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Banner stills L to R: Centaur, courtesy Tamás St. Auby; and Endless Day, courtesy Estonian Television Archive / Estonian Public Broadcasting

Censored and Salvaged


Still from Endless Day, courtesy Estonian
Television Archive / Estonian Public Broadcasting

The complicated relationships of experimental filmmakers in the former Eastern Europe to their states’ censors are discussed throughout this web feature. One can find them in the texts about numerous Yugoslav filmmakers (including Dušan Makavejev, Želimir Žilnik, Vlatko Gilić, and Karpo Godina), all of whom faced restrictions on their creative freedom in the early 1970s during a backlash against the Black Wave’s experiments in the more freewheeling late 1960s. Similarly, texts about the Béla Balázs Studio in Hungary, Ion Grigorescu in Romania, and Thomas Werner and Jürgen Böttcher in East Germany discuss how censorship powerfully shaped the form, content, and fate of experimental filmmaking within the broader culture.

In addition to overt censorship, self-censorship became a concern in the era of “real socialism.” The biography of the Czech filmmaker Petr Skala is an extreme example of a common story among Eastern European artists who chose to do the work they most cared about in privacy (and, consequently, obscurity) to avoid both direct official censorship and the self-censorship that publicly visible cultural workers had to practice. As David Crowley has noted, the anxiety over self-censorship “troubled many Eastern European intellectuals, particularly those who lived in relatively liberal regimes. In the 1970s Hungary, Poland and, above all, non-aligned Yugoslavia . . . allowed greater freedom of expression than other states including Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. Moreover, privileges and opportunities bound artists and writers closer to the interest of the state. . . . In these conditions, state censorship was often replaced by self-censorship as artists and writers avoided explicit critique of power."[1]


Still from Endless Day
courtesy Estonian Television Archive / Estonian Public Broadcasting

Crowley draws this account of self-censorship from The Velvet Prison, a 1983 critique of the comfortable position of artists in late socialism written by the Hungarian dissident Miklós Haraszti. “Censorship is no longer a matter of simple state intervention,” Haraszti wrote in the opening of his book. “A new aesthetic culture has emerged in which censors and artists alike are entangled in a mutual embrace."[2] As Arch Puddington summarized Haraszti’s argument, “Through the shrewd application of rewards and punishments (but mainly rewards), post-Stalinist authorities have created conditions under which artists, instead of detesting a system which limits their autonomy, support the system’s preservation out of self-interest.”  Moreover, Haraszti, according to Puddington, saw this system as “less visible and more dangerous” than the hard censorship of the Stalin period.[3]

The remarkable fates of the two films presented in this program underscore the impact that censorship—and the refusal to self-censor—continued to have on filmmaking in the years of “real socialism” well after the end of Stalinism. Endless Day and Centaur share strikingly similar stories: both were made with the resources of official studios, both were banned before completion and destined for oblivion, both were secretly salvaged, and both saw completion and public release in the post-socialist period. At the same time, the films are also quite different, and through their differences, they illustrate the varying circumstances under which censorship took place in different countries. Made in the Soviet Estonia, Endless Day, as Eva Näripea writes, was censored because it did not accord with the principles of socialist realism. This was still sufficient grounds in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s to reject the formal innovations of a film whose existential themes became political thanks as much to official suspicion as authorial intent. By contrast, in Hungary, the banning of the explicitly political Centaur, which contested the Communist Party’s monopoly on socialist and revolutionary rhetoric, made visible the limits of tolerance of officials who permitted both socially critical documentaries and formal experiments to come out of the Béla Balázs Studio.  — Ksenya Gurshtein


1. David Crowley and Daniel Muzyczuk, Sounding the Body Electric, exh. cat. (Łódź, 2012), 91. (back to top)

2. Miklós Haraszti, The Velvet Prison: Artists under State Socialism (London, 1988), 5. (back to top)

3. An example of a moving image artwork that addresses self-censorship directly can be found in the Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović’s I Am Censoring Myself (Cenzurisem se), in which he “first recorded [on video] a text that would not be broadcast by any official television channel, [and] then erased all the potentially controversial parts and broadcast this (self)-censored version.” Barbara Borčić, “Video Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism,” in Impossible Histories: Historical Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes, and Post-Avant-Gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991, ed. Dubravka Djurić and Miško Šuvaković (Cambridge, MA, 2003), 501. (back to top)