October 23rd is a public holiday in Hungary. It commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the country becoming a republic again in 1989. We celebrated by going to Daubners, the busiest cake shop I have ever seen. Hungarians take cake extremely seriously.
13 days that shook the world
On October 23rd 1956, '13 days that shook the world' kicked off. Hungarian students rose up in peaceful demonstration against the Soviet-ruled communist system, demanding free elections, a free press and that Russian troops withdraw. The day didn't end well, with the protests violently put down. But the students had triggered a revolution that spread rapidly across Hungary and the government collapsed.
By 1957 the Soviets were back in power after having brutally suppressed the revolution and 200,000 Hungarians had fled their country.
The great László Kovács
Among the people who left was legendary cinematographer László Kovács. He'd studied cinema at the Acadamy of Drama and Film in Budapest and had secretly filmed the 1956 revolution. In March 1957, Kovács and a fellow student, Vilmos Zsigmond, arrived in the USA with the footage hoping to sell it. But, by then, what they'd filmed was no longer newsworthy.
After working on a number of no and low-budget movies including The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies with Vilmos, Kovács got his big break in 1969 with Easy Rider.
When Andras Vágvölgyi, Hungarian director of Kolorádó Kid, was 12 he saw Easy Rider and it blew him away. Many years later, Andras was at a film biz party and spotted Peter Fonda, producer and director of Easy Rider, deep in conversation with a Japanese man. This is the story Andras told me on the night of October 22nd.
Andras went up to Peter Fonda and said 'I'm sorry to interrupt you but I have to tell you something'.
Peter Fonda looked down at Andras - he's a tall guy, apparently - smiled and waited.
'When I was 12 years old I saw Easy Rider and it changed my life,' Andras said.
Fonda took the cigar out of his mouth. 'Where are you from, kid?'
'Lemme tell you something,' Fonda said. 'It wasn't just László who was Hungarian on that shoot. The whole goddamn crew was too. They'd all escaped from your country in 1956. And you should be proud to be Hungarian, son.'
'Why?' Andras said.
'Because the spirit of freedom in Easy Rider comes as much from those Hungarians as it did from Dennis and me,' Fonda said.
Fonda took Andras's hand, shook it, and Andras floated away.
When Andras told me that story in a studenty Budapest bar called Kiado, however many years later, he had a huge grin on his face. We raised our glasses in a toast to cinema and freedom, shook hands and I left.