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Archive for December, 2012

Not long ago a prominent Hungarian politician decried the attitudes of this country’s college educated youth, claiming they were doing nothing be sitting around brooding in the city’s artfully decorated beer gardens, or ‘ruin pubs’. We hope this wasn’t an inadvertent knock against Budapest’s ruin pubs. As it happens, the city’s ruin bars may be one of the most compelling reasons to visit Budapest: these art/bar experiments are defining local nightlife for residents and visitors alike.

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Every summer in Budapest is marked by the opening of more and more ruin pubs, and with them, the arrival of summer tourists. Of course, these outdoor summer gardens need to find a way to stay relevant when the weather turns cold. It makes sense that Budapest’s trail-blazing and most popular ruin pub, Szimpla Kert, is first out of the gate in innovating and expanding its appeal to more than thirsty backpackers. Instead of only selling the occasional beer to regulars on Sundays, the owners decided to open the Szimpla Farmers’ Market. There, you can find homemade pork sausage, pickled edibles, jams straight from the kitchen, salami, and smoked meats. Such markets are a boon for artisanal food makers, who offer home-crafted cheeses, sauces and syrups, honey, chocolate, and baked goods. But this is a farmers market with attitude. Live bands are invited to perform, and children’s programs keep the shopping family friendly. It is the sort of controlled chaos that keeps the event, held every Sunday from 9 a.m until 2 p.m., in line with the general entertainment-minded mission of the pub.

photo: Berecz Valter

photo: Berecz Valter

Thanks to the fact that the country’s farms by and large remain in the hands of family farmers, such delicacies and goods are affordable to the general population. It is one of the best aspects of living in Budapest. In many other more ‘Western’ countries, such events are regulated out of existence, or are priced beyond the budget of everyday folk.

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So, unless certain politicians object, we will join the families, backpackers, foodies, babushkas, college graduates, and just about anybody who has an interest in healthy locally-produced food (and these days, who doesn’t?) in Szimpla Kert on Sundays. And just to be contrary, we will sit in the sun with a local micro-brew, unbroodingly, perfectly content.

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Is is possible that Budapest of the 2010s is the Prague of the 1990s? This writer was recently interviewed by Huck magazine about the next hot literary locations around the world, with Budapest as one of the featured cities. It happens that quite a few novels have been situated in the here in recent years.

novelsleborFirst, The Budapest Protocol is a spy thriller by locally based British journalist Adam Lebor. A prolific writer and long-time Budapest resident, Lebor’s first foray into fiction is a moden twist on WWII potboilers. The Amazon.com description is as follows, “Nazi-occupied Budapest, winter 1944: the Russians are smashing through the German lines. Miklos Farkas breaks out of the Jewish ghetto to find food – at the Nazi headquarters. There he is handed a stolen copy of The Budapest Protocol, detailing the Nazis post-war plans. Miklos knows it must stay hidden forever if he is to stay alive. Present day Budapest: as the European Union launches an election campaign for the first President of Europe, Miklos Farkas is brutally murdered. His grandson Alex, a journalist, buries his grief to track down the killers. He soon unravels a chilling conspiracy rooted in the dying days of the Third Reich, one that will ensure Nazi economic domination of Europe, and a plan for a new Gypsy Holocaust. The hunt is on for The Budapest Protocol. Alex is drawn deeper into a deadly web of intrigue and power play, a game played for the highest stakes: the future of Europe. Powerful, controversial and thought-provoking, The Budapest Protocol is a journey into Europe’s hidden heart of darkness… Part of the sales proceeds to be donated to the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture.”

novel2Next up is The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. This  2010 book was a huge international success. Like The Budapest Protocol, it also delves into this country’s World War II involvement.  It is described as such: “Andras Lévi, a Hungarian-Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he promised to deliver. But when he falls into a complicated relationship with the letter’s recipient, he becomes privy to a secret that will alter the course of his—and his family’s—history.” The story takes place around pre-Trianon Hungary, Paris, and Budapest. Widely praised, the book is imminently filmable.

novel3Perhaps the book that kicked off all this interest in Budapest as a literary backdrop is the highly praised and much-read novel Prague by Arthur Phillips. This expat novel is centered around a group of young North American post-collegiate twenty-somethings who live in Budapest but dream of other places, be it Prague, America, or the past. This from Amazon, “In Prague, Arthur Phillips’s sparkling, Kundera-flavored debut, five young Americans converge in Budapest in the early 1990s. Most are there by chance, like businessman Charles Gabor, whose parents were Hungarian. But one of them, John Price, has the more novelistic motivation of lost love. He is following his older brother, Scott, intent on achieving an intimacy that Scott, a language teacher and health enthusiast, is just as intently trying to escape. The romantic hero of this unsentimental novel, John Price lives like an expatriate of the 1920s. He longs for experience (and more or less stumbles into a writing job for an English language paper), but even more so for the great, obliterating love that takes the form of the perky assistant Emily Oliver. Mark Payton, a scholar of nostalgia whose insights are touched with mysticism, seems often to speak for the author, even in his barely repressed desire for John Price. For who would not love the good and unaffected, in the confusion, opportunism, and irony that characterize fin-de-siècle Europe? Phillips’s five seekers are like mirrors that reflect Budapest at different angles, and that imperfectly–but wonderfully–point toward the unattainable city: the glittering, distant Prague.”

Perhaps we should be preparing for an influx of sensitive young writerly types from the West. There have been any number of great films about Paris in the 20s, from The Moderns to Woody Allen’s recent Midnight in Paris, all which derive from either novels or the lives of writers. It is only a matter of time before filmmakers discover our Budapest novels (if they haven’t already) and the city that inspired them.

