IVANA MILOŠ: In a pursuit of what makes up television, I submit three moments of my life remembered and embossed in television: 1. A simple cartoon of a small soldier who discovers a flower, the only colourful thing in the whole world he inhabits, seen while bunking on the living room floor during the war in Yugoslavia as a child. It could be seen countless times since nothing else was shown except for the news, or at least that’s what my memory tells me. 2. Watching Hollywood classics every day at 2 p.m. after coming home from school while my grandfather made me a snack. Anything from musicals to westerns, with an unforgettable amount of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn, whose faces and voices have come to epitomize a trip down memory lane for me. 3. The joyful confusion and extraordinary delight of Gilmore Girls, seen when series still ran on TV in the early 2000s. This one caught me hook, line, and sinker. It was shown in jumbled sequences (season 2 one day, season 1 the next, etc.) that somehow fitted the wildly paced dialogue as well as the structure of the series, which relied on its intertextuality and language-obsessed worldmaking for episode development much more than it did on classical character plot lines. A friend once showed me what Gilmore Girls sounded like in German (godawful), once more affirming my firm belief in the privilege of coming from a small country where dubbing is unheard of and TV speaks all the languages of the world.
For me, these are overwhelming, larger-than-life tableaux – spilling over and lashing about, stuck in time and yet reverberating, as if a piece were stuck inside the screen itself and could come to life again anytime the TV is on. A medium bearing a striking resemblance to the nymph Echo, trapped in an existence of repetition, television is made up of simultaneous pasts and presents, dancing together and overlapping happily, congealed into devices that nowadays look like undersized, perfectly smooth (and ugly) black holes floating about the living room. I am not sure what the future of a black hole is like.
The intro to Esti Mese (Night Tales) with the TV Maci (TV Teddybear) on Hungarian television.
Long-Distance Service (An episode from A Mézga család különös kalandjai with subtitles)
The intro for the series:
It’s good to be insane, for just a day
And see our trouble fly away like cloudy days
There’s something beautiful in turning gold out from tin
Our spirits fly high, but the air is so thin!
Bold and brash, carefree, never forlorn
Don’t be afraid to grab the bull right by the horn
And when trouble first rears its head, don’t you start singin’ blues
Don’t expect brainiacs, to give you any clues
If anyone doubts you just, take a good look at them
Tell them to walk in your shoes!
I am Mézga Géza, and I brake, for no one
But my family’s a bunch of clowns
In a space so tiny, there’s no room for whining
Even though there’s naught to brag about
In our house we live it up, party hard, till we drop
Like we live in the „wild west,” mayhem, chaos and fun
Daddy, mommy, children too, love for him, me and you
Neither whines or hangs their head, worries, troubles, or pouts. (…)
Instead of a device for the discovery of individual titles or separate experiences, television represented permanence and regularity in my time spent with my family.
I used to watch television with my mother and with my grandparents every day. When I was a child, they watched the Night Tales with me. This program was introduced each night by the TV Teddybear, who had changed a little bit since the 70’s, but my mother was still fond of him. Most of the Hungarian animations were lovely and entertaining for adults as well, for instance A Mézga család különös kalandjai.
Later, with each person, I watched different kinds of programs. My mother and I prefer TV series, beginning every day at the same time, in some periods of our life the most banal ones. These series gave some kind of structure to our schedule at home, we ritually prepared the space, made some food and watched the characters change every day. After the end of the series, we talked through every decision and situation that arose. While one might consider it a total waste of time, I’m quite sure that these discussions contributed to my emotional growth. I enjoy conversations about film that take the time to consider the characters in an in-depth manner and when each participant of the dialogue gives personal answers to the issues in question.
My grandmother and I, as a guilty pleasure, sometimes watched Teleshop commercials. These extremely long, repetitive sessions are to promote products you definitely won’t ever need. We were laughing a lot at the exaggerated acting, at how the black-and-white, horrible world becomes a coloured, wonderful paradise by one product. In any event, these commercials proved to be effective, as even while laughing at them we ordered an American style pancake fryer, freaking out the whole family, which we only tried once. We were quite proud of our acquisition.
