Thursday, 27 November 2008

Angelopoulos, Takeshi Kitano, Cacoyiannis

In yesterday’s Guardian, Ronald Bergen wrote:

‘Thessaloniki's international film festival, which will celebrate its half-century next year, again reinforced its reputation for being a festival where directors are the stars. For example, when one walks up the stairways of the large Olympia cinema, the walls are plastered with scores of photographs of film directors – not an actor to be seen.

‘This year, tributes were paid to the Dardenne brothers, Oliver Stone and Terence Davies, who all gave masterclasses to packed, enthusiastic young audiences, and there was a nine-film homage to Ousmane Sembène, who died last year. Takeshi Kitano was also presented with an Honorary Golden Alexander, for lifetime achievement.

‘Kitano, whose latest film, Achilles and the Tortoise, has Greek connections (the title comes from Zeno's paradox), said that it was a real pleasure to be so honoured especially by Greece, the home of great playwrights and philosophers, and "the cradle of western civilisation". Although these remarks are always flattering to Greeks, they also get on their nerves. It implies that Greece did its bit for civilisation centuries ago and has rested on its laurels ever since.

‘Despite the cradle being a bit battered these days, having gone through wars and revolutions and social and political upheavals, they have still produced many great artists since the days of ancient Greece, including two internationally renowned film directors – Michael Cacoyannis and Theo Angelopoulos, both of whom were represented at the festival.

My Life and Times: Michael Cacoyannis, a documentary by Lydia Carras, reminded us how the 86-year-old was once the embodiment of Greek cinema, reaching his peak of popularity with Zorba the Greek (1964). Yet with his Euripides trilogy, featuring the magnificent Irene Papas, Cacoyannis proved that the classic plays on film could still grip modern audiences…’

(Read the article in full here).

Just a couple of additional points.
It’s good to see that Angelopoulos is still going strong. His vision has always been epic, tragic and poetic. Above is a clip from his breathtakingly brilliant Travelling Players (1974) – which is not only the greatest ever Greek film, but also a masterpiece of cinema full stop.

Takeshi Kitano, who has rightly been honoured by the Thessaloniki festival for lifetime achievement for his films – which include Hana-Bi, Sonatine, Violent Cop, Brother, Boiling Point, Kikujiro – is also a visionary filmmaker with a strong sense of the tragic, heroic and poetic. Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that the only civilisation in the world of any significant interest besides that of Greece’s is Japan’s – and, of course, the similarities between Greek and Japanese civilisation are striking.

Finally, regarding Cacoyiannis’ Euripides trilogy – Electra, Trojan Women and Iphigenia; these are all good films, but Cacoyiannis is a filmmaker with a predilection for realism and he misses a fundamental aspect of Greek tragedy, which is that, as Nietzsche says, it takes place in an ‘ecstatic dream world’.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Stelios sings Markos Vamvakaris

I tried hard to find something by Stelios Kazantzidis off youtube to commemorate the name day of St Stylianos; but all I could find were those Kazantzidis songs that make a fetish of poverty, pain and despair, which get on my nerves. I've written here about my irritation at a lot – though certainly not all – of Stelios Kazantzidis' oeuvre. It only crossed my mind after a good hour of depressing listening to Kazantzidis that I should instead use Stelios Vamvakaris singing Markos to commemorate St Stylianos and, indeed, as soon as I found what I was looking for and recognised the familiar Vamvakaris melody and humour, I was relieved and my spirits improved. So, above is Stelios performing Markos' Τα δυο σου χέρια πήρανε.

Also, in Radio Akritas, I've made available four songs sung by Stelakis Perpiniadis:

1. Οι έξι εντολές. Music and lyrics Stelakis Perpiniadis;
2. Σα φουμάρω τσιγαριλίκι. Music and lyrics Vangelis Papazoglou;
3. Χτες το βράδυ στον τεκέ μας. Music and lyrics Stelios Chrysinis; and
4. Πέντε χρόνια δικασμένος. Music and lyrics Vangelis Papazoglou.

Anyway, chronia polla to all Stylianous and Stylianes.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Coriolanus: 'There is a world elsewhere.'

