Budapest makes the perfect setting for many cities… And although foreign productions now mostly come for cheaper studio lots, Hungary has a great past with “on location” movies.
Currently, as cultural and financial honchos put Hungarian filmmaking to an induced coma, the only area where crews (if only a very small number of them) can still work are foreign productions shooting in Budapest and other parts of Hungary.
Make no mistake, beyond the generous financial incentives (and the apt crews), we are rich with exciting locations. From the historic and war-torn elements of downtown, to the castles in the rural areas, or even the rundown industrial facilities on Budapest’s outskirts, we provide perfect backgrounds for movies of all kinds.
Productions have been coming since the late sixties. Below is a selection of some of the more interesting films shot here:
One of the earliest films is The Fixer (1966) by John Frankenheimer. It is about a Jewish man who is unjustly imprisoned by the Czarist regime in Russia.
Woody Allen, who once claimed that he could never leave Manhattan, is now past his prime and jumping from one European city to another to film. In actuality, his first venture to the ‘outside world’ led him to Hungary, where he shot Love and Death (1977), a parody of War and Peace.
Here’s another interesting mix: what do Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and Pelé have in common? It’s their film, Escape To Victory (1981) directed by John Huston. Based on a Hungarian classic, and partly shot here, it shows Stallone as a goalkeeper of a POW team playing against the Nazi’s footballers in a special match. Sly reportedly had a hard time playing his role authentically, and thus let many balls in.
One of the producers of the aforementioned film was Andy Vajna, who left Hungary in 1956 and became a successful producer of some of the most well-known action flicks of the ’80s. He returned to Budapest in 1988, with Red Heat in which Schwarzenegger plays a Soviet cop who has to chase a criminal in the US. The Moscow scenes in the beginning were shot in the Buda Castle District, and the Castle posed as the Police HQ.
The first time when Budapest finally played itself under Vajna’s productions was in I Spy, the ’2003 film version of the 1960’s TV series featuring Eddie Murphy and Owen Wilson. Although the place of most action was admittedly Budapest, there was one twist: this time, the Castle was the palace of the bad guy, played by Malcolm McDowell.
Even the great Spielberg did some weird things with the city when he did his controversial film, Munich, here in 2005. While it can be explained as having a tight production schedule, (they wanted to get it wrapped in time for Oscar consideration) the fact that the area surrounding the Opera provides the setting for both Rome and Paris makes Hungarians smile.
However, there are two films that offer true glimpses of Budapest: Music Box (1989), in which Jessica Lange comes here to unravel his émigré father’s shady past, and An American Rhapsody (2001), an autobiographic film by Éva Gardos, in which the young Scarlett Johansson comes for a trip of self-discovery.
As now Mr. Vajna is sitting on some fat money bags, we can only hope that his producing experience will revitalize Hungarian filmmaking.