Béla Balázs, or otherwise Herbert Bauer, was the son of German-born parents. He began using the Balazs nom de plume in newspaper articles written before his 1902 relocation to Budapest where he studied Hungarian and German at the Eötvös Collegium.
Balázs was the moving force behind the Sonntagskreis or Sunday Circle. This was an intellectual group he founded together with Lajos Fülep, Arnold Hauser, György Lukács and Károly (Karl) Mannheim in the autumn of 1915. The group’s meetings were held on Sunday afternoons at his flat. By December 1915, Balázs had already commented on the group’s success in his diary.
He is perhaps best remembered as the librettist of Bluebeard’s Castle. He originally wrote the libretto for his roommate Zoltán Kodály, who in turn introduced him to the opera’s actual composer, Béla Bartók. This collaboration was taken further with Balázs writing the scenario for the The Wooden Prince ballet.
The collapse of the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic under Béla Kun in 1919, forced Balázs to live for a long period in exile in Vienna and Germany and, from 1933 until 1945, in the Soviet Union. György Lukács, a close friend from his youth, became a bitter enemy during the ordeal of the Stalinist purges.
During his stay in Vienna, he became a prolific film critic. His first book, Der Sichtbare Mensch (The Visible Man) (1924), gave rise to the theory of German “film as a language.” Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin were significantly influenced by it. Balázs, also, wrote the screenplay for G. W. Pabst’s film Die Dreigroschenoper (1931), which led to a scandal and a lawsuit filed by Brecht (who admitted not having read the script).
A while later, he co-wrote with Carl Mayer, Das Blaue Licht (1932), and helped Leni Riefenstahl direct it. Riefenstahl removed Balasz’s and Mayer’s names from the film’s credits because they were Jewish. Somewhere in Europe (It Happened in Europe, 1947), directed by Géza von Radványi, is one of his most known films.
His last years were marked by petty domestic arguments and an ever increasing recognition in the German-speaking world. In 1949, he was awarded the Kossuth Prize, the most prestigious prize in Hungary, and he finished Theory of the Film, which was published posthumously in English (London: Denis Dobson, 1952). The Béla Balázs Prize was founded in 1958. This is an award for achievement in cinematography.