Following the elimination of creative workshops and the restructuring of film theaters, museums and galleries became the primary forums for experimental films following avant-garde trends in Hungary. Therefore they have been forced to share the same space with video art pieces designed for this specific environment. Although in the Western countries there is often some kind of infrastructure supporting the creation and dissemination of experimental movies, the essence of the cinematic experience and together with the problem of art space and movie theater cohabitation is an international topic among film theorists. Partly because of the radical change in the general viewing attitude, Raymond Bellour connected the gallery installation experience with the loss of sustained concentration and defined the cinema with its specific features (isolation, darkness, strict positioning of the viewer) as the optimal environment for focused attention. Somnambulism versus hypnosis.

As a result of the scarce attention that new media curators and art historians have paid to the history of experimental film, Hungarian avant-garde film had to give up on the hypnotic potential of cinema, which had a great impact on the form of the films produced. Following the millennium pieces made by filmmakers (not by artists who work with film)[1] include several surrealistic works (Oneheadword Protection, Recycled), trance films (Limit, Light Sleep), lyrical abstractions (No Signal Detected, Résfilm), animations (Léna, Kulocity), found footage experiments (Rimbaud, Look Inside The Ghost Machine). But the meditative, structural trend introduced by Andy Warhol, Peter Kubelka and Michael Snow is represented by only one significant piece: Milky Way.



The trance film theme seems to be a popular one among contemporary Hungarian avant-garde films. They feature a somnambulist using his unconscious mind to create new images of time and space. The trend, ossified in the works of Maya Deren, Sidney Peterson, Curtis Harrington and Stan Brakhage has proven its timeless significance as several young Hungarian experimental filmmakers, although far removed from its original context, still adopted its main characteristics. The most relevant of these filmmakers are Pater Sparrow and Péter Lichter.

Of the two, Pater Sparrow is more „law-abiding”, as his trance films, Limit and T?ICK are almost lineal descendants of Maya Deren’s pieces. For example the opening of Limit could be seen as a a sequence borrowed from the perfectly choreographed party scene of Ritual in Transfigured Time, and the old women immediately recalls the mirror-faced stranger from Meshes of the Afternoon. Sparrow’s somnambulists explore the path of self-discovery in a pressurized environment packed with symbolic objects and mysterious characters. Just like Deren, Sparrow exploits the potential of circularity and repetition, but Sparrow tends to focus more on what the protagonist does rather than on what he sees. The somnambulist of trance film is often almost fully isolated from the other characters and there is no real connection between them. T?ICK plays with this isolation and presents a sobering image of male-female relationships.


In contrast Péter Lichter’s 2009 found footage film, Light Sleep demonstrates the transition between trance and lyrical film. The protagonist of the trance film is on the move; he continuously commutes between places. He sometimes takes place in front of the camera (as a sleeping child) but mostly he withdraws behind the camera (in his dream-images). The plot and the actual appearance of the main character is reduced to the act of sleeping and the greater part of the film is dominated by his visions. By melting Danish porn sequences together with a GDR youth film and elaborately deconstructing found footage material Lichter re-thinks Brakhage’s Freudian train of thought while taking the abstract representation of eroticism to a brand new level.

Lyrical Documentaries and City Symphony Films

Lyrical documentary is an appreciated trend, as it helps to extend the audience of avant-garde film, often labeled elitist, by reaching out to topics concerning different social groups using the language of lyrical film. No wonder that many Hungarian directors adopted this way of filmmaking. The most well-known works include Egerszalók by László Csáki and Szabolcs Pálfi, Carta Azulejo by Gergő Somogyvári and Judit Feszt and Lost World by Gyula Nemes.

Egerszalók and Lost World both discuss the disappearance of the old in the shadow of modernity. Approaching the topic from cultural anthropological point , Egerszalók is based on the alternations betweem analogies and contrasts, and the collision of the profane with the mystical. The 16mm black & white sequences are accompanied by random dialogue-extracts recorded on the spot, adding a rather humorous, romantic tone to the film.


Gyula Nemes’s grandiose work, Lost World covers ten years of the life of Kopaszi dam. By using the sound of a previous, unfinished documentary, recorded by the Dunkeszi MÁV Orchestra, as its own music, the film strengthens the historical character of the images depicting the decay. Nemes follows the slower, more subtle trend of lyrical film, carries on with the formal inventions of Marie Menken’s Notebook and exploits the method of plastic cutting to create a quiet flow of images.

As interview, diary, city symphony film, fine art documentation and colorful lyrical abstraction all in one, Carta Azulejo is a film mail recorded on Super 8, sent by a Lisbon based azulejo painter to his family in Brazil. The Somogyvári-Feszt duo extends the connective characteristic of the azulejo-culture onto the whole structure of the film, in which the descriptive black & white scenes are followed by flickering sequences of ornamental and geometrical tile-patterns and sepia images of the Portuguese harbor.

To be continued….

Written by: Dorottya Szalay

[1] In Hungary there is an apparent economic split generated between artists who work with film and experimental filmmakers.

Pater Sparrow: T?ICK (2003)

Pater Sparrow: Limit (2002)

Péter Lichter: Light Sleep (2009)

Gyula Nemes: Lost World (2008)


László Csáki and Szabolcs Pálfi: Egerszalók (2006)


Gergő Somogyvári and Judit Feszt: Carta Azulejo (2008)

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