A short excerpt from the booklet essay by Peter Hames.
Red Psalm is based around a series of peasant uprisings that occurred between 1890 and 1910 after the founding of the Social Democratic Party. Jancsó and Hernádi were also influenced by the views of the historian Desző Nagy, who argued that songs, dances, and popular folklore had formed an important part in these risings. The original title of the film translates as The People Still Demand, taken from a line from a poem by Sándor Petöfi. Petöfi (1823-49) had promoted the idea that the peasantry were the most significant part of the nation, called attention to the conditions of serfdom, and suggested a culture based on folklore.
Ideologically, Jancsó has linked himself to the traditions of ‘revolutionary’ film-making by rejecting the traditional story film. “A story, if the film is a good one, carries the spectator away on its wings, it is an evasion”. Jancsó’s films, on the contrary, encourage an active engagement. “…while the film is being projected the spectator racks his brains trying to order the things he is seeing, he sees himself obliged to, he is active” (Jancsó). He also saw his style as being particularly attuned to the “movement of ideas”.
Unlike many examples of revolutionary cinema, Red Psalm offers a positive aesthetic experience. It is attractive on a superficial level in that its men – and especially women – are predominantly young and attractive, colour is used with clarity and purity, and the dances and songs, regardless of their nominal subjects, are consistently invigorating. The film’s walking choreography presents a variety of dramatic shapes – the geometry of circles and squares, the links and movements of individuals between groups. The movement of people combines with the movement of the camera and the apparent movement of the zoom lens. “It seems to me that life is in continual movement…It’s physical and it’s also philosophical: the contradiction is founded on movement, the movement of ideas, the movement of the masses…A man also is always surrounded, threatened by oppression: the camera movements I create suggest that too”. (Jancsó) Yvette Biró, who worked as dramaturgist on the film, noted in reference to Red Psalm: “Jancsó’s pictorial style might be characterised as calligraphic, entailing a profound tension between identification and aesthetic distance. A cult of beauty, a consciousness of form dominates the images. But the beauty is always contrasted with destruction and death…The more beauty and harmony become powerful realities, the more their ruin is painful”. (Biró, 1979)
While Red Psalm now seems in some respects a film from another era, a time when both sides in the Cold War at least had some vision of a just society, its relevance has not disappeared. The triumph of ‘Neo-Liberalism’ and economic laissez-faire, where classes and nations are at the mercy of international market speculation, where international corporations hold more wealth than nation states, has created a new brand of oppression. Commenting on the transition from ‘Communism’ post-1989, Jancsó noted the sense of rejuvenation following the departure of the Russians – but also somewhat surprisingly that the ‘greatness’ of the transition lay in the fact that it “… showed us the world as it really is. Eighty per cent of humans live under the poverty level, the rest, twenty per cent, own and control everything. Under the previous regime, we did not have a chance to experience this in its raw brutality” (Jancsó, 2011). Towards the end of Red Psalm, one of the characters remarks, “I know that we cannot achieve our aims”. Nonetheless, one might argue, the hopes, the dreams, and the sacrifices continue to offer the prospect of change.
Peter Hames’ complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
MovieMail by Michael Brooke
DVD Beaver by Gary W. Tooze
Arts Desk by Jasper Rees
Socialist Worker by Jack Farmer
E-Film Blog by Michael Ewins
DVD Outsider by L K Weston
SubtitledOnline by Colin John Gardner
Sight & Sound by Jonathan Romney
Digital Fix by Clydefro Jones
(i) Raymond Durgnat on Red Psalm
(ii) Interview with Jancsó at Kinoeye
(iii) Interview with writer Gyula Hernádi
(iv) Cinematographer János Kende inteviewed
(v) Friedrich Engels: The Magyar Struggle
(vi) Jancsó's Hungarian website