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The found films that serves as the basis for Vakvagany are fascinating, and the commentary by special guests James Ellroy, Stan Brakhage, and Roy Menninger at times is thought-provoking, but filmmaker Benjamin Meade crosses a dangerous line with this film in the final reel, as he literally breaks into someone's home in order to film them. Perhaps that would have been justified if the subject were a secluded war criminal. Unfortunately, Meade's victim is a slightly disturbed though quite coherent middle aged woman who is thoroughly aware of the pornographic intentions of the director's camera. In an afterthought segment aired after the film on the Sundance Channel, Meade admits that he went too far. Self awareness is important, but it came too late to save an otherwise fascinating piece of work, making Nick Broomfield look like Miss Manners in comparison.
I first came across a reference to this film last year on James Ellroy's
website. It sounded intriguing, and I awaited it's release with great
anticipation. I was, however, quite disappointed. What we have here is
some grainy home movie footage intercut with some specious analysis by
Ellroy, the late Dr. Roy Menninger, and the late Stan Brakhage,
upon some questionable goings-on among members of the Locsei family in
Hungary after WWII. Filmmaker Meade tracks down the siblings in the film
(Erno and Etruska) for their comments. This is where 'dreadful' begins:
Erno is a mentally disabled, unwashed alcoholic; we are treated to
scenes of him drinking wine the filmmakers have provided to secure his
cooperation, long stretches of untranslated Hungarian, and a charming
of urination in a field. Sister Etruska has her home broken into by the
filmakers. We watch her shielding her face from the camera while she
repeatedly demands they not invade her privacy. I cannot imagine the
cruelty, or at least indifference, that would motivate anyone to pursue
material, much less offer it up for public consumption.
I have viewed other user comments to this film, and appear to be in the minority. But if you like films about disturbed individuals, I suggest Errol Morris' MR DEATH instead.
I cannot recommend this documentary, but I'm afraid that, like me, you'll find yourself drawn into it. Watching "Vakvagany" is sort of like rubber-necking when you drive by the scene of an accident; it's human nature to gawk at others' misfortunes. The scenario is truly intriguing: the directors comes across a family's often disconcerting home movies and attempt to track down the children in them. What they find are two badly damaged human beings who belong in a mental institution. The film features three "analysts," who spend far too much time trying to figure out the home movies and the children. They state the obvious, ramble, and over-intellectualize. Worst of all is the utter contempt the directors show for the now-adult children, going so far as to break into one's home. Even the music, some kind of crappy neo-Hungarian cabaret, trivializes the daily struggles of Erno, the male child. Had the directors kept their vile attitudes out of the film, it would have been a solid documentary.
The subject is a Hungarian family at first only known by a set of
"found" home movies. The filmmaker (who apparently has commented here
about his own movie) goes off on a search to find the subjects of the
home movies. He does and films the wretched lives of the children, now
grown and in their middle ages. Apparently not enough comes of this so
the film maker enlists an unusual trio of commentators to view and
react to the footage; a novelist, a psychiatrist and an avant-garde
film maker. The result?
A very disturbing glimpse into a ruined family. The commentators' opinions come at the same time as your own as they react to footage at the same time you see it. Some times they are insightful, other times just confused. Interestingly, the avant-garde film maker's comments are frequently the most insightful. Many things are not explained as a standard documentary would try to do. Perhaps the film makers were at a loss at what they had filmed when it was finished but that's not a drawback. You have to involve yourself with the mystery to really watch this film.
A word on the "disturbing" end, namely the son's visit to his sister and the drinking binge right before it. It's clear that the film maker didn't know that the son would consume two full bottles of wine (gifts from the film maker) before the trip to his sister. Filming it was part of the story. The break-in happens after the son (who is mentally retarded) starts to worry about his sister who lived with him all his life, but hasn't spoken to him for a while now that they live apart. The actual entry into the house is done by a neighbor of the sister and the first view of her filthy kitchen made me think that she had been deceased for a long time. The sister is first seen sleeping, oblivious to the noise in her house, as if dead. She is extremely paranoid and quite crazy. she refuses to talk about her father except for a last comment that says tons about the man.
