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1884 born Herbert Bauer in Szeged
1903-1918 librarian of the Pedagogical Library of Budapest
1906 visits Berlin and Paris on a scholarship
1908 poems appear in a major anthology of the young generation (Holnap)
1909 receives his doctorate from the University of Budapest (where he is also a member of the Eötvös College) for a study of the tragedies of Friedrich Hebbel; fellow at the Pedagogical Seminar of Budapest; teaches Hungarian and German in a grammar school in Budapest
1910 member and friend of the Nyugat group
1915 joins The Budapest Sunday Circle, an intellectual group organized by György Lukács
1919 leaves Hungary after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in Summer 1919; settles in Vienna
1919-1926 writes for the newspapers Magyar Újság and Der Tag in Vienna; studies
aesthetics of film and works as a film critic
1927-1931 editorial member of the Weltbühne; Artistic Director of the Arbeiter-Theaterbund Deutschlands in Berlin
1931-1945 teacher at the Film Academy of Moscow
1945 returns to Hungary
1945-1946 editor of the film journal Fényszóró (Reflector); founder of the Film Institute of Budapest
1946-1949 teaches at the Theater and Film Academy of Budapest
1949 receives the Kossuth Prize; dies in Budapest

The Visible Man

Béla Balázs started as a writer, but after leaving Hungary he was intensely preoccupied with the aesthetics of film and theory of cinematography. Not only was he the author of the first systematic work on film theory, but he was also in contact with important figures of world cinematography like Sergei Eisenstein, Leni Riefenstahl and Alexander Korda. His first book concerning film, Der sichtbare Mensch oder die Kultur des Films, was written and published in German, and it deals with the aesthetics of silent movies and films as a form of montage. In his later works Der Geist des Films, 1930, and Iskusstvo kino, 1945 (in the German version: Der Film Werden und Wesen einer neuen Kunst, 1949) he studies the relationship of film and sound, the combination of human voice, music and visual images, and develops a general theory of the genre. His later work is permeated with the ideology of dialectic materialism, but he is still considered one of the earliest and greatest experts of film. He was the founder of the Hungarian Film Institute, and the most important Hungarian film studio also bears his name.

The True Colour of the Sky

This was at one time one of the most popular children’s books in Hungary, and this story about a little boy and his friends who discover the secret of a special blue paint is still touching. Trouble begins when the magic colour gets into the hat of Professor Novák. The story’s magic and miracles captivate children.

Book of Wonders

The writer, living at the time in Vienna, wrote in his diary about the conditions under which the Book of Wonders was born in 1921: “Unexpectedly, I got a strange commission. Marie Stisny, the secretary of Mrs. Schwarzwald, came to me…with some twenty photographs of representational watercolours of the Chinese type. They were painted by her friend, the Greek millionaire Marietta Lydis, who wished to publish them, but she needed texts to explain them. There was a problem: they should be written in three weeks, in order to be published by Christmas. [One tale a day.] I found the task quite demanding and sportsmanlike—I accepted the commission. On the first day I wrote two short tales in German, as an experiment. I loved it…I really enjoyed the work. I finished the whole book in the beautiful October of Helmstreitsmühle, and, after they had closed the house in Reichenau, 16 tales for the 20 images. Effortlessly and lightly. I felt I knew the craft, and it was a beautiful and rich autumn. It was a joy.” Balázs had no problems writing in German, having grown up bilingual. His father was Hungarian and he considered Hungarian his native language, but his mother was German and was equally good at writing in German. The volume finally appeared in 1922. Originally it was to include a foreword by Thomas Mann, but the text only appeared in Thomas Mann’s later volume of essays (bearing the title “Ein schönes Buch”). While the tales tend to remind the reader of the strange and archaic stories of Thomas Mann and Maeterlinck, Balázs received most of his inspiration from his own Chinese and Indian stories, written after the fin de siécle. The volume only appeared in Hungarian 26 years after the German version. In the original manuscripts they are written both in German and Hungarian and were translated by the author himself (his other works in German, though, were translated by others). “The tales take place in China and tell us about the human soul, love, friendship, the search for happiness and the futility of dreams and hopes. Their style, although close to his stories written more than ten years before, is clearer, more settled, without the romantic excesses of the Art Nouveau. Their atmosphere can be characterized as wisely ironic.” -Vilma Eőry

Impossible People

This is another work by Béla Balázs which was written in German and appeared in 1930 in Frankfurt with the title Unmögliche Menschen. The time of writing was even earlier moreover, the text has three versions: the writer prepared its plans in 1910, began the process of writing during World War I, and the first chapter appeared in 1919 in the journal Nyugat with the title Isten tenyerén (On God s Palm). The novel version appeared with the same title in 1922 in Kolozsvár (the author had immigrated to Vienna by that time). Balázs had planned a sequel, and the new volume was finished by 1925. The Hungarian edition was compiled from these versions and the second part was translated from the German. In the foreword of the Hungarian edition of 1984, the editor, Miklós Szabolcsi, writes: The characters of this novel are peculiar people: they are oversensitive, nervous and tired, all of them traumatized in a sense, and they must face strange and fantastic situations or cause unpleasant events. ( ) this is a novel about artists. The heroes are mostly artists who cannot find their place in the world, fighting it alone, living from crisis to crisis they are artists, special, privileged people, who are yet very frail and unhappy, looking in vain for a community that would accept them.


These short stories and tales never appeared in Béla Balázs’ lifetime, though, according to his correspondence with György Lukács, he tried in vain to publish an earlier version of the collection. The book in this later form is an interesting one, a memorial to a whole period; its style sometimes resembles that of the great masters of the Secession, for example Géza Csáth. The editor of the book, Júlia Lenkei, says: “Some of these early short stories are masterpieces, and some became masterpieces when Béla Balázs found the mode in which he could manage to solve the problem of form and content clearly, without difficulty. In the tales, a special dream-like world appears in which these conflicts are solved—it is the world for which the utopias at the beginning of the twentieth century cried out.”

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