Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Naked Light Bulb

Micheal Cacoyannis died on Monday. He is one of Greece's best directors best known for his Zorba the Greek (1964), the film that has (for better or for worse) informed much of the mid-century notions of Greece. To learn more about Cacoyannis industrious life, see English obituaries in New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

I have blogged about the role that Athens plays in Cacoyannis movies and I continue to think about it. As a tribute to his work, I have started to watch all his films online. I also revisit an idea I'd like to build up into a serious study, Yannis Tsarouchis set designs for Stella. Vision, reflections, light-sources and the gaze across characters is exquisitely choreographed in the movie. Technical manipulations create an internal dialogue between the viewer and the medium of cinema that involves darkness, projection, illumination, emulsion and a game of shadows.

I think that the naked light bulb is an important character in Cacoyannis' film. Not only does it address the filmic process but it also speaks about electrification and modernity in postwar Greece. As I read the memorials on Cacoyannis and learn more about this life, I am struck by the theme of bright lights in Cacoyannis career as a correlate to the elevation of modern Athens as a character. The two themes come together in Cacoyannis pet project, namely the illumination of the Acropolis, which materialized in 2004. I find it amazing that the maestro of lights, the film director is responsible for the Acropolis light & sound show. Cacoyannis has set up a foundation, which continues his interest in the marriage of lights and monuments.

The bright lights of film enter another interesting biographical detail, Cacoyannis' discovery of Melina Merkouri as an actress. Merkouri had been rejected by all film studios. Stella was Merkouri's debut and Cacoyannis took some risk in casting her. Cacoyannis noted that he took a great risk for another reason, Merkouri's sensitivity to projected lights. I quote from an interview on the TV show SKAI Life (May 3, 2011), replayed on last night's SKAI news. Cacoyannis says (my translation) "Melina made her first film when everyone had rejected her as an actress. And I took a risk because the audition that Melina did was disappointing. Her large wonderful blue eyes could not stand the lights. She had a problem with lights." This is a wonderful footnote in light of the vivid illumination (both internal and external) in the film.

Cacoyannis neorealist naked light bulb has expired. But his legacy lives on and I encourage everyone to watch his early films online.

Κυριακάτικο ξύπνημα - Windfall in Athens (1954)
Στέλλα - Stella (1955)
Το κορίτσι με τα μαύρα - A Girl in Black (1956)
Το τελευταία ψέμα - A Matter of Dignity (1958)

1 comment:

Nelson L. Rodrigues said...

Great loss to cinema.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States