A great film about the results of parents who smother the emotional growth of their children. The method of delivery, however, will not please many people.
This is a film that deserves much more attention then it will probably
receive. "Vakvagany" is at different times disturbing, thought-provoking,
and hilarious. It is a documentary done by a relatively unknown director,
and yet it is not only as good as any documentary film you will ever see,
but to its great credit, it is also probably as accessible to a mainstream
audience as a film like this could be. Hopefully the inclusion in the
of the renowned author and personality James Ellroy (at his wry best) will
create an audience for the film; it has a timelessness about it that
allow it to sustain its relevance and impact over time.
Three different perspectives about a series of remarkable old "home movies" that were discovered in a decrepit apartment in Hungary are provided by a filmmaker, a psychologist, and an author. Their vastly contrasting input provides the perfect framework for the astonishing footage that is the foundation of this film. The decision by the director Benjamin Meade to splice the comments of a panel of interviewees with disparate perspectives about a central subject reminded me of Errol Morris's great film "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control."
The dark heart of Benjamin Meade's "Vakvagany" consists of
creepy home movies, filmed sometime between 1948 and 1964,
purportedly stolen from a filthy house in Hungary that was said to
be crawling with cats.
"Vakvagany" zig-zags through time, sampling the stolen family films, juxtaposing them with newly-filmed footage of the old movies' still-living participants, and interviews with three spirit guides who offer their take on lurid life with the family depicted in the old and new footage: crime novelist James Ellroy (of "L.A. Confidential" fame) , psychiatrist Dr. Roy Menninger and filmmaker Stan Brakhage.
The vintage films focus on life with the Locsei family, a Hungarian couple fond of filming one another and their eventual, ill-fated offspring.
The setting for the `found' film is demolished, post-World War II Europe (much of the footage depicts damage done to cities during the war).
The usual family moments are captured in the old family films, such as giving the new baby in the house a bath.
But the camera lingers lasciviously long on naked son Erno, a cause for concern for `expert witness,' Dr. Roy Menninger, who seems increasingly to be wincing as the film (and the old family footage) unfolds. There are moments in Vakvagany - old and new - that are apt to make virtually any viewer, even the most jaded, wince, as well.
Benjamin Meade's "Vakvagany" (or, variously, "Dead End") is eighty-plus minutes of very strange cinema. Love it or hate it, it is something new, and it feels dangerous and important.
Meade has said he became enthralled with the vintage home movies and their potentially sinister subject matter: in particular, father Locsei's never clearly defined role in allegedly `helping' the European Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. The form this `help' takes is sufficiently vague to leave room for some very dark deductions regarding what exactly Papa Locsei does for a living that could be construed as `help' for potential Nazi victims.
Director Benjamin Meade lets the viewer, and his three `experts,' attempt to decide (You know you're along for a strange, strange ride when noir novelist James Ellroy, notorious for his wild stage presence and book readings, tends toward the most mundane explanations for some very, very strange behavior.)
The Alloy Orchestra, famed for its wonderful scores for vintage silent films, provides a haunting, beautiful soundtrack for "Vakvagany."
While a sometimes disturbing view, Meade's film is a rewarding ride that can't be forgotten.
This is a fantastic piece of filmmaking. Benjamin Meade has taken something
as mundane as the home movie and created a stunning work. What is
fascinating is that there is so much in this quasi- documentary that is
shown. We follow a family, but like all families they have their history and
live in a world that has history. They are their own world, and part of the
world around them.
The narration- comments that occur durring the film remind us of that. The family has their life, but part of that life is in the world in which they live.
Then, we seek the family today. We wonder what happened to that family that we watched and became interested. This is where we literally jump into the screen. The director meets the son depicted in the home movies. We see what has happened to the son, raising questions about the rest of the family. We seek the daughter. This is where the director Meade shows what kind of film this is. Instead of being a dispassioned reporter, he has involved himself in this family. When there are questions about the wellbeing of the sister, the director involves himself, and the audience via the camera, in finding the answer.
