PRINT October 2012


Temenos 2012

View of the Temenos during the premiere of order VII of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Eniaios, 1947–91, Lyssaraia, Greece, June 30, 2012. Photo: Linda Levinson.

FOR THE THIRD TIME IN EIGHT YEARS, an international audience of filmmakers and enthusiasts made a pilgrimage to a field outside the remote village of Lyssaraia, in the mountains of Greek Arcadia, to witness the exfoliation of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Eniaios (1947–91). The monumental film is shown in segments of approximately ten hours over three nights every four years in the Temenos—literally, a “sacred precinct”—where, before his death in 1992, Markopoulos designated that the film should be shown. The audience that congregated this year, between June 28 and July 1, was the largest yet, straining the resources for accommodations in the nearby guesthouses. The three segments, or orders, as Markopoulos called them, confirmed Eniaios’s stature as an astonishing masterpiece.

The work consists of twenty-two orders, each composed of a sequence of films of places, film portraits, and mythic narratives. In all, Eniaios will run some eighty hours. So far, earlier installments having screened in 2004 and 2008, nearly thirty hours have been seen. This past summer, orders VI, VII, and VIII were projected on consecutive nights, each order lasting up to three hours. The entire film is silent, every image embedded in black or white leader so that no two shots are contiguous. The shots themselves are so short, often a single frame, one-twenty-fourth of a second long, that even the minutest visible movement within the image comes as a shock in the otherwise winking rhythms of the flashing screen.

Markopoulos first conceived of the exhibition site, a field high in the mountains of the Peloponnese, on the model of ancient Greek religion. The term temenos refers to a place cut off and sanctified: The Greek temples all stand within temenoi. Markopoulos’s was devoted to Aesculapius, the healing god, for Markopoulos thought of his films and those of his partner, the filmmaker Robert Beavers, as potential cures for media pollution and the banalities of the art world. He wanted his work to be seen only in his pilgrimage site outside Lyssaraia. Inaugurating the space in the 1980s, he held annual screenings there of films he and Beavers had made.

But once Eniaios had taken firm shape in his mind—the title means “unity” or “oneness”—Markopoulos suspended the screenings and spent his remaining years reediting most of the films he had previously finished, and shooting and editing dozens more to be included in this single, vast, unified work. He died before he could see projected any of the work he had done on Eniaios. Beavers took on the heroic, ongoing task of raising money to have the film preserved, printed, and exhibited as Markopoulos had envisioned.

Although the division of the film into sets of three orders to be presented every four years was an accident born of the economic impossibility of exhibiting all twenty-two chapters in sequence, as Markopoulos would have wished, each of the three installments screened thus far has produced its own revelations. [For discussions of the first two installments of Eniaios, see Artforum’s November 2004 and October 2008 issues.] Orders VI, VII, and VIII highlight the importance to the filmmaker of Christian religious sites and experience as well as his ambivalence toward them. Furthermore, these chapters play the evocations of religious ecstasy off his love for Beavers. Uncharacteristically, all three orders have roughly the same shape: a portrait, a religious site, another portrait, followed by excerpts from The Illiac Passion (1964–67), Eros, O Basileus (1967), and either Himself as Herself (1967; order VI) or Twice a Man (1963; order VIII). (Order VII substitutes the first of two explorations of the ruins of ancient Olympia for the final two film excerpts. The second Olympia film will appear in order XVIII.)

In reediting Himself as Herself for its first insertion into Eniaios, the filmmaker started at the conclusion of the film, selecting frames from the scene in which the anguished, narcissistic protagonist falls to his knees in Boston’s Trinity Church. In this new context, Markopoulos has erased his original critique of what he called “black-tie Athenianism” (referring to the closeted clique of affluent American homosexuals) to resituate the film in a field of allusions to the aesthetic sublimation of Eros in the Christian West. It marks the end of order VI, whose argument begins by framing a lengthy vision of Chartres Cathedral with a portrait, first of the studio and work of the Léger-influenced painter Diamantis Diamantopoulos, then of the painter himself, before the first appearance of The Illiac Passion, the sole work to appear in every order. Between that and Himself as Herself, Markopoulos has placed what will probably be the longest of the ten sections of Eros, O Basileus ultimately to appear in Eniaios. The schema for the whole work indicates that, in the final order, three sections of that film will be interlaced with four of The Illiac Passion, underlining the centrality of these two works to the immense project.

