Béla Balázs has been known chiefly for writing the first systematic treatise on film aesthetics. As this comprehensive and definitive biography reveals, however, he was also an important creative force, who conducted dialogues or collaborated with many masters of the new art—from Alexander Korda to G. W. Pabst, from Sergei Eisenstein to Leni Riefenstahl. Jewish by descent, Hungarian poet, German writer, and international cineast, Balézs was an artist, a revolutionary, and a humanist—a key European cultural figure.
Joseph Zsuffas biography, based on more than two decades of research, traces the vast social upheavals of Balázss lifetime—from the romantic years of the Austro-Hungarian fin de si�cle to World War I, revolution, and political exile; from the turbulence of Weimar Germany to Hitlers Reich, Stalins Soviet Union, and World War IIs remaking of Europe. Through his art and his criticism, Balézs was both a chronicler of his times and an inspirational force for many contemporaries. Those he inspired or who praised the various facets of his kaleidoscopic talent included Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók, György Lukács, Ernst Krenek, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, and Stefan Zweig.
Zsuffa conveys the immense variety and power of Balázss work, from his first writings to the end of his career. But he also gives full treatment to Balázss personal life. He recounts Balázss symbiotic friendship with Lukács—one of the most influential literary theorists of our age—in intimate detail, including their tragic estrangement. And he describes Balázss complicated romantic life, until he declared cinema to be his great, passionate love. With the excitement of a novel, this book dramatizes the difficulties Balázs faced in securing his reputation, surviving in wartime exile, and struggling for his rightful recognition when he returned to his homeland where, ultimately, the Béla Balázs Studio in Budapest and the Béla Balázs Prize were set up to honor him.
Since its publication, the biography has become a highly-regarded source for all those who are interested in 20th-century European cultural history. It has engendered a Balázs renaissance worldwide that has produced doctoral dissertations, essays, film-historical and musicological articles, and books. Balázs and Bartóks friendship, Balázss crucial role in the creation of Bartóks opera, Duke Bluebeards Castle, and his ballet, The Wooden Prince, have served as inspiration for several books. This biography has also raised renewed global interest in Balázss film-theoretical works, whose tenets are timeless. Some of Balázss forgotten pantomimes and satires, rediscovered by Zsuffa, have been revived in Europe. Even Hollywood has taken note of him: his 1926 film classic, The Adventures of a Ten-Mark Note—a forerunner of post-World War II neo-realistic films—has been remade in an Americanized version. The irrefutable facts of the biography have also forced the famous and infamous Leni Riefenstahl to acknowledge Balázss instrumental dramaturgical and directorial contribution to her film, The Blue Light.
Until the publication of Béla Balázs, the Man and the Artist, Balázs has been more acknowledged than understood, more cited than read. This highly readable biography, based on impeccable scholarship, has given Balázs, who was truly a modern Renaissance man, his due at last.
Published by the University of California Press
Copyright © 1987, 2002 by Joseph Zsuffa
ISBN: 0-520-05545-4. Hardcover, 562 p., illust., $65.00