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Archive for October, 2011

Long before Robert Pattinson sparkled as Edward in Twilight, Tom Cruise went androgynous as Lestat in Interview with the Vampire, and Gary Oldman brought Count Dracula to the screen, there was Bela Lugosi, who gave life to the original on-screen vampire, in the 1931 film Dracula. You know his accent, it has been mimicked endlessly, but did you know that Lugosi was also a trained Shakespearian actor? In honor of Halloween, we give you a few other little-known facts about the man who played grand-daddy to all modern-day blood-suckers.

Bela Lugosi was Hungarian. He is often mistaken for Romanian because of the origin of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and how closely people identify Lugosi with the role. While Lugosi’s hometown Lugos (hence, Lugosi) is currently in modern-day Romania, when he was born, the town was part of Hungary, and he grew up speaking Hungarian.

Lugosi’s upper-class father wanted his son to be a banker, but at age 11 young Bela ran away from home to work in a coal mine, and eventually found his way to the theatre, where he found his true calling as a stage actor.

Bela Lugosi fought in WWI on the Russian front, and was a captain in the Hungarian army’s elite ‘ski patrol’.

Once in America, Lugosi had to memorize all his roles phonetically, because he could not speak English.

Lugosi loved drinking another fortifying red liquid: wine. He was a connoisseur of California wine and today there is a brand of Bela Lugosi wine sold by his progeny.

After he originated the role as Dracula, Lugosi received more adoring female fan mail than the age’s most popular leading man, Clark Gable.

Though Bela Lugosi acted in over 100 films, only four of his roles were as vampires.

Lugosi has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The US Post Office issued a 32-cent commemorative stamp in honor of Lugosi.

There is a persistent urban legend that before he died (in 1956), Bela Lugosi asked to be buried in his vampire cape from Dracula. Despite his family’s denial, the rumor lives on, as does the legend of the great Hungarian actor who brought more than a little creepiness from Hungary to Hollywood.

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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According to the very ‘in the know’ Budapest-based blog Pestiside, French Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand has very vocally expressed support for the diminishing quantity of Hungarian films. He was quoted as saying that he was “aware that film-making in Hungary is in dire straits” and that “I shall spare no effort or energy to make sure that the ‘visual style’ of Hungarian directors continues to be unleashed on cinema-goers around the continent.” While most Hungarian films – even the biggest ones – remain art-house fodder in places like the USA, it is indisputable that Hungarian film directors and technicians have had a huge, indelible influence on directors around the world. Below, have a look at some of Hungary’s most respected and influential filmmakers of times past.

In 1912 a director born with the name Manó Kertész Kaminer directed Az Utolsó bohém (The Last Bohemian) one of Hungary’s more famous silent films. Later the director would change his name to Michael Curtiz and win fame and a place in the pantheon of  Hollywood greats by directing Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Errol Flynn in Captain Blood, and winning an Oscar for Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Miklós Jancsó makes personal films often set against historical backdrops. His most famous films from the 1960s and 70s like Szegénylegények (The Round Up) and Csillagosok, katonák (The Red and the White)  are contemplations on authoritarianism, abuse of power and complacency — surprising themes considering they were made under the reigning Communist government. Jancsó made use of the vast plains of Hungary, giving the films a distinctly desolate and Hungarian feeling. He has been lionized at home and screened abroad at Cannes among other festivals.

Hungary’s first and only Academy Award for Best Foreign Film came to director István Szabó for Mephisto in 1981. Szabó would go on to direct the lauded film Sunshine with Ralph Fiennes, one of the first major Hollywood productions to fully utilize Budapest as a location.

Béla Tarr became an art-house favorite with his epic seven hour film Sátántangó (Satan’s Tango), which has been cited as an influence by directors such as Gus Van Sant. Tarr is known for his social realism and extremely long shots (his adaptation of Macbeth had only two, one of them 67 minutes in length). His most recent film, The Turin Horse, won the Grand Jury Prix at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.

Let’s hope Mitterrand is true to his word, and the next Curtiz is able to his ‘unleash’ his or her visual style across Europe and beyond. In any case, when the French hold you in high regard – especially in therms of film –  you know you are doing something right.