The clip above is from the BBC production of Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Coriolanus, with Alan Howard playing the eponymous Roman general, an arrogant patrician with a violent temper forced into exile after clashing with the plebeians who suspect the trenchant soldier is plotting to establish a dictatorship and so do away with their rights.

Shakespeare's source for the life of Coriolanus is the Greek writer Plutarch, who in his
Parallel Lives compares the Roman to the Athenian general Alcibiades, another aristocrat who, despite his military prowess, found himself at odds with the citizenry's democratic whims and suffered exile, not once but twice, decisions which proved disastrous for Athens in its conduct of the Peloponnesian War.

Alcibiades' narrative suggests the limits of democracy in the pursuit of national aspirations. The realisation of national aspirations more often than not requires vision, ruthlessness and hardship – qualities which the masses and their leaders are rarely capable of showing and reluctant to advocate. Venizelos, for example, at a moment of national crisis, put his trust in the judgement of the masses and called elections, with fatal consequences, climaxing in the Asia Minor Catastrophe; whereas Alexander the Great – a king – had much greater, though not total, freedom to decide the affairs of state and men's fortunes and in this way spread Hellenism far and wide. Would Alexander have conquered the East if he had been an Athenian constrained by the city's democracy? Certainly not. And would Alcibiades have realised his ambition of attaching the West to the Athenian empire if he had had at his command the latitude of a Macedonian basileus? Maybe.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

I’ve been reading Alberto Moravia…

I’ve been reading a few of the novels of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia – Conjugal Love, Boredom, Contempt and The Voyeur. They’re all good and share themes of intellectual, creative and male impotence. Boredom – about the obsession an artist develops against his instincts for a teenage girl – is the best of the novels; The Voyeur – about the intellectual, political and sexual antagonisms between a French literature professor and his father – is the least interesting.

Contempt is the novel Jean-Luc Godard filmed in 1963. I've previously written about Le Mépris here. The film is fairly faithful to the book and where it deviates from it, it enhances it. Le Mépris is, in fact, a sensational work of art. Both the film and the book, as I said in my previous post, are ‘among other things, a meditation on Homer’s Odyssey, [and] a celebration of Mediterranean landscape’. The story involves a struggling writer employed to write a screenplay of The Odyssey. He is unenthusiastic about the project, but takes it to earn money to impress his beautiful wife.

In the novel, the German film director Rheingold, explaining why he's interested in making a film of The Odyssey, says that ‘the Anglo-Saxon races have the Bible and you Mediterranean peoples, on the other hand, have Homer… To the Mediterranean peoples, Homer is what the Bible is to the Anglo-Saxons.’

Elsewhere in the novel, the writer Molteni objecting to the German director’s modern, psychological interpretation of The Odyssey says that the northern European wants to change Homer's ‘bright and luminous world, enlivened by the winds, glowing with sunshine, populated by quick-witted lively beings, into a kind of dark, visceral recess, bereft of colour and form, sunless, airless.’

Indeed, the ascendancy of the Bible over Homer is the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Greek civilisation. ‘Bright and luminous’ Greek culture was superseded by a culture formed in deserts and caves. In fact, if anyone wants to appreciate how repellent and un-Greek Biblical culture is, then one only has to read – as I have recently read – the climax of the Bible, Revelations, and compare the personality of John the Theologian and his nauseating, emetic ravings, with that of Odysseus, ‘a man’, as Moravia says, ‘without prejudices and, if necessary, without scruples, subtle, reasonable, intelligent, irreligious, skeptical, sometimes even cynical.’

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Perry Anderson on Kemalism and Turkey

Previously, the renowned British historian Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books wrote a brilliant essay on Cyprus – The Divisions of Cyprus – which I posted about here. It's now been brought to my attention that Anderson has, in the same publication, written two similarly interesting and lengthy essays on Turkey and Turkish nationalism.

