In June 2010, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) joined forces with the Everyman Cinema, the University of Warwick Institute of Advanced Study, and the film journal Screen in a collaborative venture inspired by the writings of the early film theorist Béla Balázs. Prompted by Screen’s early showcasing of a forthcoming translation of two Balázs volumes, Visible Man (1924) and The Spirit of Film (1930), the photographer and curator Zsuzsanna Ardó approached the project partners to mount an exhibition at BAFTA and the Everyman Cinema chain.
Funding was secured in early 2010 from the University of Warwick, Screen, and Berghahn Books, and the exhibition, The Spirit of Film: the Road to Casablanca via Béla Balázs, was planned in collaboration with the Balázs editor Erica Carter, as well as BAFTA designer Adam Tuck and print editor Christine Robertson. The British Film Institute came on board at an early stage to provide stills from films discussed by Balázs in his early writings. These were mounted by Ardó alongside or inside text excerpts that commented on and amplified the meaning of the film image.
This dialogue between image and written commentary echoes the ebb and flow in Balázs’s own career between his creative work, and his theoretical writings on film art. Balázs was known until recently to an English-speaking readership largely for his analysis of the close-up, which derives from the 1952 translation of his magnum opus, Theory of the Film. His two earlier German-language treatises reveal, however, a more socially and creatively engaged Balázs, who participated as screenwriter, critic and marxist activist in often passionate early debates on the social role and aesthetic import of the emergent art of film. In Visible Man, Balázs thus stakes a claim for film as an art that may restore to modern culture the lost expressive capacities of the visual body. The Spirit of Film extends Balázs’s aesthetic theory to the realm of early sound cinema, proferring a systematic ‘stylistics’ and ‘poetics’ of a medium in which he glimpses the potential for a revolutionary transformation of human perception and modern cultural life.
The BAFTA exhibition private view on June 8 2010 doubled as a launch event for the translated volume, Béla Balázs: Early Film Theory (ed. Erica Carter, transl. Rodney Livingstone). The exhibition ran simultaneously from June to October at BAFTA – where it was open to members only – and in the Everyman Cinema, Hampstead. It tours in September 2010 to the Everyman, Belsize Park, and in October/November to the Everyman, Baker St (admission free).