Bruce Checefsky/György Gerő: Béla
Dorottya Szalay, Art in Cinema, September 2013
Somewhat Hungarian, somewhat not; somewhat contemporary, somewhat not. In 2009 the American photographer and independent filmmaker Bruce Checefsky created an experimental film which experimented with an earlier experiment. He took György Gerő’s more than 80 year old film script Béla and made a movie out of it.
Gerő, born in 1905, was a dadaist poet, editor and filmmaker. He published the original idea of Béla in the ephemeral dadaist review IS – edited together with Imre Pán and Árpád Mezei . The original four page long version is currently housed in the Budapest City Archives. The meticulously developed film project, published in 1924, severely limits the influence of the director from the movie with the autonomous, peculiar, marionette-like movement of the figures. Thanks to research initiated by the experimental filmmaker Gyula Száva we have a good evidence that newly discovered film contains scenes from the original. Still, the whole film hasn’t turned up yet, and it is also not certain, that the found footage-fragments actually belong to Béla.
Lajos Kassák called Gerő „the creator of the first Hungarian avantgarde film”, while Miklós Peternák considered him „the first independent filmmaker working in Hungary.” We don’t know much about his later life, only that because of his political views he was declaired neurotic and was hospitalised. The last known information is that he stayed in a private sanatorium in Vienna around 1935. Afterwards all traces of him were lost. It is not clear how Bruce Checefsky got in touch with Gerő’s work, but it is certain that the American artist’s oeuvre includes several moving pictures inspired by Eastern-Central-European artists. Checefsky launched a company called Seesaw Pictures which is responsible for recreating forgotten or lost works made mainly by Polish creators, like Stefan Themerson, Jan Brzekowski, Andrzej Pawlowski and Franciszka Themerson.
„The film as an art form is not for reproducing human actions” – states György Gerő in his often quoted theoretical essay. Gerő thought that the biggest mistake of film is that it tries to create an individual work by illustrating a series of actions. In his opinion the illusion – which is mainly naturalistic – is a fraud. The film, just like every other art form, has to use its own qualities to express the choosen content. „The film should only show and move such elements, which don’t have a similar life anywhere else”. According to Gerő film should articulate change, it has to let go of all the literary and fine art references, and concentrate ont he deeper connection between the pictures and the subject. This theory implies that Gerő believed that sound and colour would lead the film astray, allthough he would have allowed colour if it was used as a homogeneous composition-element.
It is enough to recall a few parts of Gerő’s film theory for it to become clear that Checefsky’s Béla is an illustration of the ars poetica of the Hungarian filmmaker. The movie is about the utilization of the potential of the montage. In the diegetic space all laws of physics are meaningless and the connection between the objects, figures and their movements asseverates the motto of the pursuit for continuity. Checefsky’s and Gerő’s work is built upon the ability to compare, which is dependent on one’s memory. The movements continue and expand in different spaces and situations. The background either works as additional coulisse (hovering letters), or is empty, driving the attention to the action taking place in the foreground (beach). Béla consistently repeats the continuation of movements and forms, especially how they keep leaning into each other (drill-plane; opened book-tights imitated typing-rain of letters), while articulating the film’s „anti-psychic” quality.
Checefsky’s experiment can be defined as time travel into an era where there was space for more unusual utopias like the autarky of the actorless film and the materialization of experimental filmmaking. These thoughts might seem absurd in a world where the experimental film has to face the problem of not to being able to find a forum for itself, and where film in general has become synonymous with storytelling through moving images. Nevertheless, as Checefsky’s approach of reminding to remember shows, even if the experimental style did not become the hegemonic trend of film, the film theories born in the ’20s are becoming more and more relevant in the digital age.