Friday, 11 April 2008

Dominikos Theotokopoulos

The film of the life of the great Cretan painter Dominikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco (2007), can be seen here.

It is, unfortunately, a bad film, unwatchable at times, poorly conceived and disastrously executed, one of those horrible international co-productions – Greek, British, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian – doomed to failure by its desire to appeal to the lowest common denominator, involving, worst of all, a fatal dose of cheap Hollywood values and, for some reason, largely spoken in English. Make a Greek film about Theotokopoulos or a Spanish film about El Greco, but don't try and be all things to all men.

Still, the scenes involving Titian are funny, I enjoyed the Cretan music and dancing, the filmmaker's love for Theotokopoulos and Crete is admirable and infectious, while the reproductions of Theotokopoulos’ work are stunning. They remind us what great art is and what it is for and give us the confidence and the right to reject the rubbish that constitutes the majority of contemporary art and the impostors posing as today’s artists.

A note on Nikos Kazantzakis and Theotokopoulos.
The ‘Greco’ in Kazantzakis’ Report to Greco is, of course, his fellow Cretan Theotokopoulos, while in his book on Spain, Kazantzakis describes Theotokopoulos as the ‘vehement taciturn Cretan’, whose ‘life had been strange, his words few and like the blows of an axe’ and who replied to the Inquisition in Toledo when it demanded to know why he was in Spain: ‘I do not have to give an account of myself to any man.’ Kazantzakis also quotes Theotokopoulos saying of Michelangelo: ‘A good man, but he didn’t know how to paint.’ Of Theotokopoulos’ spirit, Kazantzakis writes it was ‘pierced by light on the one side, pitch dark on the other; unapproachable, on the heights of endeavour, where, as the Byzantine mystic said, lies the starting point of divine madness.’

Needless to say, the kind of man Theotokopoulos was according to Kazantzakis is not the man depicted in the film – delicate, confused, emotional.

The painting above is The Death of Laocoon at Troy.
An extensive collection of Theotokopoulos’ paintings can be seen here.

7 comments:

Hermes said...

I have not seen the movie but I had a feeling it would result in this. Co-productions amongst multiple entities usually results in wishy washy narratives and cinematography resembling a travel brochure. Its a pity. Most Greeks will now come to understand El Greco through this poor lens further afflicting us with uniformity, blandness and idenitity crises.

If only we were 100 million people then we would not have to worry too much about how the rest of the world perceives us.

john akritas said...

I got suspicious when I saw that one of the major backers of the film was the Greek national tourist organisation. The film is too 'international' for its own good. Maybe I'm being too harsh. There are some good things about it, and the filmmaker's intentions are pure. It's just that I was expecting Andrei Rublev. Ultimately, my feeling is that it could have been a whole lot better.

Also, I'm having trouble getting on to Domina Graecia – I get some page advertising Italian holidays. Are you having the same problem or is it just me?

Hermes said...

Yes. Diatribe's entries lately have been very good. Also, the music on Noctoc is tremendous.

john akritas said...

Right on both counts. Diatribe is always good – though it worries me that there are so many smart Greeks down under and I wish you'd find a way to come back to Greece, or to Europe at least, before it's too late. Ghada Shbeir on Noctoc was a revelation. But Domina Graecia, has T. folded… again?

Also, I've just seen Politiki Kouzina, which I thought was very good. I had been avoiding it because I thought it might be one of those phoney 'peace and friendship between Greeks and Turks' movie; but it was far too honest and intelligent for that. Recommended.

Hermes said...

Yes, I watched that movie in Athens at Kypseli only a week after I had come back from Constantinople for the very first time. At first the movie made me wince. I disliked it. A bit too sentimental. But I feel better about it now. It was really only a love story with not much too say politically and maybe its better left at that - unless its in better hands.

Margaret said...

I can't find Domina Grecia any more either, which is a shame. I get the same web-page as you. Perhaps the domaine name has expired. I've sent a couple of short emails to addresses I had, but they've both been returned. I hope he's OK ...

john akritas said...

I was worried about sentimentality in places, but ultimately I found it quite a pessimistic film, which didn't shy away from showing the bitterness and resentment of the Polites and revealing the Turks as evil bastards. I didn't really think Photis was in love with the Turkish woman in the last third; and the love story is really between ourselves – Greeks – and particularly the Polites and the City. I was glad to read the film did well in Greece… and then abroad. Make a film to suit Greek tastes and then see if anybody else likes it. I'm sure when Sophocles was writing Antigone, etc, he wasn't worried about what the Hyperboreans and other barbarians would think of it.