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If you are reading this blog, then you are already familiar with the Chain Bridge (it’s that one that is lit up like a Christmas tree in the header image above). More in-the-know readers will identify it as one of the city’s cultural landmarks and tourist attractions, and if you have visited Budapest, you have probably walked across it. Eddie Murphy even filmed a pivitol scene in his comedy I Spy there. What you might not know, is that the bridge is at the center of one of Budapest’s enduring urban legends. The statues of the four lions that guard each end of the bridge are said to have no tongues. Less politically correct commentators will claim that they once had tongues, but they were stolen by Gypsies. The legend has evolved, it is said that upon hearing that his lions had been sculpted with no tongues, the artist,  János Marschalkó, killed himself. The same fate was said to have befallen the bridge’s primary engineer, Péter Wellner, who – as the legend goes –  also did himself in when he discovered that he had not ordered enough material for the bridge to expand the full width of the Danube.

Both myths have been proven false. The tongues, despite local wags, are quite intact, but cannot be seen from the pedestrian-level walk. Marschalkó lived to continue with his art, and was said to have only shrugged his shoulders when he learned that his lion tongues could not be seen by the earth-bound passers-by. Reports Péter Wellner’s death were also greatly exaggerated, as he lived to work on another bridge.

It is odd that so many legends surround the Chain Bridge when the real history is almost as fascinating. Construction was instigated by Count István Széchenyi (indeed, the bridge’s official name is the Széchenyi Bridge). With the plans of British engineer William Tierney Clark, and supervised Scottish engineer Adam Clark, the bridge was completed a decade after its inception. At the time, the Chain Bridge was the second longest suspension bridge ever built, and proved one of the age’s great engineering feats. The bridge served to connect Buda and Pest, and brought the two separate communities into economic competition with one another, spurring huge growth for the city on whole.

The original Chain Bridge stood until World War II, when the retreating German army decided it was in need of restoration, and blew it up, leaving only the pillars standing in the Danube. Reconstruction started almost immediately, and was completed on  November 20, 1949, exactly one century after the Chain Bridge’s original christening: an accomplishment that was, dare we say, legendary.

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There is a scene in the recent horror film, The Rite, when Anthony Hopkins, after becoming possessed by a demon, begins to curse in Hungarian. It is not a very generous tribute to the local population, who were quite good to Hopkins and his film, providing an inexpensive alternative to Rome, where the story takes place. Colin O’Donahue, Hopkins’ young co-star was more gallant when interviewed about his experience while shooting in Budapest: “When you’re there you get to appreciate its unbelievably colorful history, from Roman times to when the Soviet Union controlled it,”  he told a New York paper.

The actors of the period piece The Borgias, which was shot this summer in Hungary, have been more vocal about their love of the city, and the culture and nightlife it has to offer. In the New York Times, Jeremy Irons, who stars in The Borgias as Pope Alexander the VI, touted the city’s “wonderful crumbling faded beauty.”  He would know, having already shot three films here previous to The Borgias. Younger stars Cynthia Nixon, Holliday Grainger, and Francois Arnaud also chimed in about some of their favorite spots to unwind in Pest, including the Hungarian/French fusion restaurant M and the notorious beer garden Szimpla Kert.

The cast was lucky to be here, as Hungary was chosen as a stand in for Italy from a number of other possible locations. Utilizing teams from the Ireland, Canada and Hungary, the Borgias is an epic period piece that required the full capabilities of the newly build Korda Studios (near Budapest) in recreating 15th Century Rome. It took five sound stages and over 200 carpenters to construct the intricate interiors used in the anticipated mini-series. Construction began a full half-year before shooting commenced last summer. Due to script changes, however, some sets were constructed in under 48 hours, proving that local crews can work well under pressure. Rome may not have been built in a day, but hats off to those who reconstructed it almost overnight.

For a behind the scenes glimpse at The Borgias have a look here (after the cereal commercial).

PPM Film Services is a Budapest-based film company offering an inspiring and creative work atmosphere for its host of clients from around the world. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we’re charged to create, we do it with no compromise. To sign up for the PPM Hungary newsletter, have a look here.

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