Avant-garde film has always been interrelated with fine art, music and literature. Contemporary Hungarian experimental film is no exception, although there are only a few pieces clearly identifying their references. Péter Lichter’s work, edited from thirty reels of Super8 home videos is one of them. Using Ádám Márton Horváth’s mystical music and poetic-ironic narration written by three young Hungarian poets (Márió Nemes Z., Ádám Mestyán and Ákos Kele Fodor), the 2013 film Rimbaud shares stories about the adventures of the rebellious rhymer in three different languages: Swedish, Arabic and Indonesian. To overcome the disturbing eclecticism of the dissonant found footage materials, Lichter used the method of plastic cutting, so the movement within the frame is carried across the cut. As a result, footage from different sources melt together and form an organic whole.
Oneheadworld Protection and Hotel Tubu, two films made by the Buharov brothers, take elements from different religious, social and artistic ideologies such as surrealism, folklorism, Buddhism to create their own universe. They also borrow from several avant-garde trends and incorporate their elements into a grotesque and metaphysical mish-mash. Oneheadworld Protection could actually work as a summary of avant-garde film history: the integration of paranormal creatures into the rural area adds a surrealistic tone to the film, while the lyrical charge of the Super8 footage transforms the anxiety-inducing atmosphere into a poetic ambience. The damaged images unveil the materiality of film and emphasize the self-reflexivity of avant-garde cinema while the pure, bucolic surroundings override the elitism connected to experimentalism.
There is only one noted Hungarian film deliberately following the tradition of meditative structural avant-garde film introduced by Andy Warhol and Michael Snow (Empire, Sleep; Wavelength): Benedek Fliegauf’s Milky Way. The film – together with its opening showing a wind turbine – consists of ten „moving-images”, ten scenes recorded from fixed angle with ten different narratives not connected to each other. Similarly to Wavelength, Fliegauf’s film provides clues for the viewers to construct a story, but while Snow’s film focuses on one location only, Fliegauf – consciously or unconsciously adapting to the altered viewing attitude – divides his piece into ten shorter sequences. Through its picturesque compositions Milky Way analyzes the relationship between fine art and film and takes a stand on the necessity to preserve the cinematic space. If Fliegauf’s film was forced onto gallery walls it would loose its essence, its meditative feature. Milky Way proves that even if experimental film admits its connection to (contemporary) fine art, it still needs its own forum.
The medium is the message
Avant-garde cinema has always walked hand in hand with the latest technical-technological innovations, but Hungarian experimental film seems to take its time reflecting on changes of the medium. Of course there are a few exceptions.
In his 2005 film, Run, Miklós Falvay examines the acts of fragmentation, division and multiplication and investigates different methods for image manipulation. Falvay keeps on overriding his chosen structure and mixes up the depicted technical evolution with witty parallels, the variation of camera movements and the expansion of the filmic space.
No Signal Detected shows „a rhythmical combat of digital and chemical decay”. Lichter again recycles old footage to contrast the decay of cellulose with the „malfunction” of the digital moving image. While the decomposition of the film material results in varied, interesting alterations, the digital decay leaves only color squares and black&white parallel lines behind. The rhythm of the film, the shifts between analog and digital images are dictated by the sound of Bruce Lee’s punches, kicks and screams as Lichter choose an excerpt from Enter the Dragon to illustrate the difference between the two types of deconstruction.
István Illés’s experimental work, track32 mixes live action with animation and borrows movements from contact improvisation to tell a tragicomic story of a man and a woman. Illés’s film imitates the specific imagery of several different cinematographic devices, such as mobile phones, handy cams and surveillance cameras. With the filmmaker entering the scene the cinematic space is revealed, the mise-en-scéne becomes visible.
Anita Sárosi’s Avatar depicts the evolutionary stages of a real person’s digital alter ego. In Avatar the creator steps into the virtual space and constructs her own online doppelganger. Sárosi’s film tries to mix the synthetic with the organic to create a new spiritual state of being.
„The future of Hungarian experimental film is open” – claims Lóránd Hegyi in his 1983 review of the topic. Thirty years later the same is true, and Hungarian experimental film still exists even if it is currently hiding. As the connection with the international avant-garde film trends shows, Hungarian experimental film has never been an isolated phenomenon and the problems it has to face are problems other countries share. To overcome the loss of its original forum but still secure the cinematic experience it needs to find a new space and remove itself from the artificially lit gallery walls.
Written by: Dorottya Szalay
Buharov brothers: Hotel Tubu (2002)
Buharov brothers: Oneheadword Protection (2006)
Benedek Fliegauf: Milky Way (2007)
Miklós Falvay: Run (2005)
István Illés: track32 (2011)