"I spoke of love, of the roses health, the sunray, that alone finds the heart straightway of Greece that walks the sea with surety, of Greece that takes on voyages always to naked snow-glorious mountains" ...

Odysseas Elytis

26.3.10

Greek cinema


GOOD OLD GREEK CINEMA - ΠΑΛΙΟΣ ΚΑΛΟΣ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΟΣ ΚΙΝΗΜΑΤΟΓΡΑΦΟΣ
The First Footage - Cinema as popular entertainment is largely a post-war phenomenon in Greece, although a tradition of Greek film-making can be traced back to the early 20th century. The first Lumiere films were shown in central Athens in 1897 to a mixed response: some members of the audience reportedly fainted, while others threw stones at the screen. Nevertheless, a cinema was established in the capital several years later. The first film made in Greece was a newsreel of the 1906 interim Olympic Games. The first full-length feature film was Golfo (1914) by Costas Bachatoris , a bucolic romance adapted from a popular play of the same name, that premiered at the Pantheon cinema on 22 January 1915.


The Post-War Years - The rise of Greek cinema in the post-war years is closely connected to the establishment of Finos Films production company, which launched with Voice of the Heart in 1943. Self-consciously styled on Hollywood production companies, Finos oversaw production from shooting, through editing, distribution, and marketing. Finos produced mainly comedies and melodramas, as well as Hollywood-inspired musicals and westerns. Some of its greatest hits were many features starring Aliki Vouyouklaki (1937-96), one of the leading lights of Greek cinema. She debuted in 1954 with Nikos Tsiforos ' (1912-70) The Little Mouse , but achieved star status a year later with Dimis Dadiras ' (1927-82) The Lover of the Shepherdess.

The Rise of Neo-Realism - By the mid 1950s, numerous films were being produced. These were mainly comedies, inspired by everything from farce and variety to the shadow puppet theatre (karaghiozis) and Aristophanes. Two outstanding directors of comedy during this period were Yiorgos Tzavellas (1916-1976) and Alekos Sakellarios (1913-1992). Tzavellas directed such classics as The Drunkard (1950), which broke box-office records in Greece, and The Counterfeit Coin (1955). Among the best-known of Sakellarios' fifty or so films are The Germans are Coming Back (1947), Barrel Organ, Poverty and Dignity (1955) and The Aunt from Chicago (1957).
With few exceptions, commercial Greek cinema in this period consisted of low-budget comedies and melodramas. Nonetheless, the early 1950s saw some independent film productions. It was Grigoris Grigoriou (1919-), the director of Bitter Bread (1951), who introduced Greek neo-realism , under the influence of the Italian post-war cinema of Roberto Rossellini, Luciano Visconti and Vittoria De Sica. Shot on location and using non-professional actors, Neo-realism drew on the experiences and struggles of the working class. At the same time, two other independent film-makers launched their careers: Michael Cacoyannis (1922-), a Greek Cypriot, whose film Stella (1955), launched the career of actress Melina Mercouri (1923-94), and Nikos Koundouros (1926-) with his film The Ogre of Athens (1956). Despite such classics as A Girl in Black (1956), starring Elli Lambetti and his screen versions of the Euripidean tragedies Electra (1961), The Trojan Women (1971) and Iphigenia (1977), Cacoyannis is best-known for Zorba the Greek (1964), an adaptation of the novel by >Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957).

The New Greek Cinema
- In the 1960s, film directors such as Alexis Damianos, Theodoros Angelopoulos (1935-) and Pantelis Voulgaris (1940-) attempted to break with the commercial film industry. They created the 'New Greek Cinema' - an auteur cinema outside the studio system, much like the French New Wave. A spate of independent film-makers, such as Costas Ferris (1935-), Nikos Nikolaidis (1940-), Nikos Panayiotopoulos (1941), Yiorgos Panoussopoulos (1942) and Vassilis Vafeas (1944-), rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s.

The term New Greek Cinema, which was coined by the critic Fotis Alexiou , refers to a broad category of films concerned with contemporary Greek social issues and the nation's recent history of political repression and conflict. In retrospect, New Greek Cinema can perhaps best be understood as a defiant reaction to the oppressive 1967-74 dictatorship, as well as an attempt by directors to reflect upon the meanings of Greekness during a period when Greece was increasingly falling under the political and artistic influence of the United States. While for the most part it eschewed the narrative techniques of mainstream Greek cinema, the New Greek Cinema found inspiration in the experimentation that characterised European art cinema.

Two films can be singled out from this period: Angelopoulos' first feature film Reconstruction (1970) and Damianos' Evdokia (1971), the second part of a loose trilogy which began with Until the Ship Sails (1966) and concluded in 1995 with The Charioteer . Evdokia is a romantic drama that centres on the tragic relationship between a sergeant and a prostitute who meet in a taverna and marry after a brief but intense affair. The film charts the break-up of this relationship against a barren, semi-urban Attic landscape. Sensuality and tenderness are consistently juxtaposed against the harsh discipline of the military compound. The film explores the consequences of social marginalisation, and the tensions between repressive middle-class aspirations and freedom.

In the Spring of 1897, The Athenians have the opportunity and the privilege to witness one of the first cinematographic efforts (films lasting a few minutes in the form of a "journal"). The screening of a moving picture provokes heated debates and this novel spectacle becomes a permanent topic of discussion. The Greek cinema is born in 1906, when the brothers Yiannis and Miltos Manakia start to film in the area of Macedonia and the French filmmaker Leons makes a small film based on the news from the unofficial Olympic Games in Athens. The first cinematographic theatre in Athens starts operating the two years later, 1908, and slowly, one after the other, special cinema halls are created. Hundreds of people stream in to enjoy this new experience.
The period between 1910-11 some short comedy films are made by the director Spyros Dimitrakopoulos, who also acts most of the parts of the films. In 1914 the company "Asty Film" is founded and the production of films starts. Golfo, a well-known dramatic love story, is the first full-length Greek film. During World War I, cinematographic production is not completely stalled, but it is limited to war news. Despite the difficulties of war, many directors become well known (Georgios Prokopiou, Dimitris Gaziadis etc) making films with primitive means which show scenes from the war and the catastrophe of Asia Minor.

The first big commercial success comes in 1920 with the film Villar in the women's bath at Phaliro, which is directed by the comedian Villar who has also written the script and played the leading role. The name Villar was the pen name of Nikolaos Sfakianakis, of Cretan origin. 1927 marks the end of the primitive age of the Greek cinema and heralds the beginning of a more serious attempt at its organization and systemization.
The continual invasion of American and European talking films ousted the silent Greek films. The first social film "Social Decay" (1932) by Tatassopoulos was a silent film. Some others, however, such as "Greek Rhapsody" (1932) and "The Lover of the Shepherdess" (1932) were dubbed in Germany. The cost was very great, and even more excessive was the investment needed to install a sound studio, particularly in view of the heavy and bulky equipment at that time. DAG FILM closed down for good, and during the following decade, the number of Greek films (shot in Egypt) was limited. A typical success was the musical comedy "Refugee Girl" (1938), directed by Togo Mizrachi, with a screenplay by the playwright, Dimitris Bogris. The music and songs were by K. Yannidis and it starred the popular singer, Sophia Vembo. Some of the scenes were shot on location at Meteora and Tembe.
The second period in the history of the Greek cinema begins in the dark days of the Nazi Occupation. It was in these difficult times that the Greeks showed their initiative and energy. Audiences made clear their refusal to watch German and Italian films and sought encou-ragement and national unity in Greek entertainment. The theatre flourished then. Filopoemin Finos, a man with exceptional technical and organizational talents showed great perseverance and managed to overcome all obs-tacles and to present the first complete, modern film: "The Voice of the Heart" (1942), directed by Dimitris Ioannopoulos, who also wrote the screenplay. It was made immediately after the great famine in Athens and was shown in March 1943, selling 102.000 tickets in the still occupied capital city. It was a typical melodrama starring some of the best young actors of the time, such as Dimitris Horn, Alekos Leivaditis and Lambros Kons-tandaras and the great dramatic actor of the stage, Ai-milios Veakis. This film marked the coming-of-age of the Greek cinema. Finos immediately began his next film. He and his father were arrested by the Germans as members of the Re-sistance. He was subsequently released but his father was executed in July 1944. There followed the Liberation and the Civil War between November 1944 and January 1945. Despite all this, Finos produced "The Villa with the Water-lilies", a family, sentimental, dramatic comedy, in April 1945. This was the course he was to follow: hard work, effectiveness, more and better films regardless of the circumstances, but films without social comment.
Moreover, until the fall of the Junta in 1974, there was a double form of censorship, that which sought to prevent and that which aimed at suppressing, particularly harsh during the early years with the outlawing of the Left-Wing parties. In 1944, Giorgos Tzavellas, one of the more notable representatives of good, entertaining cinema, presented his first film. "Applause" was the tragic and true story of Attik, a song-writer and variety artist (like Chaplin's "Limelight") and starring Attik himself.