Does he take things too far? That is what each of us have to answer of ourselves. I guess it all depends on whether you can be compassionate with a camera in your hands. But, the audience should be greatful that they were taken on the journey.
It also raises another interesting question. While much of the film takes place in Hungary, there is nothing that says that it could not happen in New York, or California, or Kansas. What do our home movies tell about us. What have we done since we were children? Are there hints in anyone's childhood that says where they are going?
See the film, make your own judgements.
In this admittedly controversial but thought provoking film, Benjamin Meade follows a trail to unlock the mystery posed by old `home movie' footage that he purchased in Hungary. There is something unsettling about these home movies, one scene depicting what appears to be piles and piles of tagged pieces of jewelry. This immediately makes one wonder how a person would come to possess this type of thing right after WWII? Is there a connection to the death camps? Meade taps film expert Stan Brakhage, psychiatrist Dr. Roy Menninger and mystery writer James Ellroy for their interpretations of this odd family footage, but it is the tracking and finding of the (now grown) children who appeared in the original home movies themselves that truly takes this film into bizarro land. The audience members' reactions to this brother and sister are the meat 'n potatoes of this film. Do the sins of the father visit the houses of the children? Well........... do they? Georgia Mueller
In Budapest, Hungary, a man with a moving truck helps two middle aged
siblings relocate and steals a box of home movies from their belongings.
The film reels are then sold to a visiting independent filmmaker from the
United States who returns home and views them only to find them too good
be amateur. Much of the family footage contains short narratives
impersonating cinema as well as several images that would ordinarily be
considered inappropriate for filming. There are also several reels of the
father at work in what is apparently a government position documenting the
inventory of jewelry and other personal property following WW II.
The filmmaker puts together a production crew and returns to Hungary to track down the two siblings in an attempt to answer questions about the film content. Both the son and daughter are found living chaotic and separate lives of drunkenness and mental illness.
With new film material in hand, the filmmaker returns to the United States and invites three professionals (James Ellroy, Stan Brakhage, and Dr. Roy Menninger) to experience the old and the new material and offer their own interpretations.
I purchased a copy of "Vakvagany" at a film festival in Kansas City and
treated to a pioneering piece of film. Meade has taken the medium of
home movies and transformed it into an art form, worthy of criticism and
interpretation (which, of course, he also does).
Critics of "Vakvagany" most certainly will attack the filmmaker's invasion
privacy to get what he wants out of Etruska, but I found his introduction
be one of the most moving moments in the film. Both Eturska and Erno are
personification of abuse victims: they are portrayed as awkward children
these home videos, playing parts in the role of a "happy" family while,
cameras turn off, only the Locseis themselves know the extent of the abuse
inflicted upon these children, if any at all.
Erno and Etruska are the epitome of tragic characters. The abuse at the
of a seedy father and alcoholic mother have molded them into, quite
pathetic adults. And the only way we can gauge the full effect of their
childhood is to see these two in the flesh, to see that Etruska lives in
still hasn't faced the proverbial demons of her past, instead shutting
completely. In a sense, Meade has done a favor to Etruska and Erno by
exposing their lives for us to see, to alert us to the plight of the
"survivor" of a
dysfunctional family. It is through these two that we can recognize the
the Locseis display for the camera likely veiled a darker side of the
My comments here roughly reflect what I got out of the movie: that our home movies indeed turn us into actors, that we sometimes present ourselves to the viewer in a different light and that, try as we may, our true nature still could shine through. And after the filming is done, we need to be able to take responsibility for our actions and our treatment of our family and to account for what we have produced (in this case, the Locsei "children"). While the home movie is a snapshot in time, it also is a case study of the inner workings of the family unit. I believe Meade is telling the viewer that we have a responsibility to face what our family has molded us into as adults, no matter how horrible. Amid all of the criticism "Vakvagany" has received, Meade should know that he has at least one fan who recognizes his film for what it is: a trailblazing look at humanity.
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