Monday, 20 August 2012


What a psychodrama!

I have had this posting stashed away for ages. This seems as good a time to air it as any other – and it is the silly season, after all.

András Pető has always struck me as a good subject for a biopic – especially, as the years have gone by and our hero begins to be prized free, ever so slowly and gently from the mystery that he spun around himself, and his story departs further and further from the bland, cosy hagiography of Conductive Education's own little creation myth.

But who would play the part of András Pető? Granting that my fantasy-casting reflects the world of Anglo-American film-making, disgraceful, disrespectful and culturally insensitive I know but all that I can manage, here are a few suggestions.

Peter Lorre?

I know Peter Lorre from his bit parts in a number of Humphrey Bogart's films. Ever since I first heard of András Pető I have visualised him, particularly in the inter-War period, rather in the image of the rather dodgy, edgy little man of the sort that Peter Lorre played. There is an surviving photograph of András Pető passed round showing that I assume comes from some time around then, smartly turned-out, a bit of a dude, posing with a cigarette-holder. Peter Lorre, I am sure, would have captured that man to a T. Here he is, blowing his top in the Maltese Falcon, using the same sort of language as you-know-who was reported to use in his tantrums:

Peter Lorre was one of the host of central Europeans who helped build up the Californian film industry between the wars. Like Andras Peto he was Jewish. In Vienna before he emigrated he had experienced some minor psychological problems, and found his way to Jakab Marino and experienced psychodrama. Whether or not this helped his psychological problems I do not know but he did rather take to acting as a result, and that is how he came into films. I suppose that it is not too fanciful to wonder whether in the strange world of Vienna of the the early twenties...

Yes, I am sure that Pater Lore could have conjoured up a good inter-War András Pető – but he died in 1964 so I have to leave him off my list.

Orson Welles?

The problem of a biopic of András Pető is the not uncommon one arising from a long life, and the physical as well as the psychological changes that often acocmpany this. To me the immediate post-War years saw a contradictory András Pető emerging from the shadows. Despite his virtues this András Pető was secretive, obsessed, self-preserving, devious and, yes, amoral. This side of András Pető, man of mystery and intrigue, is evoked for me by Orson Welles. in The Third Man:

I like to think that Orson Wells could have made a good job of that side of András Pető's character as well.

While I am at it, it would be nice to commission music from Anton Karras.

Unfortunnately for my purpose, Orson Welles died in 1985 and Anton Karas a few months before.

Bob Hoskins?

While I had contact with Bob Hoskins over the making of Ann Paul's short promotional film A gift from Hungary, I used to think that here was a dead ringer for a sightly older András Pető, in later years. His manner with the children at the then Birmingham Institute, though different in specifics I am sure from precisely how András Pető might have been, struck the right note. But what about the other side of András Pető's character? Then, a few years later, I saw The Enemy at the Gate, set during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Bob Hoskins played Commissar N. S. Khrushchev, charged by Stalin to achieve the impossible: check the rout of the Soviet Army, hold the line, halt the advance of the unstoppable German forces, and totally defeat them. At all levels, this would be a triumph of the will.

Determination and purpose such as portrayed here in N. S. Khrushchev could will back movement into paralysed limbs and push back the implacable forces of bureaucratic distrust and professional envy – so that András Pető's fledgeling method could not only work but survive, and even develop and extend its application.

Bob Hoskins is still with us but has recently announced his retirement from acting, as a result of Parkinson's disease.

Academic exercises...

I would not make much of a job as a casting agent, though the exercise of who and how to cast for a biographical film on Andras Peto, offers a simple little mind game with which to question how he might be visualised and projected.

No doubt others attempting this would seek to create different icons. And no doubt too there are younger, active film actors who could play András Pető at different stages of his life, as well, differently or better.

And then the is the question of writing the screen play. András Pető wrote a psychodrama on Adolf Hitler, published in his Unfug, so why not one on the man himself? (It will not be me who tries it.)

For the moment, there is no desperate hurry to operationalise matters in such ways, as there is neither appetite nor market for a film on András Pető. It will some time before the process of discovering the historical András Pető has reached a stage where enough is known, including the essence of that mysterious Ingredient X that drove him to be who he was and do what he did, for anyone convincingly to reconstruct the strange drama of his life. And without that mystery ingredient his story may never have the commercial zing needed to create a saleable product.

In the meantime, dream on, and continue fantasising. Or try another mind game: who might play Mária Hári at different stages in her odd but very different life? 

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