The Cinecraft digitization project continues. We currently have over 300 films digitized and online through the digital archives. Hagley's Audiovisual Digitization Archivist, Ona Coughlan, has been churning out a steady stream of films since the project began in 2020. The project will continue for years to come, and we look forward to seeing what gems we discover. We have only sifted through 30% of the approximately 6,000 cans we brought back from Cleveland in 2019, so much more work remains.
A commercial for Ohio Bell Telephone is one that recently caught our attention. The commercial, starring Miss America Jacquelyn Mayer, touts the new mobile phone technology that allowed consumer telecommunication from automobiles and airplanes (sound familiar?). The commercial, one of a series of TV spots done by Cinecraft Executive Director, Julius Potocsny, stands out for its content and style.
Potocsny was born in Slovenia in 1929. He had a movie-making education in the University of Art in Budapest and the Hunnia Film Studio, the largest and most significant sound film studio in Hungary until its nationalization in 1948.
Potocsny came to Cinecraft by way of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. In Hungary, Potocsny had made a prize-winning documentary when the revolution broke out in Budapest. Although Potocsny had no active part in the revolution, his name showed up on a list of people to be arrested, and he fled to Austria. Shortly after, he smuggled himself back into Hungary disguised as a member of a German soccer team, to remove his wife and 6-month-old daughter.
In 1957 Potocsny took a job in Ohio as a chemist. He worked with test tubes in the day and studied English at night. In 1959 he started Continental Productions, a company that merged with Cinecraft three years later.
Potocsny's work had a distinct style influenced by the films of the French New Wave of the late 1950s. Techniques from French New Wave cinema later had a significant influence on American cinema. Rapid editing, exaggerated camera angles, fast zooms and pans, and non-traditional soundtracks, especially in the use of music, are all techniques found in avant-garde films that we now find commonplace. Another excellent example of Potocsny's filmmaking style is at the beginning of the film Search, produced for Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company in 1964. Zoltan Rozsnyai, another immigrant from Hungary and Music Director of the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra, wrote and directed the score.
Potocsny's time at Cinecraft came to an end sometime around 1966. While we don't know why he left Cinecraft, the high expenses for his films (evident in the finished product) seem the best guess. We know little of his time after leaving Cinecraft. According to the Internet Movie Database, he's credited as a producer, director, and producer on feature films and TV productions. He also appears to have continued working in the sponsored film industry.
A 1972 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted that
“Potocsny’s reach always exceeded grasp, and after a few successful of fairly costly pictures (including one documentary in which he wrapped a camera in asbestos and poked it right into a steel furnace so the audience could watch it seethe), he and Cleveland parted company amicable."
A 1982 advertisement for a film about artist Alexander Liberman titled "A Lifetime Burning" called Potocsny, "Phillip Morris Incorporated's award-winning filmmaker." [St. Louis Dispatch, 4 Nov 1982]. Unfortunately, credits for his sponsored film work after Cinecraft are challenging to find.
A thank you to Jim Culley for his research on the life of Potocsny.
We also posted another Ohio Bell commercial directed by Potocsny that exemplifies his style. An interesting side note, Jim Culley's twin brother, John, did a screen test to appear in this commercial (Jim and John's father Ray Culley founded Cinecraft in 1938). That's John in the phone booth at the 42 and 43-second mark. When we put the commercial online, it was the first time John had seen the finished product! For over 50 years he thought his two seconds of fame was on the cutting room floor!
Kevin J. Martin is the Curator of Archives and the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Audiovisual and Digital Collections at Hagley Museum and Library.