Flashes of black dreams in Arcadia

FILM
[ lysarraia, arcadia ]

by Constantinos Hatzinikolaou

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Every four years, cine – pilgrims and followers of unique events, spend a summer weekend at Temenos, a field near the village of Lyssarea, Arcadia, near the birthplace of late, legendary avant – garde filmmaker Gregory J. Markopoulos to watch another segment of his poetic, fragmented opus Eniaios

 

We can see Eniaios, the final film of Gregory J. Markopoulos, completed shortly before his death, as a series of black pieces which are suddenly illuminated by images that hit our gaze and then immediately vanish into dark areas or white areas – which is almost the same thing – only to fill with light again: a column of tesserae like the mosaic columns in Uruk, Mesopotamia, but elongated by thousand of kilometers (of film) and spooled in reels.

This sui generis filmmaker/mosaic maker shot some structurally groundbreaking films based on ancient Greek myths (Twice a Man in 1963, The Illiac Passion in 1964-67), some wonderfully lit films shot in interiors – Ming Green (1966); Bliss (1967); Sorrows (1969) – and dozens of portraits such as Galaxie (1966) and Political Portraits (1969). He worked alone using minimal equipment, only what was strictly necessary, refusing to have any producer above him in what is always a problematic relationship but accepting the help of patrons (his adherence to the middle class was as typical as that of Rilke), editing his films on hotel tables where he lived for long periods of time or in apartments that looked like hotel rooms. In the last decade of his life he worked on a filmic mosaic of 80 hours, divided into 22 cycles, using tesserae/frames from his earlier films (starting with Du sang, de la volupté et de la mort of 1947-48), cutting up the original copies and combining them with previously unseen material – Cimabue! Cimabue!, a second version of Hagiographia, – and new sequences shot as late as 1990 – persons, ruins, stones – for a final result he never saw.

The truth is that no one had seen Eniaios until 2004, when the first hours of the film, restored and printed, began to be projected at the place which Markopoulos himself had selected for the exclusive showing of his work. This was Temenos, a field near the village of Lyssarea, Arcadia, the birthplace of the filmmaker’s father.

Of course, this gathering in the field, held every four years in late June to present one more large chunk of Eniaios (2004: Units I and II, 2008: Units III-V, 2012: Units VI-VIII), is probably not quite what Markopoulos had envisaged in his writings: an isolated place of reverence, healing and concentration, which would bar all distractions.

It is more a mixture of get-together, cine-tourism and pilgrimage (although there is no sign of scuffed knees) attracting a swarm of filmmakers, students, curious bystanders and art professionals who will communicate the event, but also people with a genuine interest in his work. Their mood constantly fluctuates between euphoria, when the pace turns into pulse, slow or rapid, pumping blood into the film, and drowsiness, when the passage from images to empty frames has been made in a slipshod, boring way without tension and sharpness.

Watching Eniaios, you will often think that what you are (not) seeing is indifferent and conceited, that you are witnessing a mere explosion of scattered tesserae which come off various mosaics and are randomly reset on a slice of wall; but there are also times when you are convinced that something major and mystical is happening, and the feeling is like looking at a church dome destroyed by lightning. Even then, however, you cannot help wondering what led Markopoulos to butcher the corpus of his filmography, to expand it in the extreme so that the film appears impenetrable and disjointed (Eniaios is not like a multi-volume novel, but more like a long poem made of fragments); wondering why he treated his films so cruelly, triggering a mechanism of deprivation that gives you the image and immediately takes it away; and when the slightest movement does finally appear (a leaning head, a raised arm), it seems so exotic – as if you had never seen a recorded motion before – that it sometimes become vulnerable and comical.

To finalise your work means to stop all leaks, to agonise over its conservation over time. Yet the most crucial things – violent, calm, generous – are always shaped after uncontrolled mixtures, attacks, counterattacks and losses in which the elements are mutually neutralised, melted and poured into a totally new (old) container. Markopoulos designed Eniaios for the specific venue, becoming not only a filmmaker but also an architect and an archivist who files away his boxes so that nothing may leak outwards and no paper has gone without checking and approval. He invites us to go to Temenos as we might visit Rodin’s Museum to see his sculptures, or drive to Bassae, south of Lyssarea, to visit the temple of Apollo Epicurius under a protective balloon, empty of faithful pilgrims.

However, Markopoulos dreamed the impossible: a film projection without projector and a screen jutting from the soil like a luminous monolith, incessantly spewing images like an independent insect in the middle of the mountain which an unsuspecting passer-by might encounter by accident. His surprise then might be like that of a latecomer to Temenos who is walking along the dirt track and suddenly sees from above the projection: the distant screen full of pulsating colour, while the audience and the projectionist are hidden in the darkness and the hum of the generator is completely inaudible.

A photograph from the early 90s shows him standing over pieces of film, dressed in a suit and gloves like a count, a tailor or a goldsmith who teaches us that each reel of film is pure gold, while trying to convince us that even if he filled it with black and white strips it would retain its value – something that we continue to dispute.

We can look upon Eniaios, the unified version of Markopoulos’s films, as black dreams with repeated flashes from lightning which are absorbed by the screen and returned to us in rectangular form. The film has no sound (thud), and the voices we hear as we are leaving the field in the dark are not those of animals.

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