Catch the last of Jancso’s Classics tonight and tomorrow
If you caught Red Psalm, part of the Jancsó Classics at the Walter Reade on Wednesday, then you may still be reeling from the sweeping and, at times, dizzying camerawork. If you missed it, you can still catch two of his other classics, The Round Up, and Silence and Cry, tomorrow night at the Walter Reade.
Red Psalm is considered to be the most successful of the canon of Communist musicals owing to Jancsó’s proclivity for directing films: there is no other artistic medium sufficient to convey his particular vision. Despite the fact that are fewer than 30 cuts in the whole of Red Psalm, the film reads like a feature-length montage, melding music and dance, whips cracking artfully, horses running in formation, red ribbons waving, women disrobing at will, and sparse dialogue rife with allegorical density. The film has no main characters, only resurfacing faces and a company of extras totaling 1500 who move as one in front of an ever-moving camera, capturing Jancsó’s exhaustive choreography. The players speak cryptically and often break the fourth wall, directly addressing the audience with recitations of socialist psalms or deep soul-searching stares. Like any Socialist commentary, the story cannot end happily, but any cinephile can enjoy watching this ballet unfold over the fields of Hungary, even if they have to fight off a little motion sickness.
Red Psalm flaunts a diverse set of influences, from the most avant-garde early experimental films to the most garish high-budget Hollywood spectaculars, and echoes of Jancsó’s own style still resurface in cinema today. Gyula Gazdag, a Hungarian filmmaker whose works were banned by the Hungarian government, produced Singing on the Treadmill in 1984, a satirical Communist musical that directly emulates and subverts the messages of Red Psalm, (Gazdag left Hungary to become the artistic director of the Sundance Institute Director’s Labs), and even Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark (2000) pays homage to this Communist musical. Jancsó’s restless camerawork may have even been the inspiration for Russian Ark (2002), the expansive historical feature shot in a single take.
Be sure to catch the last of Jancsó’s Classics tomorrow, May 9th at the Walter Reade Theater.
Christianne Hedtke also writes for BananaWho.