07. 06. 2006. 12:22

Art and politics – part two

His long, beautifully written secret reports were highly critical of my works, many of which he helped to complete. He called them “the products of a madman” to his state security employers. “Let us give him more state commissions,” he wrote in one of his reports, “so he won’t have time for his own anti-socialist stupidities.”

Film-making, just like all other forms of artistic expression, was strictly controlled by the authorities in Hungary during the decades of dictatorship. It was not only prohibitively expensive for the average citizen to buy a professional camera and raw film footage (and pay for the developing and editing of films), but one needed to work hard to obtain a state permit to show his or her films in public. The government-owned film studios were open only for those who studied at the also government-owned and controlled filmmakers’ school. For those without close contact within the Party (either on the merits of their strongly held and proven belief in the system or by virtue of their family ties), it was virtually impossible to get entry into this closely guarded, police-informer-packed school. However, by the mid-1970s, a narrow gap had opened on the wall that kept independent artists like me out of the forbidden territory of filmmaking. The Béla Balázs Studio, a filmmaking institution originally set up to provide practice grounds for the politically reliable students of the film school, started to accept a limited number of outsiders into the ranks of its membership. I made two extremely low-budget movies in the Studio.

First, in 1975, I made a 50-minute-long film entitled The Emperor’s Message (A császár üzenete), based on a short story by Franz Kafka with the same title. Right after I presented the finished piece to the members of the Studio, the film was confiscated by the projection room technician, an undercover employee of the secret police. It was taken to the office of the all-powerful culture commissar, György Aczél, who instantly banned the film from further showing and had it locked into his office vault, where my film remained for the next fifteen years until the fall of Communism.

The other film I made in the Studio in 1976, about 20 minutes in length and entitled Trial Dubbing (Szinkronpróba), did not even get finished. When I started editing the piece, it simply disappeared from the editing room, along with the negatives. Now, thirty years after the affair, I suspect that the film was stolen by the late Gábor Bódy, a close friend of mine, an already accomplished film director at that time, who did the camera work and helped me in the editing of the movie. It came to light a few years ago that Gábor Bódy was a police informer for many years, which explains why and how this superbly talented artist got so much state support for his film projects. I knew him from high school. He was an extremely intelligent and talented guy, probably the best mind in the Hungarian film industry at that time. I spent countless nights drinking and talking with him and did several projects with him in the 1970s. I found him very supportive of my work for years, but meanwhile – as I learned not long ago – he was writing reports on me to the infamous Department III/III of the State Security Authority. His long, beautifully written secret reports were highly critical of my works, many of which he helped to complete. He called them “the products of a madman” to his state security employers. “Let us give him more state commissions,” he wrote in one of his reports, “so he won’t have time for his own anti-socialist stupidities.” Gábor Bódy died a mysterious death in the 1980s. Officially, it was suicide, but many people who knew him well suspected, and still think, that he was murdered.

A few weeks after my Trial Dubbing disappeared from the editing room, around the same time that Gábor Bódy proposed to his secret police superiors that they should give me more state commissions, I received a phone call from the secretary of the Young Communists’ Organization of the state-owned Hungarian Television. He asked me for a meeting. We met for lunch at the Journalists’ Club. This high-ranking party official (he is now a star reporter for the Hungarian public television) told me during our meeting that the rule of the Communist Party was now strong enough to re-establish ties with the artistic avant-garde. Experts on history know that in the first years of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, and also before the Communist takeover of Hungary, avant-garde artists were supporting the cause of the revolution. Just as the Russian futurists, led by the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, were actively participating in the destruction of the capitalist system, progressive Hungarian artists and writers of that era also supported the Communist ideas that appeared progressive to them before they were put into practice. As we were consuming our luxurious lunch, the gourmet food reserved for the privileged members of the Journalists’ Club, the smooth-talking secretary of the Young Communists’ Organization of the Hungarian Television commissioned me – and, through me, my avant-garde artist friends – to write film treatments for the television’s cultural department. “Give us the wildest ideas you can,” he encouraged me. To fulfill this unprecedented commission, some of my artist friends and I submitted dozens of treatments in the coming months. None of these treatments was ever made into a movie, but writing them kept us busy until we came to realize that we were just wasting our time on a false promise. It seems to me now that the authorities took Gábor Bódy’s proposal seriously. By having me write dozens of film treatments, they left me little time for my own “anti-socialist stupidities” for many months. What they did not take into account was the almost limitless creative energy I had at that time, when I was still young and full of illusions.

(To be continued)

László Najmányi

Tags: László Najmányi