Thursday, 8 January 2009

Melina in Phaedra and at the British Museum



Above is a clip from Jules Dassin's 1962 film Phaedra, supposedly an updated version of Euripides' Hippolytus, starring Dassin's wife (the dreadful) Melina Mercouri as the eponymous tragic heroine who falls in love with her stepson, Alexis/Hippolytus, played by Anthony Perkins. The film doesn't work. In fact, it's a mystery to me why Dassin, who made a series of brilliant films noir – including two masterpieces, Night and the City and Rififi – once he ended up in Greece, having being forced into exile from his native USA by the McCarthy witch-hunts, made one terrible film after another, including Never on a Sunday, which is one of the worst films of all time.

Anyway, in the extremely ironic scene above Mercouri meets for the first time and falls in love with her stepson, in of all places the British Museum surrounded by the Parthenon Marbles. Mercouri, of course, for years spearheaded the campaign to get our Marbles back from the dastardly, thieving, cultureless British.

Although Phaedra is not a good film, its score, by Mikis Theodorakis, is first-rate. In fact, the film contains three of Theodorakis' most well-known songs:
1. Βράχο Βράχο; lyrics Dimitris Christodoulou;
2. Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου/Αγάπη μου; lyrics Yiannis Theodorakis; and
3. Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο; lyrics Nikos Gatsos.

In the film, Βράχο Βράχο is only used as an instrumental but I've made available in Radio Akritas the version sung by Stelios Kazantzidis and Marinella. As for Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου and Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο, in the film they're sung (sic) by Mercouri, who can't sing and ruins the songs, so I've preferred to make available in Radio Akritas the version of Αστέρι μου φεγγάρι μου sung by Haris Alexiou and Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο sung by Mary Linda. The translated lyrics to Gatsos' Σε πότισα ροδόσταμο are below and the song is in the embedded player too. Gatsos is wonderful.

I gave you rosewater to drink
When you reach the other world, see you don’t become a cloud,
see you don’t become a cloud, and the bitter star of dawn,
so that your mother recognises you, waiting at her door.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.

Take a wand of willow, a root of rosemary,
a root of rosemary, and be a moonlit coolness
falling in the midnight in your thirsting courtyard.
I gave you rosewater to drink, you gave me poison,
eaglet of the frost, hawk of the desert.

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