Bela Bartok

Active - 1991 - 1991  |   Born - Mar 25, 1881   |   Died - Sep 26, 1945   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Comedy Drama, History, Music

Share on

Biography by "Blue" Gene Tyranny

There are approximately 22 films that quote from this innovative composer, pianist, and musicologist. Direct adaptations of his works are the 1964 German-language film directed by Michael Powell based on Bartók's intense surreal opera Herzog Blaubarts Burg (Bluebeard's Castle), the 1981 Hungarian television production of the entire opera A Kékszakállú herceg vára, and the 2001 version of Bartók's pantomime in one act, Csodálatos mandarin (The Miraculous Mandarin). Filmed concert works have included the documentary portrait of conductor Celibidache performing and teaching in Le Jardin de Celibidache (1997), the short Magyar Kepek (1980), and a Hungarian documentary entitled Bartók Béla: az éjszaka zenéje (1970).

Bartók's more energetic, folk song-based themes are generally used to underscore comic situations, such as in the surreal comedy Being John Malkovich (1999) which employs the Allegro movement from his famous and often imitated Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta.

Bartók's wide emotional spectrum also enhances suspenseful and mysterious moods, such as in the Spanish short El Estrangulador (The Strangler, 1965), the existentialist drama Løgneren (The Liar, 1970), the Argentine drama Palo y hueso (Stick and Bone, 1968), Peter Greenaway's avant-garde short Rosa (1992), the Russian drama Sady skorpiona (Gardens of Scorpions, 1991), the Portuguese drama Pai Adeus (1996), Adrian Maben's English-language documentary on the surreal painter René Magritte (1978), and the critical documentary on Dada and Surrealism, Europe After the Rain (1978).

But the finest match of musical and visual mood and conceptual form to date occured in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) which uses almost the entire eerie third movement from Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion,and Celesta. Approximately midway through the film, the character John "Jack" Daniel Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a failed writer going steadily mad or becoming possessed (depending on your reading of the plot), gazes down upon a model of the garden maze that actually stands outside the Overlook Hotel where the Torrances are caretaking during the isolated winter season. Through a strange, elegant visual illusion, the audience (and Torrance) sees his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Daniel "Danny" Anthony Torrance (Daniel Lloyd) strolling within the miniature maze as they are in reality doing at that same moment outside. The music begins with bone-dry xylophone tones that expand and diminish with an elastic tension, followed by chilling celeste arpeggios and a haunting string melody. The maze itself is a geometric and conceptual wonder much like the hidden large and small-scale Golden Section proportions in this and other Bartók compositions. For example, the repeated high xylophone F is struck in a beat sequence that follows the Fibbonacci series 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1.

Another subtle and brilliant integration of film and musical temperament is The Illiac Passion (1967), written and directed by the remarkable avant-garde filmmaker Gregory J. Markopoulos, based on the Aeschylus play Prometheus Bound. The film laces themes from Bartók's music throughout and features many creative artists from the '60s: Markopoulos himself appears as the Narrator/Filmmaker, Andy Warhol as Poseidon, Jack Smith as Orpheus, Taylor Mead as the Demon/Sprite, and Gerard Melanga as Ganymede.