Although not many Hungarian actors have starred in Hollywood movies recently, still our talented directors, cinematographers have received several Oscar awards during the past decades.
Ferenc Rófusz finished his short film, The Fly in 1980, for which he received an Oscar award in 1981. The Fly was not only considered peculiar in the 1980s: it is still a rarity. The animation portraits the last few minutes of a fly’s life, showing the viewer how a fly sees the world until it gets smacked. The 4 minute long animation took 2 years to make, and had several versions, for example, its original title was The Bug. Due to political reasons, the leaders of the party-state did not allow Rófusz to travel to the Oscars ceremony. He managed to take over the prize in Los Angeles, only one and a half months later, since the Americans would not give it to anyone else. At that moment, the director could have stayed there with political asylum, but Rófusz did not want to desert his country.
Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz), the director of an unforgettable classic, the Casablanca was born in 24 December 1888, in Budapest, although his date of birth is still debated, as the director probably wanted to be seen younger than he actually was. He produced a whole series of adventure films in both centres of Hungarian silent film production, Budapest and Cluj, but he was also inspired by literary themes. After the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919), he left the country completely unexpected. In Wien, he shot monumental, historical and biblical films: Sodom and Gomorrah (1922), The Slave Queen (1924). After some years, he made a mass production in the United States titled: Noah’s Ark (1928). He dedicated his life to entertainment and he surrounded himself with prominent figures of the film industry as well as popular stars. He was a very productive director who shot two or three films a year, altogether amounting to 166 movies between 1912 and 1962. His adventure films, westerns and historical adaptations have stood the test of time (Kid Galahad, 1937; The Sea Hawk, 1938; The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938; The Breaking Point, 1950; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1960).
In 1942, Curtis directed the most famous wartime melodrama in film making history, Casablanca, for which he got the Oscar for best director in 1943. He had worked almost until the day he died. He directed his last movie, The Comanc Heros in 1962. Despite the fact that many believe him to be one of “the most American” artists, he had always been proud of being Hungarian.
István Szabó’s Mephisto was the first Hungarian feature film earning the Oscar award, in the best foreign film category. The film insisted on the structure of the novel it was based on, but it also tried to alter the storyline which was characterised by explosive emotions. István Szabó managed to create a film, which is conservative and modern at the same time, The effects was also facilitated by cinematographer Lajos Koltai’s classicist and calm imagery. We follow the story of Mr Höfgen, a talented actor, who tries to maintain his safety by suppressing his doubts in the Nazi era.
This was the first film where the protagonist Klaus-Maria Brandauer, worked together with István Szabó, who later based several of his films on him (Colonel Redl, Hanussen). An interesting part of the movie is that the director himself appears in one of the scenes: standing on the shiny steps at a gigantic Nazi event, surrounded by red Nazi flags with the black Swastika. He received an Oscar, and was also awarded the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival; and was nominated for the Golden Palm.
Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995), an Oscar winning composer, was a chemical engineer by trade, studied at the University of Leipzig; he also studied at the Music Academy. After obtaining two university degrees, he went to Paris, and in 1935, on the other side of the Channel in London, he became the artistic director of a dance group. One year later, he wrote his first film musical, score for a Korda production, Knight Without Armour, directed by Jacques Feyder. In 1940, he moved to the United States and settled down in Hollywood. Rózsa soon became one of the most known film musicians in Hollywood. His work was prized with Oscar three times.
Wilhelm Sándorházi (William S. Darling) also contributed to the reputation of Hungarian film making. The Hungarian born art director won the Oscar three times. In 1933 for Cavalcade, in 1943 for The Song of Bernadette, and in 1946 for Anna and the King of Siam.
Géza Herczeg screenwriter won this award for The Life of Emile Zola in 1937. Paul Lukas (Pál Lukács) won the Oscar prize for playing the main character in Watch on the Rhine. Pal George, (originally György Pál Marczincsák) and Adolph Zukor, won the honorary award respectively in 1944 and 1949. Alexander Trauner and Joseph Kish were also recipients of the award as set designers of The Apartment and the Ship of Fools, respectively. Vilmos Zsigmond won the Oscar in 1978, for the cinematography of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind