- Popular Music and the Moving Image in Eastern Europe ed. by Ewa Mazierska and Zsolt Győri
Popular Music and the Moving Image in Eastern Europe
New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019: 250pp.
Hauntology is, for much, most, perhaps all of Eastern Europe, ironically visceral. As a Romanian emigrant living in the United Kingdom, and one who is too young to have truly lived through Communism, I can attest to the surprising persistence of the spectre, not only in collective memory but in lived existence. Some may argue that Communism in Eastern Europe fell along with the Berlin Wall, but even if it did not fall on us, we are still living in its ruins, often not even metaphorically. Post-communism is not, after all, a time and place devoid of Communism, but one defined by it in terms both broad and intimate, as Popular Music and Moving Image in Eastern Europe makes evident. As Ewa Mazierska and Zsolt Győri argue in their introduction, this is also partly why many of the areas focused on here were previously underexplored; partly because of ‘assumptions that genre cinema (musicals included) was a conformist cinema in Eastern Europe’ (p.2), assumptions that extend to specific forms and musical genres as well, and partly because of an ‘authorist bias’, whereby critics and scholars alike ‘were concerned with the countries’ leading directors […] whose work was treated as conveying their unique vision, typically at odds with the Party ideologies’ (p.1). In other words, the gap this book fills is one, at least in part, motivated by scholars’ previous unwillingness to even observe the spectre, let alone speak to it, relegating much of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Eastern European popular music and audio-visual culture to an area where it was not only considered aesthetically inferior, but also unworthy of study. While these areas are not the sole focus of the volume, with some attention still given to auteurs and critically acclaimed music and film, these are the areas which feel the most revealing, emphasising the common tensions at the heart of this otherwise heterogenous audio-visual landscape.
The first tensions at play are those already implied in the volume’s title – those between East and West – the East here comprising of [End Page 195] Eastern Europe (excluding Russia) and the West focusing mostly on Western Europe and the United States. These tensions are addressed from a number of perspectives. One is that of influence and cultural borrowing, which permeates a number of chapters, and is implied in a number of others: from Gabriela Filippi’s discussion of the influence of both Stalinist and Hollywood musicals on Romanian musicals of state socialist period (‘Representing Modern Romania in the Musical of State Socialist Period’) to contemporary borrowings in globalised genres like disco and pop-folk (in Marko Zubak’s ‘Socialist Night Fever: Yugoslav Disco on film and Television’ and Maya Nedyalkova’s ‘“She Stole it from Beyoncé!”: Transnational Borrowing in Bulgarian pop-folk Music Videos and Audience Reaction to the Practice’, respectively). At the same time, perceptions of the West are themselves problematised, not only in terms of the state-sanctioned critique of Western ideals and capitalist ideology in both the films of the period and their censorship, reception, and reviews, but also in the post-communist nostalgic films which address the ‘imagined West’ (p.68), as poignantly described in Balázs Varga’s ‘Worlds That Never Were: Contemporary Eastern European Musical Comedies and the Memory of Socialism’ as ‘not portrayed as a real territory in these films but as a land of promise, an imaginary place to which desires and wishes are projected’ (p.69).
The second set of tensions evident here is of course closely related to the above and is ideological. However, what is presented here is a complex cultural landscape that goes beyond the classic dichotomy of state-endorsed popular culture and dissident art. Experimental cinema is expectedly present; it is examined in Zsolt Győri’s ‘“Music isn’t Music, Words aren’t Words”: Underground Music in the Hungarian Cinema of the New Sensibility’, which ‘performed...