precipitated a constitutional crisis” (30)
  • economic slump meant that many foreign film companies’ finances were frozen, which in turn paved the way to allow more local films to be demanded in their stead (did not necessarily translate into available financing for those domestic products though)
  • 1930s, Hungary gov was debating whether to enforce quotas of foreign films being screened in the country
    • yet the country was very aware of the fact that they had to compromise in order to keep the nations that had emerged from WWI as the winners in good terms: “The Hungarian government was also, no doubt, motivated by questions of diplomacy as the USA was by now a major international player and Hungary was keen to foster good relations with this new world power-broker” (32)
  • new film import tax was set, it was meant to help subsidize film production in Hungary; enforced/maintained by the Film Industry Fund (FIF), which in turn was supervised by the government
    • yet mainly what this ended up doing was add one more layer of self-censorship when distributors had a big say on what kinds of scripts would be approved (mostly very safe and formulaic, entertainment-based, moderate views, etc to gain the highest number of viewers)
    • thus, “it is therefore significant that those 1930s Hungarian films that did have some critical social dimension were those not so reliant on FIF funding and/or were more resistant to pressure from the authorities in some other way” (34)
      • in other words, most of the films at this time were heavily dependent on government funding and so were forced to adhere to certain parameters; those that were socially thought-provoking tended to be those that were NOT dependent in this way and thus they did not have to worry about offending certain parts of the government
  • at this time, several Hungarian directors had gained brief Hollywood experience; co-productions emerged as a viable and lucrative method (would reappear later on in the 20th century)
  • 1930s Venice Biennale (film festival): Hungarian participation grew, but the reputation of the festival overall faltered after it became more closely tied to Mussolini/fascism)
  • 1939, Nemzeti filmhét (National Filmweek) was started as Hungary’s first film festival (supported by the Secretary of State at the time, Ferenc Zsindely)
  • another government intervention attempt: 1935 Film Act that stated 10% of all cinema-screened films in a given year needed to be Hungarian (only very loosely followed)
  • Films at this time did “little to challenge the stereotyped notions of Hungary abroad” and often featured various elements that supported “a certain exoticism” (39). This “cultural misappropriation and dislocation…only reinforced an appalling ignorance of Eastern European geopolitics and history, adding further to the obfuscation of an already complex, and worsening, international political situation” (40)

HC, Ch 2: The End of Empire: Revolution, Reaction, and the “Talkies”

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  • last bit of WWI, there was much political/labor strife (esp leading into 1918); success of Russian Revolution of 1917 was a big motivation for this period of instability
  • October 23/24, 1918: formation of the National Council in Budapest (headed by Count Mihály Károlyi)
  • November 3, 1918: armistice signed by the leftovers of the Austro-Hungarian empire to make Hungary an “independent and autonomous Republic” (17)…but this was very short-lived
  • because of pressure from ethnic groups (Czechs, Serbs, Croats),  still much political turmoil –> Communist-Social Democrat party took power in 1919 after a failed revolution
  • part of movement to push cultural development, Republic of Councils boosted film with formation of Film Directorate
  • April 12, 1919: Hungary nationalized its film industry (György Lukács and Béla Balázs were leading figures in this new organization)
  • August 1, 1919: Republic of Councils fell apart
  • p22 – detailed account of Treaty of Versailles and Treaty of Trianon, esp in context of the division of Hungary (and Austro-Hungary empire)
    • very extreme losses for Hungary; geographically crippled to prevent repeat of revolution
  • March 1, 1920: Miklós Horthy appointed as the Regent of Hungary
    • Horthy reinstated many pre-WWI (even 19th century) practices
  • many film industry figures (who had previously been protected by the nationalization of the industry under the rule of the Republic of Councils) fled to neighboring countries
  • “Hungary may indeed be unique among European nations in the inter-war period in that much of its political life was determined, largely, by external factors and the drive to reclaim ‘Greater Hungary'” (26)
  • actual film production at the time was limited or “safe” (self-censorship) but there was much development on film theory/writing
  • Hungarian film industry was very shaky in 1920s; especially because “Hungary was now a much smaller country than it had been previously and it was difficult for the studios to survive in this shrunken market and entrepreneurs were not slow to realize that there was more profit to be made by importing foreign films” (28)
  • many film studios in areas outside the new demarcations of Hungary were lost (big financial blow)
  • talkies in Hungary: “The Blue Idol” released on Sept 25, 1931, seen as first full talkie film made in Hungary

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