About the author: Matt Ellis is an author coach and manuscript editor at Word Pill Editing. Have a look here for an affordable Manuscript Critique.

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EsztergomAngelinaIn the wake of the Balkan conflict numerous books and films came out chronicling what will hopefully be the last ethnic cleansing in Europe. The recently released Balkan-themed film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, was directed by UN goodwill ambassador and occasional film star Angelina Jolie. When misunderstandings and political maneuverings found the film barred from locations in Serbia and Bosnia, Jolie turned to Hungary for authentic-looking locations.

Filmed in 2011 in locations that included ever-changeable Budapest and the quaint, overlooked town Esztergom, the romantic drama chronicles an affair between a Serbian man and Bosnian woman who stood on opposite ends of the conflict.

Esztergom, an embattled town filled with historical significance and diverse architectural styles, was an excellent choice as a stand-in for the Balkan locations. It is a little-known fact abroad that Esztergom was the capital of Hungary from the 10th to the mid-13th century. As such, it is loaded with historic sights.  First and foremost is the Danube, which winds around Esztergom, separating Hungary from Slovakia. The best view is from the Basilica, situated on top of a hill in the center of town. The structure radiates history, and was such a prominent part of regional religious culture that Ferenc (Franz) Liszt wrote The Mass of Esztergom to commemorate its opening in 1869.

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Further enhancing its appeal as a Balkan substitute, Esztergom has one of the few mosques in Hungary, and, indeed, an Orthodox church founded by Serbian settlers back in 1770. The Öziçeli Hacci Ibrahim Djami Mosque is 400 years old, and though small, gives an Ottoman feel to the cityscape. After the Turkish were driven from Hungary, it was used as a granary, before falling into disrepair (though the pictures indicate that it may have undergone a recent renovation).

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Other stand-out locations of interest include the former synagogue (now a technical school), the ruins of the castle (bombed in WWII), and the historic streets of Víziváros (Watertown) which, combined with the hilly castle ruins, look very Balkan indeed. As an area that has been inhabited since the Ice Age, Esztergom has both archeological digs and classical architecture.

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In the Land of Blood and Honey may have come and gone from the theaters, but Esztergom remains: a largely untapped location filled with historical intrigue and classical beauty.

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urania3The history of Hungarian film is almost as old as film itself. Since Adolf Zukor Michael Curtis, and William Fox left Hungary to help build studios and make classic movies in California, the country has remained a fertile ground for innovators and trail-blazers on the international film scene. It is only fitting that one of the grandest, most elegant movie theaters on the planet is situated in the heart of Budapest. The Urania stands as a functioning monument to the great artistic achievements of film and a tribute to audiences who still like to enjoy cinema in a proper movie theater.

The structure housing the Urania was constructed in the 1880s. Its original purpose was actually not film related: nickelodeons had yet to even debut at that point in history. The Urania was what is known as an ‘Orpheum’, which is a kind of cabaret/dance hall. Right before the turn of the century, it was refitted to be a movie theater, in order to first host a Hungarian Scientific Society’s presentation, and then later to accommodate the rush of interest in this new crowd-pleasing medium.

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The architect, Henrik Schmal – who also contributed designs to a few of Andrássy Avenues’ more regal buildings – incorporated both Moorish and Venetian Gothic styles into his design for the Uriania. You can see how ideal the setting would be for any interior that is intended to invoke old-world European charm. Indeed, one of Hungary’s first locally made films was shot there so long ago.

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The building fell into disrepair in the later part of the 20th century, but was totally renovated in 2005. By renovation, we don’t mean a tacky updating of the interior. No, the Urania was lovingly restored, with all the original fixtures kept intact. It would be impossible to craft such an ornate and opulent cinema today. As a landmark, it serves both as a tourist attraction as well as a venue for popular and art-house Hungarian film. Like the best monuments, it is in use and appreciated by the inhabitants of this city, which has contributed so much to the history of film.

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(Photo by Burr/PictureGroup)

(Photo by Burr/PictureGroup)

Oscars and Berlin Biennale awards are nothing new for Hungarian film professionals, but rare is the occasion when we get to announce a locally earned Emmy (the major US television broadcasting prize). But October saw the Primetime Engineering Emmy from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for On-Set Dailies go to Hungarian company Colorfront. According to the Colorfront website, the award is presented “to an individual, company or organization for engineering developments so significant an improvement on existing methods or so innovative in nature that they materially affect the transmission, recording or reception of television.”

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences had this to say in its decision, “Colorfront On-Set Dailies has ‘allowed high-end episodic television shows, that switched to digital file-based workflows, to process and deliver multiple hours of footage each day, so that dailies requirements could remain unchanged, and deliver color-graded, sound-sync images with burn-ins in multiple file formats for editorial, production review, DVD’s, viewing copies etc.’”

The 64th annual Primetime Emmy Engineering Awards was held on October 20 in Los Angeles.

Colorfront is based in Budapest and was founded in by brothers Aron and Mark Jászbérenyi. The post-production facility is no stranger to being honored: its research and development team earned an Academy Award in 2010 for the development of the Lustre, Autodesk’s DI grading system, used in Pirates of the Caribbean, amongst other films.

Colorfront is also quite active on the film scene in Hungary. Recently they lent their talents to The Borgias series, as well as John Cusack’s feature length film The Raven, in addition to The Three Muskateers 3D, and Selena Gomez-starring comedy Monte Carlo.

Congratulations to Colorfront for their innovations and for bringing so much prestige and attention to good work done on the technical side of film.

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