Athens, June 2018

Athens, June 2018

Greek cinema


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.

At 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.

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.

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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