For my grandfather, as an ex-football player, being able to watch football was always a central question, even during family gatherings. Besides being part of the daily routine, television became part of the family events as well. Without being a football fan or understanding what is happening on the field, I liked his commitment and enthusiasm, and tried to share it more by copying his reactions than watching the match.
ANDREW CHRISTOPHER GREEN: When I was a young boy my mom gave me a VHS box set of Our Gang (The Little Rascals) and it instantly became my favourite thing to watch. The tapes always began with an elderly man introducing the films, giving anecdotes about the production and the actors and so on, and this always took too long so I fast forwarded through it. It was only much later that I realized these VHS tapes were released for other elderly people nostalgic for the television of their youth when these films, originally made in the 30’s and 40’s, were broadcast in the 50’s, and they were the audience whom the elderly man was addressing. I was confused because I didn’t realize they had a niche audience. I thought they were timeless and didn’t see any difference between my life and the characters. Dotting mothers, money-making schemes, fear and love of the cute girls, misers and foreigners, drinking soap and hiccupping bubbles, having to cut the grass when you’d rather go play… yes, I knew this life. The wonky noises and overdubbed sound were a bit odd, but I didn’t get hung up over these things.
So, when the elderly man introduced the films and gave them a context, it was like he was compartmentalizing my own youth for me before I got to make sense of it by comparing it to the mischievous urchins of 1930’s. I took a great deal of solace, then, in the times when the kids outsmarted the adults, like this one time when Spanky, the gang leader, went undercover to a black-tie dinner-and-a-show to steal something. There was a fat man roaring with laughter, and when he noticed Spanky, Spanky just laughed along with him in an exaggerated manner so that the man would keep laughing and look back at the stage. It was clear Spanky didn’t find anything funny. He rolled his eyes and shook his head when the fat man turned away, as if to say ‘the idiot, I can’t believe I have to do these things to keep him thinking I’m just a dumb kid.’ I was shocked by his hubris but felt solidarity with his opposition to the world we resisted together in schemes. I’m still shocked adults wrote and directed that.
RONNY GÜNL: Beim Gedanken an das Fernsehen schwebt vor dem inneren Auge nicht der ummittelbare Alltag, dessen steter Begleiter es ist, sondern das Ereignis. Ereignisse, wie etwa die Pressekonferenz Günter Schabowskis oder das Flugzeugattentat auf das World Trade Center – Augenblicke der Zeitgeschichte, die sich zuerst in die Mattscheiben und danach in das kulturelle Gedächtnis eingebrannt haben. „Was hast du damals gemacht?“ – „Wir haben den Fernseher angeschalten.“
Fernsehen scheint dafür geradezu prädestiniert zu sein. Mehr noch, das Geschehen erzwingt es viel mehr. Ob politische Führung, technische Bedingung oder beides, das Fernsehen war in seiner vermeintlich ursprünglichen Form der 1930er der Gegenwart preisgegeben. Es hängt ihm ein Bild des Totalitären nach, wenngleich ein chimärisches.
„Irgendwas passiert immer!“, möchte man meinen, „doch nichts passiert ohne das Fernsehen“, zischt es zynisch zurück.
Mit AMPEX Quadruplex wird die Rundfunk-Utopie des Fern-Sehens (tele vision) zur Zeit-im-Bild- Maschine – „MAZ abfahren, bitte!“ Das Fernsehen und das Video zusammen sind dabei der Schallplatte näher als dem Film. Während im Kino die Bilder still stehen, fließen die Zeilen des Fernsehens unaufhörlich vor sich hin.
