Everyone's Home Movies

If you are reading this anywhere near London -- you lucky dog, you -- then you should keep Sunday afternoon (the 16th) open, because the ICA will be hosting a screening of Peter Forgacs's Miss Universe 1929 – Lisl Goldarbeiter. A Queen in Wien at 4 p.m., followed by a Q&A with the director. Forgacs is a superb Hungarian documentary filmmaker whose specialty is using old home movies to re-examine the traumatic history of his nation during the middle third of the 20th century. Miss Universe 1929 is another example of the creative ways in which Forgacs takes other people’s footage, never intended for public consumption and, by putting it in a larger sociopolitical context, makes it speak across decades, reminding us of the ways that individual men and women are tormented by moments larger than themselves.

Lisl Goldarbeiter was, as the title says, Miss Austria of 1929 who went on to be crowned Miss Universe in the unlikely venue of Galveston, TX, an event from which, the film drily notes, “the public [was] excluded.” A beautiful and poised young Jewish woman, she was captured on film, almost obsessively, by her cousin Marci Tenczer, who was quite clearly madly in love with her. Tenczer, who was still alive at the time of Forgacs filming, offers his own observations on their life, supplemented by readings from Lisl’s diaries and letters. And Forgacs supplements Tenczer’s images with newsreel footage of the period, showing us how the political upheavals of the 1930s gradually closed down the fairy-princess world in which Lisl lived.

Surprisingly, as is the case of several of Forgacs’s other films, Lisl and Marci both survived the Shoah. In fact, after the war, the cousins were re-united and married. But the scars of history are unmistakable in their lives, whether put there by the Nazis in the ‘40s or by the Hungarian uprising in 1956. As has been case in every other film by Forgacs that I have seen, the interweaving of personal narrative and the movement of history is beautifully seamless, the images captivating or terrifying. Miss Universe 1929 presents yet another way of entering into the story of the Jews in the previous century, one that Forgacs has made his own.

To book tickets contact the ICA box office: http://www.ica.org.uk or phone 020 7930 3647.

I won't tell you to hop on a plane to go see the film; that would be a little extreme. However, if you are going to be in Washington, DC, in December, you should hop over to the National Gallery of Art on the 7th and/or the 13th, where they will be screening several of Forgacs's recent films, including Miss Universe 1929 and his latest work, I am Von Hofler. Forgacs will be present and will give a lecture "Film, Memory and Amnesia," and there will also be a selection of his installations and photography. Heck, I may even hop on the shuttle and be there myself.

Oh, and while I'm at it, Happy Armistice Day and happy birthday to me (55th).