In 1946, Alekos Sakellarios, a comedy playwright, wrote an original screenplay and turned to film directing with "Home is Best", a fresh, sentimental and social comedy on a topical theme. Characteristic genres of films -the melodrama, the romantic comedy, the comedy- began to take shape while production increased owing to the response of the public: five films in 1945-46, seven in 1947-48, ten in 1950-51, nineteen in 1952-53. It was not until twenty-five years later that this rate of increase would begin to slow down. The melodrama was the first genre to become estab-lished. Even among the foreign films, this was the genre that enjoyed the greatest success. "I figli di nessuno" by the Italian R. Matarazzo, was shown for many weeks in 1952. "The Drunkard" (1950) by Tzavellas sold 305.000 tickets in Athens, a box office record that would not be broken until 1963, when the population of the capital had almost doubled in size.

Next came the comedy films, usually stage-successes, often directed by the writers themselves (Sakellarios was followed by Nikos Tsiforos) and with the same cast.
And so the great comedians of the popular tradition passed from stage to screen. They were "descendants" of Ka-raghiozis, hero of the shadow-theatre, barefoot, hungry and down-trodden, yet always teasing and quick to reply, himself a descendant of the heroes of Aristophanes. The stage and variety comedians were accustomed to con-versing with the audience and improvising, and each one had created for himself a characteristic type. From the pent-bourgeois Logothetidis to the gentlemanly Konstan-daras; from the excitable Stavridis to the loud-mouthed idler Fotopoulos; the proud yet drunken Makris, the working-class type Avlonitis, the cunning country oaf Hatzichristos, the versatile Papayannopoulos and Ilio-poulos, who came nearer to comedia dell' arte, these comedians became the most popular film stars. The screenplays were made to measure for them, and they retained a large degree of initiative. Their presence was the main asset during the great age of the mainstream cinema.
Moreover, it was certain comic actors who gave some of the best tragic performances: Makris in "The Drunkard"; Iliopoulos in "The Ogre of Athens"; and Vengos in "What did you do in the war, Thanassis?". The films of this second period were mainly portrayals of Greek manners and mores. In a traditional context, with roots in literature and the theatre, they favoured outdoor filming in natural settings and provide us with valuable scenes of the neo-classical Athens of the time and of Greece in general: a Greece which has changed so radically today. These studies of manners and mores with their local colour, naivety, immediacy and simplicity were generally protected from the direct influences of the foreign cinema, which was also spreading at the same time in the Greek market. Sakellarios ("Music, Poverty and Pride", 1955), Tzavellas ("Marinos Kontaras",1947, "The Counterfeit Sovereign", 1955), Giorgos Zervos ("The Lake of Desire", 1958), and the first woman dir-ector Maria Plyta ("The Wolf Woman", 1950) achieved notable results. Perhaps even more noteworthy was a neo-realistic trend. Grigoris Grigoriou came face to face with the impasse of a working family in "Bitter Bread" (1951). Stellios Tatassopoulos depicted the hard life of the emery miners of Naxos in "Black Earth" (1952). The Greek-American Greg Talas-Grigoris Thalassinos (who had edited Renoir's "The Southerner" in Hollywood) told the story of a group of children during the German Occupation in "Barefoot Battalion" (1954).
In this first full blossoming of the Greek cinema, we have the appearance of the first conscious and creative dir-ectors who wanted above all to express a personal view of the world with a corresponding freedom of form, rather than allying themselves with the current system and following the directions laid down by the producers, whose aims were to maximize the financial success of their films.

Already, Grigoriou and Tatassopoulos had endeavoured to control the production themselves in a form of cooperative. However, Nikos Koundouros, who came from the world of Fine Arts, boldly raised the flag of independent artistic creation from the very first with the film "Magic City" (1954). He commissioned the screenplay from a modern avant-garde writer, Margarita Lymberaki, and sought expression more in images and rhythms. "The Ogre of Athens" (1956), one of the most important Greek films, was financed by a personal friend of Koundouros (a method widely employed after 1970) and the extreme combination of expressionism and satire, film noir and symbolic game so "alarmed" both audiences and producers that for many years later, the latter turned down proposals for artistic films, saying: "Not another Ogre!".
The Greek movies of the 50's and 60's are always alive, they become books, diaries and boardgames. Various where the artists of the Golden Greek cinema period (50-60's) Elli Lambeti (30's), Petros Fyssoun, Aliki Vougiouklaki, Kostas Kazakos, Dinos Illiopoulos, Tzeni Karezi, Labros Konstadaras, Dionyssis Papayannopoulos Alekos Alexandrakis (50's-60's)...

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