Harun Farocki: „Es ist nicht so schlimm, daß Bilder nur zur Überleitung da sind, schlimmer, daß diese ihre dramaturgische Funktion nicht zugegeben wird. Die Füllbilder kommen einher wie die Bilder, die vorgeblich das Material der Untersuchungen sind. Alle aufgenommen im gleichen fotografischen Duktus, lauter durch Schwenk, Zoom und kurzen Schnitt fixgemachte Momentaufnahmen.“
— Harun Farocki: „Drückeberger vor der Wirklichkeit“, Frankfurter Rundschau, 2. Juni 1973. (In Meine Nächte mit den Linken, hrsg. v. Volker Pantenburg, S. 137)
PATRICK HOLZAPFEL: Der einzige Fernseher, zu dem ich jemals eine Beziehung aufbauen konnte, war ein kleiner Röhrenfernseher von Panasonic. Er knackte wie Chinakracker, wenn man ihn an- und ausschaltete und für Minuten danach, schien der Bildschirm förmlich zu brutzeln (die Handfläche über den Bildschirm gleiten lassen: Glück!). Ich fand die grünen und roten Farben in ihm sehr schön, die blauen Farben waren mir zu rot und Gelb gab es nicht. Daran änderten auch die farbigen Knöpfe auf der Fernbedienung nichts (ich habe den gelben Knopf sehr oft gedrückt). Obwohl der Fernseher eine riesige, ausfahrbare Antenne hatte (das Gefühl, die Antenne in den Fernseher zurück zu schieben: Glück!), konnte ich damit keine TV-Programme empfangen, weil ich immerzu in Zimmern lebte, in denen man kein TV empfangen konnte und schon gar nicht mit diesem Fernseher. Durch irgendwelche Eingänge und Klinkenstecker konnte ich jedoch Videoabspielgeräte und später einen DVD-Player verbinden. Die Suche nach dem Signal führte mich durch unzählige Sendeplätze, die alle von Schneegestöber und einem nicht enden wollenden Schwindel erzählten. Ich trug das Fernsehgerät auch mit mir herum, als ich meinen ersten Film drehte (besser: zu drehen versuchte) und glaubte einen Monitor zu brauchen (er war schwerer als die Kamera) und wenn ich umzog, erschien ich immer mit diesem klobigen, staubbedeckten Kasten vor der Tür. Irgendwann habe ich ihn einfach irgendwo in einer Wohnung stehen lassen, ich glaube, weil ich dachte, dass ich nun größere Bilder sehen wollte. Leider habe ich bis heute keinen so schönen Fernseher mehr gefunden.
This is the TV I’ve used for the past eight months. It’s an appendage for my laptop, above all – connected via HDMI. I haven’t watched any “TV” on this TV, as far as I can recall.
But it taints my desire to watch films, as all I know of the act from these past months involves shitty sound, frayed concentration, numb limbs and sore eyes. Is it any different from the actual cinema-going experience? I can no longer remember.
However, images I’ve loved and hold dear were displayed on this TV appendage. How do I reconcile this? I’ve obliged myself towards both my hard drive and the Criterion Channel’s seemingly vast catalogues, both of which now resemble filmic swamps more than anything else. The surrounding windows now take my attention. Jonas Mekas’ trees resemble the ones outside my window, a resemblance that encourages a wandering of the eyes onto the outside landscape. When looking out this window half-watching prior films, the act felt like a distracted reprieve from the mire of structural cohesion and serious worlds that never-quite resembled my own. Whereas here, in As I Was Moving Ahead I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, the act is a continuation of what’s on screen, introduced via the light reflecting from the opposite window. Because of this “distraction” on the TV’s image, I realise that it’s still light outside, go out to touch the tree and take a 35mm still of it. I then return inside to finish watching As I Was Moving Ahead….. It’s become dark outside, now that the film has ended.
SEBASTIAN BOBIK: It seems that discovering films while watching TV late at night is a thing of the past. Nowadays I suppose films are “discovered” through streaming, through algorithms making choices and presenting it with things we might probably enjoy according to some variables.
