There has been no shortage of articles, including in certain film production company blogs, that speculate as to why Budapest is so frequently used as a stand-in for other cities, from Baltimore to Moscow, from Berlin to Paris. Sometimes it plays two cities in the same film, like in Steven Spielberg's Munich, when it did double duty as Paris and Rome. But it takes the erudition and eye of a writer deeply versed in architecture to really put into exact language what about the city is so universal, yet at the same time particular. It was pleasing to come across – not in Variety or Conde Nast Traveler – but in the Financial Times, a loving ode to Budapest in the guise of the answer to the question: what makes Budapest its own city, yet every city? The author, Edwin Heathcote, a former resident who had occasional work in film, posits:
"The more is, I think, its obscurity. It’s the kind of city most people haven’t been to or, if they have, then only briefly or on a drunken stag-do or a business trip. It was built in an era when other cities were already established as exemplars. In the 1890s Budapest was second only to Chicago as the fastest-growing city in the world and its architects looked around to see what had worked elsewhere. They picked a little from Paris, something from Milan, a lot from Vienna, perhaps a few things from London (including a gothic parliament; Budapest made sure its version was a little bigger) and amalgamated them into a city of bits. This was topped by a layer of interwar modernism and a heavier layer of communist central planning with its socialist realism and bleak but durable late modernism. From this cocktail an extremely particular city arose but one in which memories of other cities are persistently present."
He goes on to discuss the elegiac essence of Budapest,
"There is a sense in which Budapest is there to represent a sense of cityness. The bits of it that appear most frequently — the blocky rustication of its buildings’ bases, the shabby, shady courtyards encased in peeling plaster, the grand fin-de-siècle monuments and operatic staircases, the socialist-era layer of stripped modernity and social realist workers’ canteens and the broad avenues — together create a city which doesn’t need to be coherent as each element sparks an atmosphere in our minds anyway. Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel had nothing to do with the city (the hotel interiors were shot in a German department store) yet the name alone was enough to trigger an image of Mitteleuropa: delicate pastries, moustachioed concierges clicking their heels in greetings to grandes dames and faded Belle Époque grandeur applied with a layer of communist ennui.
"Budapest is both present and absent, super-specific and utterly generic. It is not a star but a character actor. Just occasionally it’s allowed to appear as itself. Near the beginning of Thomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the wonderful Párisi Udvar provides the backdrop for the botched operation that sets up the plot. Its orientalist Art Nouveau interior, part Turkish bazaar, part Parisian arcade, proves the perfect place for misadventure: louche, luxurious, faded, an architecture of shadows and memories, Walter Benjamin’s snippets of the remains of western modernity detected in the traces of the arcades."
In the end, films do with Budapest like the author does with Budapest: makes the city their own, while at the same time maintaining respect for its integrity, its 'cityness', as he so eloquently puts it. Why is Budapest a perfect body double? If you have theories of you own, leave them in the comments.
Source: Financial Times
Flatpack Films is based in Budapest, Hungary. We are a film company that offers an inspiring and professional work atmosphere for our local and international clients. Since our inception, our focus has been providing the best of the best in terms of local production resources, locations, cast, and technical teams to ensure that whatever the production we facilitate, we do to highest standard possible.