Sound film era: 1931-1944

The second golden age of filmmaking was the interwar period, when film production was nowhere near as homogenous as film historians often suggest. Artistic periods followed one after the other, each faithfully reflecting the given historical transformations. In the wake of comedy hits typical of the early years, the genre of melodrama appeared almost simultaneously with the outbreak of war, which as the fighting progressed transformed increasingly towards intense dramas and, on the other hand, increasingly light-hearted comedies. The formation of star cults can also be clearly delineated: in the wake of the anti-Jewish laws, leading stars of Hungarian film, including Gyula Kabos, were removed, to be replaced by new faces, for example, Katalin Karády, who brought a totally new style to movie theatres.

Around 60% of sound films made before 1945 survived World War II and were deposited in the National Film Archive established in 1957. Since then, a further 20% have been successfully researched and acquired. The search for more films continues to this day: just over the past 15 years, more than 30 films have come to light in foreign archives and Hungarian and foreign private collections. We are searching not only for films missing from our collection but also those that are available only in part, or are of a poor quality, or only in 16 mm print.

From a technical aspect, the main problem with early films is that quite often our collection has only worn out, commercial prints played countless times. The image can be improved considerably using wet gate printing, but it is not always possible to bring back seriously damaged, scratched audio using photochemical processes. In these cases, a possible solution is digital remastering, the results of which have proved excellent but, due to the high costs involved, we have only been able to restore the audio of a few films using this method.

Digital techniques are far more effective at fixing frame errors and restoring washed out colours than traditional laboratory processes. The first trials using this technique were in 2003. Digital techniques successfully brought back to life the faded colours of A beszélő köntös (The Talking Robe, 1941, director: Géza Radványi). Restoration of the immortal comedy Hyppolit, a lakáj (Hyppolit, the Butler) using traditional methods would have been impossible: image and audio errors in the film’s original frame and audio negative cannot be corrected using laboratory techniques, and due to the shrinkage of the film stock, the film could not be copied on traditional equipment. The only solution was digital image and audio restoration, which occurred in 2008.

The Talking Robe (source: HNFA)