Gregory J. Markopoulos (1928 - 1992) was one of the most original filmmakers to emerge in post-war American cinema. His films, which often translated literary or mythological sources to a contemporary context, are celebrated for their extraordinary creativity, the sensuous use of colour and innovations in cinematic form. This latest instalment of HFA’s on-going retrospective sees the filmmaker at a critical point in his development – the moments of transition between the works that consolidated his reputation in the USA and those made following his move to Europe. It also presents his earliest films from the 1940s, including the trilogy Du sang, de la volupté et de la mort. Commencing with his first 16mm film, Psyche—which took as its source the unfinished novella by Pierre Louÿs—the trilogy is completed by Lysis and Charmides, both inspired by Platonic dialogues.
At the peak of his success in the mid-1960s, Markopoulos began filming The Illiac Passion, a long-planned version of Prometheus Bound. This ambitious project took three years to complete, during which time the direction of Markopoulos’ filmmaking had begun to shift from the more narrative interpretations of mythic themes toward portraiture and studies of landscapes and architecture. One of Markopoulos’ last literary adaptations and one of his last American films—filmed in Boston in 1967—was Himself as Herself,an exploration of androgyny loosely based on Balzac’s Séraphîta. In New York, he filmed thirty important art world figures for Galaxie, amongst them Jasper Johns, WH Auden, Susan Sontag and Allen Ginsberg. Its lapidary nature is constructed through the use of multiple superimpositions that were done in-camera at the moment of filming – a technique also explored in “films of place” such as Ming Green and Bliss.
In 1968, as a result of his growing disillusionment with the culture that had developed around avant-garde cinema, Markopoulos decided to leave the USA and spend the rest of his life in Europe with his partner Robert Beavers. There, he made plans for Temenos, a unique monographic archive for the preservation, presentation and study of his work. Born out of the desire for continuity between the production, presentation, and analysis of his films, Temenos proposes an ideal in which a projection space, the film copies, and the filmmaker’s writings and documentation can exist in close proximity.
This comprehensive resource was drawn upon to provide the material for Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos, an indispensable new publication which brings together over 90 different texts written by the filmmaker between 1950 and 1992. In these essays, Markopoulos chronicles the burgeoning New American Cinema scene and responds to auteurs such as Dreyer, Bresson and Mitzoguchi. He also writes in detail on the genesis of his own films and the early work of Robert Beavers. The most individualistic and poetic texts are devoted to his aspirations for the medium of film, and the speculative project of Temenos.
To celebrate the publication, a discussion between its editor Mark Webber, the scholar P. Adams Sitney and filmmaker Robert Beavers will follow the screening of Gammelion, Markopoulos’ elegant film of the castle of Roccasinibalda, which employs an intricate system of fades to extend five minutes of footage to an hour of viewing time. This inventive technique, in which brief images appear amongst measures of black and clear frames, was a crucial step towards the structure his monumental, final work. Eniaios is represented in the season by Hagiographia II, in which the filmmaker returns to his Hellenic roots to film the Byzantine city of Mistra in the Peloponnese, and by Genius (a version of Faust featuring David Hockney, Leonore Fini, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler) and his 1975 portrait of the artists Gilbert and George. – Mark Webber, independent curator of artists’ film and video based in London, and owner of The Visible Press, a new imprint for books on cinema and writings by filmmakers
For further information on Markopoulos, please see the introduction to A Gregory Markopoulos Prelude, the previous season of his films at HFA in April 2014. Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos, edited by Mark Webber with a foreword by P. Adams Sitney, is published by The Visible Press, London.
Joining Haden Guest as moderator for the conversation on Friday September 19 will be Panagiotis Roilos, George Seferis Professor of Modern Greek Studies and of Comparative Literature, Harvard University. The Friday night conversation is co-sponsored by the Mahindra Humanities Center’s Seminar on Modern Greek Literature and Culture. Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos will be on sale at the box office for $30 (cash or check only).
All films directed by Gregory Markopoulos
Belgium 1968, 16mm, color, 55 min
To be loved means to be consumed. To love means to radiate with inexhaustible light. To be loved is to pass away, to love is to endure. – Rainer Maria Rilke (recited on the soundtrack of Gammelion)
Markopoulos’ elegant film of the castle of Roccasinibalda in Rieti, Italy, (then owned by patron, publisher and activist Caresse Crosby) employs an intricate system of fades to extend five minutes of footage to an hour of viewing time. This inventive new film form, in which brief images appear amongst measures of black and clear frames, was a crucial step towards Markopoulos’ monumental final work Eniaios (1947-91). Print courtesy of the Austrian Filmmuseum
US 1967, 16mm, color, 6 min
An exquisite portrait of the interior of a Byzantine church on the Greek island of Hydra, edited in-camera in the moment of filming.