But there was a time, when one could simply stumble upon strange films programmed usually late at night. And though I must confess that most of my personal discoveries in my younger days that lead me towards believing that cinema could be something very special, were made through renting DVDs, there are some films I vividly remember being on TV when I saw them first. I remember the atmosphere of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner scaring me so much as a young boy, that I had to turn it off after about 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the next day I was begging my mother to rent the film so I could watch in its entirety. Something about it had just made me curious.
Around that time (at least in my memory it seems like this) a smaller private channel would show some classic movies on Thursday evenings at about 10:30. Since there were so many commercial breaks, the films would usually run past midnight. I discovered some of the well-established classics of American cinema through this programming. My mother would allow me to stay up and watch them, while everyone else was already asleep. I vividly remember seeing The Godfather and Pulp Fiction in those time slots, and a handful of other films too, but I have forgotten which ones exactly those were. I think ever since then I very much enjoy watching movies late at night, instead of early in the evening. The other thing I remember vividly, is that after midnight the commercials would suddenly change and most ads after midnight were for sex hotlines or other pornography. It was very strange how in one commercial break they would still be playing ads for cars and detergent and 15 minutes later it would only be naked women asking you to call a hotline.
It’s been years now since I’ve watched television, and honestly there isn’t much that draws me to it anymore these days. But these memories have stuck with me. Nowadays, when I think about Television, it’s probably the band.
DAVID PERRIN: My earliest memory of television, or at least the one that comes immediately to mind when asked to think back on it, is from when I was four or five years old in a seaside hotel room in Jesolo, Italy with my grandfather watching a Charlie Chaplin short set during World War I called Shoulder Arms from 1918. I cannot recall the plot and have not seen it since that late afternoon twenty-five years ago, though I do vaguely remember images of Chaplin as a foot shoulder trudging through trenches, the horror of which at the time I knew absolutely nothing about, but that’s basically it. Much more present in my mind is the sound of my grandfather’s voice talking to me about Chaplin, the sound of his laughter like rough paper being scratched as Chaplin commits one of his comic blunders, a laugh made all the louder by the film being silent coupled with the smallness of the hotel room…Perhaps too I remember the rearrangement of shadows in the room as the light changed outside, the sound of children splashing around in the swimming pool somewhere off in the distance, the wind in the pine wood trees beyond the window, but I’m probably making all those things up.
In the twenty-five-year interim between then and now my relationship to the medium has fluctuated considerably, oscillating between enthusiasm, indifference, and outright hostility. (Upon seeing a video on YouTube of a visibly irate John Cassavetes exclaiming: “Television suck!”, I remember thinking: right on.) But the period of my life when I dedicated a large chunk of my time to watching television was between around 1998 and 2001, which coincides with the period when Tobias Moretti starred as the hard-ass cop Richie Moser in Kommissar Rex, a show about a crime fighting canine in Vienna that I watched religiously with my brother; and also when I saw in real time, along with so many other countless pairs of eyes around the world, images of the World Trade Centre repeatedly collapsing into a senseless heap of smoke and dust in downtown Manhattan.
As I grew older television became supplanted by cinema, disappearing altogether from my life by the time I reached my late teens. (The only remotely tangential connection I had to it then was listening to the punk band Television.) Nowadays, I only watch television when traveling and staying in a hotel (which, due to the pandemic, is never), sitting or reclining in bed late at night while flipping through the channels that are often in languages I rarely understand. Sometimes a movie that I’m familiar with will be on, dubbed in the language of whatever country I happen to be in; I’d watch the whole thing through, not understanding a word, yet able to follow along with the plot as if I were a native speaker. Maybe I only watch television in hotel rooms, because subconsciously, I’m hoping I’ll reencounter the Chaplin short from many years ago, and thus be able to relive the memory of my grandfather in a moving way, but I seriously doubt it.
