If you absolutely, positively must see the private lives of Hungarians during Communism's reign (set to a superchill soundtrack) … accept no substitutes.
It was a long night I was trying to end without an alcohol-fueled puke-o-rama which landed me on channel 18. Seeking some outdated British or American fare to anchor myself on, I almost clicked past, but the electronic music caught my ear. As my bleary eyes focused slowly on the screen, I began to resolve the strange, black and white clip of a family at some kind of Eastern Bloc athletic event.
So began my exploration of the private film presentations on Film-múzeum. There is obviously a lot of good work that goes into the videos. The schedule is unclear to me, but after midnight never fails so far. The content is engaging, to say the least. I do not feel like a voyeur watching people's lives play out on the television screen, but more of a sociologist. I do wonder at the stories behind the films.
In one evening, two films struck me the most interesting. One, which appeared to be a vacation roll from the 1970s, featured a family in New York. Set to an uptempo but still relaxed techno track, it showed the drive into the city from the airport, complete with massive 1970s muscle cars, sedans, station wagons and surly New York City driving habits. The requisite skyline shot featuring the World Trade Center, Empire State Building and others was well shot and thankfully brief.
It could have been any vacation reel from any family in the world visiting New York. But it wasn't. They were Hungarian. They were only obviously Hungarian because they dressed their "tweenish" son in traditional garb.
Believe you me, unless you are clueless, you don't wear traditional Hungarian garb in New York in the 1970s, complete with hat, knee-high (pinned) socks, and lederhosen-like suspender-shorts. To paraphrase a character from Office Space, "No, I believe you get your ass kicked for doing something like that."
The reel shifted to the arrival of an elderly couple and their interaction with the boy in inappropriate outfit. Ah, a clue. Grandparents? Is this their first meeting with their grandson? Did they flee the post-WWII, post-1956 Hungary? They looked frail as they fawned on the boy. Perhaps some hardship allowed this visit from their family, or maybe their child had "gone with the program" back home. I don't know. The film ended with shots of the father and mother with the elderly couple and then their entry into a taxi and departure as the sound track wound down into piano playing.
The second film was no less interesting. Dozens of people assembled gliders and watched as others were towed into the air behind a rather stout (if old-looking) single-prop airplane. The music was a little mechanical but featured windy sound FX interspersed with the clanks and clinks of the industrial beatline. The caption underneath (featured in all of these mashups) mentioned Pécs and a year in the early 80s, but I was more focused on the action.
But the thought occurred to me that such an extravagant hobby was either somehow formally subsidized or these were very privileged people, indeed. Members of the Party? Military personnel? Who had this kind of spare influence and/or cash here in the years when even Schwarzenegger could not find toilet paper on the film set (1988's Red Heat)? But I also noticed three pilots of four shown entering the cockpit were women. Bully for Hungary, etc., unless it was just because women are lighter, allowing more cargo.
Sure, you can also find some English language stuff on Filmmúzem. But before you seek that shelter, take a little trip into the past, as recorded by the common (or privileged) people of the Hungarian past. Check out Privátfilmek.
Oh, sounds bad, you say? If you can't appreciate a few well-crafted hours of the strange world of Hungarian home-brewed Super8 goodness, then I apologize. You have no soul and the world is made for those of us who do. Heck, I would attend a party solely based on drinking at a bar that showed nothing but this footage and played only its soundtrack. Hmm…
Beyond the intrinsic value to be had in just watching and wondering (in various altered states), there is a bonus for those who submit films. They will produce a DVD of your films in exchange for the right to use the footage however they please. We've gathered the info for you would-be immortals below. Check out the rest of the page to see what's showing, they have some great stuff on offer.
– Filmmúzeum Műsorszolgáltató Zrt. (XI Budapest, Lomb u. 23-27. firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +36 1 236 9100. To donate Super8 or other formats to the archive (Privát Filmgyűjtemény Alapítványba), please write to: email@example.com.