US 1967, 16mm, color, 60 min
Loosely based on Balzac’s novel Seraphita but merging its male and female protagonists, the film is at once melancholy and transcendent, laden with the gloom of what Markopoulos termed the character’s denial of self but also alive with the possibility of transformation. Clad in formal attire, the young hero seems the essence of maleness, yet he’s troubled by vaguely feminine objects – a fluttering fan, a gold-colorred foot standing on fur. Soon his masculine and feminine selves are intercut, the latter signaled not by drag but by a simple sari, as each of his identities appears to look and gesture at the other. The images are tinged with a powerful if partially suppressed eroticism, yet the plush interiors (this is a rich young man) trap us in a deadened world of opulence, the thick colors embedding the character in the decor. Most important, Markopoulos’s radical editing intercuts two or three scenes, sometimes in a single-frame flicker, which undermines the stability of any one locale or person, each image poised to escape its immediate moment. – Fred Camper
Print courtesy of Temenos
US 1949, 35mm, b/w, silent, 28 min
Markopoulos’ first attempt at making a 35mm feature film, clearly inspired by the cinema of Jean Cocteau, was left unfinished and the materials were lost for many years. Print courtesy of the Cinema Arts Centre
US 1967, 16mm, color, 15 min
The life of painter, dancer and poet Mark Turbyfill, seen in his 70th year, is evoked through Markopoulos’ unique form of cinematic portraiture.
US 1966, 16mm, color, 82 min
Galaxie is his intimate record of cultural luminaries in mid-1960s New York: 33 painters, poets, filmmakers, choreographers, and critics, including W. H. Auden, Jasper Johns, Susan Sontag, Paul Thek, Maurice Sendak, Shirley Clarke, George and Mike Kuchar, and Allen Ginsberg, whom he observed in their studios or homes and filmed in a single session. While Andy Warhol had his Screen Tests, and Brakhage and Jonas Mekas were also making their own beautiful film portraits, Markopoulos perfected a technique of layering and editing within his Bolex camera that had the effect, he noted, of making “the idea and the image more concentrated; the result a more brilliant appeal to the mind and dormant senses.” – Museum of Modern Art, NY
Print courtesy of Temenos
US 1940, 8mm, b/w, 5 min
US 1949, 16mm, b/w, silent, 8 min
US 1947 – 48, 16mm, color, 70 min
Made as a USC student in Los Angeles, Markopoulos’ first 16mm film Psyche took as its source the unfinished novella of the same name by Pierre Louÿs. Shown together with Lysis and Charmides (both made on his return to Toledo, Ohio, and inspired by Platonic dialogues), it forms the trilogy titled Du sang de la volupte et de la mort (1947-48). By boldly addressing lesbian and homosexual themes, the trilogy gained unwelcome notices in Films in Review and Variety where, in the repressive atmosphere of the early 1950s, it was branded “degenerate” following a screening at NYU. Such a response is unimaginable today for lyrical works that express sensuality through the symbolic use of color and composition. Writing about these early films, Markopoulos chose to quote a statement by philosopher and theologian Mircea Eliade, offering viewers a clue to his entire body of work: “The whole man is engaged when he listens to myths and legends; consciously or not, their message is always deciphered and absorbed in the end.” The programme also includes his earliest film, an interpretation of Dickens made when the Markopoulos was only eight years old, and Christmas USA, in which documentary and fiction are woven together to convey a moment of awakening in the mid-West at the end of the 1940s. – Mark Webber
Prints courtesy of the Cinema Arts Centre
Switzerland 1970, 16mm, color, silent, 60 min
Beloved spectators of my distant Temenos, what evolved was the ultimate concern for the medium of film. A continuous working decision not to betray you as film spectators; not to impose a message in your laps. But to deposit before you on a virile screen the very depths which concerned the present work in such a manner that you might one day at its presentation realize that I have been concerned always for you. I now repeat again the word, an effortless illusion and triumph with the legend of Faust; and, with the future film spectator of the Temenos supplying the very brilliance. – Gregory J. Markopoulos
Portraits of the artists David Hockney and Leonor Fini are intercut with one of art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Initially Markopoulos shot three autonomous portraits, but he quickly came to believe that he had been making a version of Faust without realizing it. He first called the film The Illuminations of Faust and later settled on Genius. In his essay ‘The Redeeming of the Contrary’, published in the Spring 1971 issue of Film Culture, Markopoulos stressed the ambiguity of his creation and the intuitive nature of his working processes: “I had no idea that these three figures of the art world … would become the very elements of my Faust. And yet they did. They evolved, once the decision was made, effortlessly.” The spontaneity of this evolution from autonomous portraits of figures “sitting in their own rooms” lies at the core of what Markopoulos took to be his gift to his future audience. – P. Adams Sitney
Switzerland 1975, 16mm, silent, 12 min
A portrait of the British artists, two living sculptures, filmed in Paris on the occasion of their exhibition at the Sonnabend Gallery. – Mark Webber
Prints courtesy of Temenos
Switzerland 1970, 16mm, color, silent, 240 min
Past the gates of the Temenos, and upon the twin hills the film spectator of the future will encounter the immeasurable works of Beavers and Markopoulos. On one hill will be the space of Beavers. On another hill there will be the space of Markopoulos. Here the film spectator of the future will devote himself to eternity, to the works of Beavers, to the works of Markopoulos. The spectres of distribution will have been vanquished; the spectres of projection will have been vanquished; the spectres of printing will have been vanquished. The patron of the Temenos will be he who is also unknown; he who is without gifts of any kind; he who will be as immortal as the works being presented; he who will recognize that of all the arts only film needs a space in which to be seen; the rest is all artificial: museums, theatres and such. Only in the heart of the Peloponnesus, in Pelop’s land will film culture survive enhanced by the spirit of a truly simple and free people; the Greeks. The Greece today maligned by the truly lesser powers will be the victor. – Gregory J. Markopoulos, The Filmmaker’s Perception in Contemplation, 1972
Print courtesy of Temenos