Gábor Bódy’s (1946–1985) formal investigations were aligned with a “linguistic turn” of film studies in the 1960s and 1970s, which produced theoretical explorations of the connections between film and language, most notably through the work of French theoretician Christian Metz. This development widely followed a broad interest in the field of structuralism across different disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, which built on linguistics to investigate universal structures and systems within a given text or body of work.
Bódy and fellow filmmakers and artists, including Miklós Erdély and Dóra Maurer, participated in this new strand of nonnarrative cinematic experimentation in forceful opposition to the conventional narrative structures of traditional modes of documentary and fiction film production that prevailed in Hungary and the BBS at the time. In doing so, they ambitiously sought to integrate moving images more clearly into the different modes of avant-garde experimentation within the arts, away from the realm of narrative and commercial filmmaking.
Four Bagatelles is a key work in Gábor Bódy’s oeuvre that illustrates his central artistic concerns. The study of the filmic image is achieved here through a series of formal interventions added onto preexisting footage culled from a wide range of sources. As the studio’s catalog explains, “of the essentially infinite number of bagatelles” (in classical music, bagatelles are short pieces of music often written in sets), the film selects four: archival footage of two folk dancers, a sequence showing a modern dancer’s abstract movements, reworkings of sections of his film Tradicionális kábítószerünk (Our Traditional Drug) from 1973, and a final image showing the infinite effect of two mirrors turned facing each other. These sequences are variously transformed by a perpetually moving crosshair dissecting the frame, an intentionally misaligned film strip fragmenting the human bodies displayed on-screen, and an ever-shifting iris effect that focuses attention on a circular segment of an otherwise black screen. These gestures foreground the materiality of film and invite viewers to repeatedly refocus their attention to different elements of the image. They ask viewers to reassess their approach to cinema and unearth novel meanings within the four disparate pieces included in the film. Through these reflections on form and content, Bódy ultimately highlights the omnipresence of the artist guiding the viewer’s gaze. — Sonja Simonyi