Hungarian abstract films – Péter Klausz: Blueprint (2013)

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Even though Hungary has got a rich and diverse avant-garde film culture, it seems to have almost no abstract film tradition at all. When thinking about possible reasons, historical considerations like the cultural policy of the Soviet Union, the pressure of socialist realism and its enforcement in all spheres of artistic endeavor suggest the most plausible explanations. Yet one only needs to have a quick look at the long list of Hungarian abstract painters (Lajos Kassák, Ferenc Martyn, Ilona Keserü, Tihamér Gyarmathy etc.) working during the communist era to reject the conclusion. Furthermore the disadvantaged status of abstract art did not keep filmmakers of other Eastern European countries from experimenting with non-figurative forms of expression.  The work of Mieczysław Waśkowski (Somnambulists, 1957) and Andrzej Pawłowski (Cinéforms, 1957) from Poland; Petr Skala (Sign, 1967; Insane Night, 1973) and Dušan Hanák (Impression, 1966) from Czechoslovakia; artists of the Romanian Kinema Ikon (Emanuel Tet: Poem Dinamic, 1978; Gelu Muresan: Concert, 1980) and Yugoslavian filmmakers like Mihovil Pansini (K3, 1963), Milan Samec (Termites, 1963) and Zlatko Hajdler (Kariokinesis, 1965) prove that the extensive control of the Soviet regime cannot be the only reason for the absence of pure abstraction in Hungarian experimental film.

In the light of the exceptional position of the Balázs Béla Studio the issue is even more confusing. BBS, considered a unique entity, operated for nearly five decades working both inside and outside of the structure of the Socialist state film production. The studio (co-)produced over 500 films in all genres including several of the most well known Hungarian experimental films. It is significant to note that contrary to other films produced during the Soviet regime, the films made in the BBS were not obliged to be released and screened in cinemas. It means that BBS films did not have to go through the usual approval process which banned many film projects early in the production process. BBS filmmakers were relatively free to experiment with forms and to address even politically sensitive topics. Despite this privilege BBS filmmakers never felt the need to seize the opportunity and create purely abstract moving pictures. Although this issue has not been comprehensively investigated, the absence of abstract (concrete) films might be explained by this unique freedom. In the time of constant repression filmmakers who got the chance to articulate their ideas through film might have felt the responsibility to speak for the ones who cannot have their voices heard. As pure abstraction has the quality of being apolitical, BBS filmmakers might have considered these exclusively formal experiments irresponsible at the time. Even if we accept this argument, the question still stands: what about the last 25 years?

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The leading representative of the Czech abstract film, Petr Skala worked on his non-figurative pieces in secret for decades. In the early nineties when Martin Blažíček started to produce his abstract and half-abstract films, he did so unaware of Skala’s films, which were still hidden from the public at the time. The digital takeover in the nineties gave another push to abstract film. The deterioration of film material which often entailed figurative images becoming damaged beyond recognition, served the cause of emphasizing the disappearance of the analogue filmic body.

As for Hungary, we have no knowledge of any such „hidden experimenter” nor has the threat of complete digital takeover lead to formal experiments as in the Czech Republic. Even if it was the time for several young avant-garde filmmakers to emerge (Buharov brothers, László Csáki, Pater Sparrow etc.), with the exception of a few lesser known pieces (Ádám Komjáthy-Hartyándi: COLOURS, 1991; VARIATIONS, 1992), pure abstraction was still missing from experimental films. It seemed as if video art have seized an exclusive right to abstract moving images and that experimental film has forgotten about it.

This issue was somewhat addressed in the late 2000s in Péter Lichter’s films. Following in the footsteps of the iconic American avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, Lichter experimented with the lyrical film form which he synthesized with found footage filmmaking techniques. Though he has never produced a purely abstract film, he often used abstract sequences in his films, both lyrical and geometrical. (No Signal Detected, 2013; Pure Virtual Function, 2015; Non-Places: Beyond the Infinite, 2015).

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It was Lichter who introduced Péter Klausz to the Hungarian audience in 2015. At that time Klausz’s short films were already screened at a few international festivals but he was almost completely unknown to the extremely modest Hungarian experimental film scene which – as Lichter put it – „could fit comfortably in a single phone booth”. Inspired by the stimulating environment at FAMU (Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) where he attended a seminar on avant-garde film, in the course of one year Klausz made four experimental films, all of them with cameraless techniques. Even though Hanna (2013) is the one that gained the most attention, his earlier short, Blueprint (2013) is the one that is more relevant to this topic as it is a purely abstract piece.

In his 1967 book Heinrich Lützeler listed four characteristics which define an abstract image. An abstract image ceases to reflect on anything connected to our objective reality. It forces us to view it as it is without relying on our preconceptions that help us to decode our everyday (figurative) world. Images which transform reality but still use its actual elements do not count as abstract, even if the elements are unusual and only recognizable by a few. An abstract image should allow us to project figures onto it, but this attitude would lead the viewer astray. The right way is not to move from abstraction to reality, but from reality to abstraction.[1] Blueprint meets all of Lützeler’s criteria as it shows no connection to the figurative elements of our reality. Its structure is based on the flickering of blue surfaces of various tones. There are no hidden references or traces to suggest meaning. There is no set interpretation of the film or support for academic analysis. There is no scientific concept behind the rhythm of the flickering or psychological explanation for the way Klausz changes the tone of the color blue. The sound is probably the only aspect of the film that might suggest a subtle commitment. Klausz incorporated the characteristic sound of a projector into the film which gives us the impression as if we were watching the original copy, the Super8 film material. With this nuance Klausz might refer to the distinction between analogue and digital technology or even to Blažíček’s ideology from the nineties. Then again. He might not.

Blueprint is a fine work but not an exceptional piece of art. It does not present anything other avant-garde films have not shown before. What makes it unique is its position in the Hungarian experimental film tradition that has always kept distance from pure abstraction. Blueprint serves as a reminder of this unsolved issue while this article should serve as a call for all Hungarian filmmakers who have been keeping their abstract films from us to come forward, or for those who are thinking of creating one on their own to carry on!

Written by: Dorottya Szalay
English proofreader: Johannes Wachs


[1] Lützeler, Heinrich (1967) Abstrakte Malerei. Frankfurt: Bertelsmann.


 

 

 

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