SIMON PETRI: Discovery, Budapest: Film programming on Hungarian television never really existed as a conscious or conceptual method of making cinema available. There were accidental cracks in the system, however, and individual titles could be discovered by chance late at the night. This is how I managed to catch a glimpse of Shadows, Rosemary’s Baby and Paris, Texas on a circa 30-year-old color television at a very young age by going through the three channels we had, and sticking to the films for a while despite my complete lack of care for cinema. Most vividly I remember the peepshow club’s room with the one-way mirror in Paris, Texas – more than simply noticing how different this is from what I knew and enjoyed as films (Hollywood comedies), it had been a clear revelation that films can teach and show experiences, events or objects which I hadn’t even known would exist (peepshows and one-way mirrors), almost a decade before I actually started to watch films, to learn about them and the world through them.
Of course, because of this very indifference towards cinema these are memories magnified retrospectively. My conscious choices were Columbo and nature documentaries at the time. I got lost in the forests of India with a ferocious tiger mother and I learnt a lot about where to find king cobras.
At the end of 2007, during the last days of prosperity, when people paid for paintings before the crisis hit, my mother sold a work and purchased a modern television which led me to an even greater discovery, that of the recording device – the remedy for the horror of only being allowed to watch the first half of UEFA Champions League matches, waking up at six filled with hope to see an almost-live-miracle after a petrifying live 45 minutes, and yes, Iniesta in the 93rd made it happen.
Revoking punishment, Budapest: My unchangeable decision to not step on the pitch and harshly neglect the trainer during football training on an unpleasant and humid night had prompted my grandmother to prohibit me from watching television. Then she saw that Chaplin was on the program that night which she insisted to show me, and the ban was lifted.
Community, Jena: Years before I first heard about the esteem of television in German film culture, I had spent every Sunday for almost a year in a ravaged, stinky bar in Jena to watch Tatort on a television we only saw through a dense smokescreen. A free round if you guess the culprit. Many nights well spent with the most devoted communal audience I’ve ever been a part of.
News, Wien & Donostia: Following the political and economic events of Hungary from abroad, I often sit in front of my laptop watching roundtable discussions and interviews with experts and politicians. The intellectual quality is poor and the tendency for sensationalism is alarming. Yet, as long as channels regularly find 15-30 minutes in the evening to let Tamás Gáspár Miklós speak, there’s something to look forward to.
SIMON WIENER: When football matches are broadcast on television, they boast some decisive melodramatic moments – moments so suffused with drama, indeed, that it would always be hard for me to keep my eyes on the screen. If one side scores, the goal is seen time and time again, from multiple angles, and with it the turning away of the scorer, away from the goal and towards the teammates – yet the most decisive melodramatic gestures, scorching their way into consciousness, lurk at the fringes of the frame, evinced by the conceding side. Sure, one could try to ignore them, and just focus on the jubilant gestures of the scorers; but the montage-within-the-frame can’t quite escape one’s grasp. Our gaze collects those silent figures on the edges, behind the main actors; standing apart, distraught, defeated, their ordeal magnified by slow-motion. Heads are starting to hang, eyes torn wide open in disbelief; hands and arms are slowly being raised, wrestling with destiny or blaming other defenders. The players are now kept prisoners, as it were, of their one crucial failure; held captive within countless repetitions of the televisional direction, they seem forced to witness their own errors, marginal as they may be, leading to goal, again and again. A “loop of failure” is superimposed on the relish, the beauty, and the celebration of the goal; and if the images’ slow-motion and repetition work together to construct our thorough, analytical understanding of the goal, how it originated and played out, they also act as prime carriers of melodrama. It’s only when the kick-off succeeding the goal is taken, that we, slightly astonished by the tenacity of the conceding team (a tenacity not warranted by the images we just saw), may utter a sigh of relief: ah yes, they decided to fight back; they collected themselves, ready to take their turn hurting the opponent; ah yes, they do not succumb to their total inner destruction those previous images have suggested.