Kris Rothstein's Blog

PuSh Festival 2018: History History History

Kris Rothstein

This is not a film. Well this is a film, but it is also so much more: personal history, world history, lecture, performance art and something else ineffable and strange.

The setting is the movie theater. But we are warned that we are not just here to watch a film. The film in question is The Wonder Striker (the title sounds much more catchy and musical in Hungarian) a Hungarian film from the 1950s whose history is deeply entwined with the Hungarian revolution, the long arm of the Soviet Union and the immigration of Deborah Pearson’s own family. It is 1930s-style madcap soccer comedy about mistaken identity (a pen salesman/conman is mistaken for a soccer star). But it is also a political satire and a test of censorship rules, and that is where the story gets interesting.

Pearson (who is seated at the front of the theatre with audio visual equipment) begins by allowing us to watch the film. As it progresses she interrupts more often to explain the context and to add layer and layer of history. She has photos and props to aid her in this live documentary, which could be seen as interrupting the original film but is actually creating a new kind of film. The star of the film is her own grandfather.

For each member of the audience there is a point when we realize that these layers have been manipulated, and that the external history of the film has been inserted in clever ways into the subtitling. The subtitles are not to be believed and are telling us more than simply the film’s dialogue. Once that playfulness has been established, we are free to let our minds run wild and to see the connections between the failure of the Hungarian revolution, the delayed release of this film and the circumstances which forced Pearson’s family to flee by night over the border to Austria. It is a wild ride!

It is ingenious to use the subtitling to actually be part of the story and the art form itself. Pearson is watching several stories unfold as she watches the film, stories about world history and stories about family history, and she allows us to join her and to experience all of these as the film plays, by instructing and entertaining and wondering. The film itself is a story of censorship and dissent.

One of Pearson’s most profound points is the entwined nature of history and place. But it is easy to erase history from the place, or at least to ignore it. On a visit to the Corvin cinema in Budapest, (where the film was set for release the same week that it was taken over as the main stronghold for the Hungarian revolution) Pearson is struck by the absence of history, by the silence of this historic building and the failure for this central history to be acknowledged, celebrated, commemorated. This remains true in sites of conflict all over the world.

Like all the best art, this show is relevant to the wider world, telling a poignant story about migration, especially important in light of the mass movements of people due to current wars and crises. I believe a bit more context about the Hungarian film industry and Budapest as a cosmopolitan, multicultural city with a lot of artistic talent and innovation before conquest by Fascism and Society Communism might have added some depth.

There is a human impulse to tell stories, especially personal stories about the events of the generations before us and how they resulted in our very existence. Many times the stories that seem personally profound turn out trite and inconsequential when we try to express them to people outside our own family. Pearson does not have this problem. She had created a story which is funny and sad, exhilarating, innovative and spine tingling. This is the best show I have seen at PuSh in years, on which performs alchemy—creating a new magical art form out of ordinary materials.



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