Sunday, February 2, 2014

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso; A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

On Cinema: Hungarian Director Miklos Jancso
A Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 4)

(*) First published at on February 2nd, 2014, under On Cinema: Miklos Jansco. Revised 02.08.2014.

I learned about the Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó only a few years ago, and I rushed to see several of his works voraciously. He was one of the most original artists of cinema that I know of, with an eye for substantial and pictorial perfection on par with Tarkovsky and Bergman, notwithstanding their differences in terms of cinematic vocabulary and dramatic techniques.

I'd like to focus here on one of the elements of his cinematic language, which I found to be most innovative and unique. In his mature style, there are perfectly choreographed scenes, sometimes made of only a single long take, with crowds of actors and extras, and complex camera moves, in which a vast amount of the "story time", "plot time", even "screen time", hours or even decades of narrative time, are compressed without haste or contradiction into the "real time" before our eyes. The result could be breathtaking. It's not just about the organization of the long take; others have done that quite successfully. Nor is it exactly about filmed theater. This is a compact and coherent dramatic and visual event, which could seamlessly and reflectively walk you through centuries within minutes, if he wished, without a hitch. To me, it's magic. I still enjoy thinking about exactly how he managed to pull it out so beautifully.

I attach below an 11-min sample from one of his famous works, "The Red Psalm", which I understood as an abridged critical narrative of the long history of his country, told with a symbolic brush. It deserves a full viewing with English subtitles. The dramatic compression of time into the real time can be seen here in its maturity. (See comments for a viewing link. Scenes from The Red Psalm by Miklos Jancso.

He could as flawlessly do this in more realistic settings, as it's evident from the following scenes from "The Red and The White", another of his critical historical films. Scenes from The Red and The White.

P.S. Jancso made an absorbing and melancholic documentary in two parts about the largely diminishing Jewish population of Hungary, which I highly recommend. (To my knowledge, he was not Jewish.)

NB: This note was prepared off of the author's memory. Please find here the NY Times's obituary, which was not consulted before writing this memo.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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