Coming Together

Michael Wang on Gregory Markopoulos’s Eniaios

A projection test at the 2012 screening of Gregory Markopoulos’s Eniaios. (Photo: Michael Wang)

DURING THE LAST WEEKEND IN JUNE, while most of Europe took a break from focusing on Greece’s precarious economic future to follow the Euro 2012 finals, I traveled to the tiny Greek village of Lyssaraia, in the heart of the Peloponnese, to attend the third installment of Gregory Markopoulos’s monumental Eniaios. The silent film, when it is finally printed in its entirety, will run approximately eighty hours in twenty-two “orders.” I was among more than two hundred guests who had come to see three of these orders, newly printed thanks to the fund-raising efforts of the filmmaker Robert Beavers, Markopoulos’s longtime companion, and to the last-minute success of a Kickstarter campaign that rallied a diverse cast of advocates, including Matthew Lyons of the Kitchen, P. Adams Sitney of Princeton, Rebekah Rutkoff of CUNY, and recent Turner Prize nominee Luke Fowler. This was, in fact, a world premiere. Lacking the funds during his lifetime to print the film, Markopoulos, who died in 1992, never saw the work screened.

For all of us, the trip to Arcadia would be our first and perhaps only chance to view this portion of the film. Markopoulos, who had played a prominent role among the American avant-garde in the 1950s and ’60s, gradually pulled his films from distribution after he moved to Europe in 1967. He eventually determined that his works, and in particular Eniaios, would be screened exclusively in a sacred context: what he called, in accordance with ancient Hellenistic terminology, a “temenos.” Markopoulos’s temenos would ultimately materialize just outside Lyssaraia—the hometown of the Greek-American filmmaker’s father—when a local farmer offered to allow screenings on his pastureland. The site, at the end of a cliff-hugging path, was inaugurated in 1980 with screenings by Markopoulos and Beavers. Only a handful of people present this year recalled the events from the ’80s (which were much more of a village event, with a local priest carting down a sofa to enjoy the outdoor screenings in greater comfort), while a dedicated contingent have been attending since the first Eniaios screening in 2004. Many more, like myself, were present at the last screening in 2008.

The schedule of events now feels like a routine—or a ritual: There’s the dinner hosted by the town on the evening before the screenings, when buses from Athens arrive with guests from London, Istanbul, or Chicago, and the camaraderie of the packed guest houses—many built in the last decade with government subsidies—that seem as if they are rarely occupied otherwise. There’s the drive to the trailhead with the winding road not infrequently blocked by herds of goats, and the walk to the site, as the sun sets and the air grows cooler.

The crowd at the Temenos. (Photo: Michael Wang)

This year’s screenings began later—often not until 10 PM—when the summer sky finally darkened and the generator-powered projector would compete only with the blue glow of the moon. The scrupulous attention to the viewing experience was integral to Markopoulos’s conception of the film medium. By tying the film to a single location, he worked against the distributional logics embedded in the reproducibility of the film image. Instead (as the title of Eniaios—which means both “unity” and “uniqueness”—makes explicit) the film image, and in particular the individual film frame, was for Markopoulos something irreducible and singular. Beavers recalled Markopoulos’s revelation of the filmic image as a kind of “hieroglyphic.” Over the three nights of screenings we were presented with this vision of the film image as a kind of linguistic element, nearly devoid of movement. Timeless images: the stone carvings at Chartres, or the columns of Olympia, blinking images appearing between lengths of black leader. But then suddenly a young Beavers, in dishabille with eyes shut, posed as the God of Love in a messy loft. The universal and the personal were linked by the rhythmic structure of the film.

Like much of the footage incorporated into Eniaios, the images of Beavers came from an earlier film, Markopoulos’s Eros, O Basileus, from 1967. The content of the Eniaios images often indexed Markopoulos’s transatlantic practice: While later images were almost exclusively of European sites and artists, especially in Greece and Switzerland, much of the earlier footage was shot in New York. At the end of the final night of screenings, when I had become fully ensconced in the closed world of the Temenos, images from Lower Manhattan, from where I had just arrived, appeared on-screen. To see the memorials of Battery Park projected as if onto the night sky in the fabled paradise of antiquity triggered conflicting feelings of displacement and homecoming.

Earlier that day, I had paid a visit to the museum at Olympia to see again the sculptures depicting the rape of the Lapinth women by centaurs that had adorned the pediment to the Temple of Zeus. Pieced together from shattered hands, hooves, and faces locked in expressions of terror or lust, the sculptures have been restored to sit within their original, triangular frame, with fragments, aided by steel struts, sometimes seeming to float in place. After two nights of Markopoulos screenings, each suspended detail seemed to evoke, in fact, a cinematic image. The sculpture, in its restored unity, seemed an apt metaphor for the form of Eniaios: a unity of fragments.

The sixth, seventh, and eighth orders of Eniaios premiered at the Temenos site near Lyssaraia in Arcadia from June 29 to July 1, 2012.