The first essay is called Kemalism and concerns the end of the Ottoman empire and the rise of the peculiar form of Turkish nationalism created by Mustafa Kemal. Here is an excerpt:

'Kemalism fashioned for instruction the most extravagant mythology of any interwar nationalism. By the mid-1930s, the state was propagating an ideology in which the Turks, of whom Hittites and Phoenicians in the Mediterranean were said to be a branch, had spread civilisation from Central Asia to the world, from China to Brazil; and as the drivers of universal history, spoke a language that was the origin of all other tongues, which were derived from the Sun-Language of the first Turks. Such ethnic megalomania reflected the extent of the underlying insecurity and artificiality of the official enterprise: the less there was to be confident of, the more fanfare had to be made out of it.'

The second essay After Kemal considers how the Kemalist order developed after the dictator's death, leading right up to the present day and Turkey's determination to join the European Union, even though, by any objective standard, that country's way of being and doing are wholly antithetical to what is supposed to be the European project and European values. Here is an excerpt from this second essay:

'The implacable refusal of the Turkish state to acknowledge the extermination of the Armenians on its territory is not anachronistic or irrational, but a contemporary defence of its own legitimacy. For the first great ethnic cleansing, which made Anatolia homogeneously Muslim, if not yet Turkish, was followed by lesser purges of the body politic, in the name of the same integral nationalism, that have continued to this day: pogroms of Greeks, 1955/1964; annexation and expulsion of Cypriots, 1974; killing of Alevis, 1978/1993; repression of Kurds, 1925-2008. A truthful accounting has been made of none of these, and cannot be without painful cost to the inherited identity and continuity of the Turkish Republic.'

Monday, 3 November 2008

Selling out Cypriot Hellenism


An anonymous commenter writes: 'Greeks of England, Cyprus is being sold out and you should be aware because soon you'll have to go down to Cyprus for a new "NO".'

This is an increasingly prominent point of view and is a reference, I suppose, to the ongoing talks process between Cyprus' president Dimitris Christofias and leader of the Turkish occupation regime on the island Mehmet Ali Talat; and maybe even to recent controversies on Cyprus following attempts by Cyprus' communist-led government to dehellenise the island by proposing reforms to schoolbooks to reduce emphasis on Cyprus' links to Greece and reinterpret Cyprus' history so that it doesn't read like a history of struggle to serve and defend Hellenism – for this is nationalist and chauvinist – but is revealed – in true Stalinist style – as a common narrative of shared struggles between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Well, I haven't said much about the talks so far because I don't believe there's any evidence to suggest that they're headed anywhere. In fact, even though Christofias and Talat have been meeting, on and off, for two months now, they are still in the throes of discussing what was supposed to be one of the least contentious issues – governance – during which Turkish demands have been so outlandish – going even beyond those Greek Cypriots rejected in the Annan Plan in 2004 – that it appears the Turks have no real intention of reaching a settlement and are either:
1. Going through the motions to create a favourable international impression;
2. Being so extreme in order to prompt the Greek side to walk out of the negotiations, allowing the Turks to declare that the differences are irreconcilable on Cyprus and alternatives to reunification – for example, Kosovo-style recognition of the occupation regime – must be considered; or
3. Being so intransigent in the expectation that the UN will once again be forced to mediate, to 'bridge the differences', and put forward another Annan-style plan, halfway between the Turkish maximalist and the Greek minimalist positions.

Currently, then, in terms of the talks, I don't feel Cyprus is being 'sold out', but just going through the same, old farcical negotiations process it's being going through since 1974.

As for Cyprus' communist government 'selling out' Cyprus' Greek history and culture; firstly, AKEL has never made any secret of its belief that the Cyprus problem is one of 'nationalism' and 'chauvinism' and that these two 'evils' must be eradicated from the island, and yet Christofias was elected with the backing of two of the more nationalist parties on the island – socialist EDEK and (Tassos Papadopoulos') DIKO, both of which have ministers in the government. So, who is to blame for the attempts to rewrite history and introduce communist ideology to Cypriot schools and at whom should we be directing our indignation and contempt? Not AKEL – which is simply behaving according to type – but the so-called patriots and stalwarts of Hellenism in DIKO and EDEK. And, secondly, any AKEL attempts to strip away Cyprus' Hellenic identity – an ambition the communists, strangely enough, have always shared with the British colonial authorities – and fill Cypriot children's heads with communist propaganda are laughable and won't succeed even if they keep on trying for another thousand years.