The atomization of The Illiac Passion in order VI divests Taylor Mead (in his role as the Sprite or fire spirit) of his campy performance. In nearly still flashes, his encounter with the Prometheus figure at the heart of the film takes on a prophetic intensity that Beavers, in his quadrennial public conference, acknowledged was closer to Markopoulos’s original intention. In fact, in near proximity to the evocation of Olympia (order VII), the Sprite’s startled gestures suggest the role of the seer from the east pediment of the temple of Zeus, now in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia. Thus, the fire spirit seems to have seen something ominous in the restrained beauties of Diamantopoulos and Chartres as the filmmaker conjured them. His Chartres Cathedral was all facade until a final tantalizing flash of the rose windows appeared: images of the towers, the masonry, the pedimental statues, often upside down. (In Eyes Upside Down: Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson [2008], I explore this Emersonian trope in the work of several of Markopoulos’s contemporaries and epigones.) In dialectical opposition to the first half of the order, Markopoulos offers far more sustained images from Eros, O Basileus, his affectionate depiction of the teenage Beavers as the god of love, made shortly after they first met.

The role assigned to Chartres in order VI is fulfilled by Punschun in VII. The title means “silver thistle” in Romansh, the language of Graubünden, Switzerland, where the film was shot­­—and Markopoulos and Beavers lived—in the early 1970s. Its triadic structure, labeled “pathos, logos, phobos” in the program notes, moves from the gorgeous landscape surrounding the small Catholic chapels built in the late seventeenth century to their interior and exterior details and, at last, to a long passage of flashes of a Saint Sebastian altarpiece. The Guido Reni–like image of the saint with his hands tied above his head rhymes with the subsequent glimpses of Prometheus from The Illiac Passion, symbolically holding up his arms as if bound to a rock. Nested between portraits of Georges Auric, who composed the music for most of Jean Cocteau’s films, and Alberto Cavalcanti, the filmmaker of Dead of Night (1945), a covertly gay horror film, Punschun’s Saint Sebastian looms as an icon of the pathos and phobos of homosexual life in the Christian era. As Eniaios emerges, its grand themes would seem to be the metamorphoses of luminous energy and the anatomy of homoerotic love. Of course, it will be many years before the monumental mosaic of the full eighty-hour cycle can be viewed with clarity. Yet this much is certain: Eniaios is continually surprising in its inventions, ravishing in its details, and fecund in its provocation of thought.

In his effort to preserve Markopoulos’s vision, Beavers has given the Temenos events a ritualized form: From the welter of alternative screening options and projection speeds his late companion and mentor considered in his elaborate notebooks devoted to Eniaios, he decided to show one order per night at twenty-four frames per second (the speed originally stipulated by the filmmaker); he provides an elegantly printed program that includes an essay by Markopoulos (this time,“The Complex Illusion” [1972]), as the filmmaker had done in the ’80s; the night before the screenings, the village of Lyssaraia hosts a dinner for the pilgrims; and on the Sunday afternoon preceding the final screening, Beavers holds his conference, which most of the guests attend. This year, he invited the Greek artist Lizzie Calligas to join him. She offered a moving recollection of her first visit to the Temenos, in 1986, elaborating on how that initial act of curiosity transformed her life. She told of how Markopoulos first addressed her with a gesture before saying a word: He swept his hand along the line of the horizon just as the sun was setting on the Temenos, celebrating the natural beauty of the site where he would unveil his films. Later in the evening, her story of that gesture would come to mind as we saw how intimately the winking screen, situated just below the Big Dipper, fused with the night sky, drawing the moonlight, the illuminated flight of moths, the distant goat bells, the crickets, and even the infuriating jingle of an unsilenced cell phone into the “unity” of the film. Above all, Markopoulos’s gesture resonated when a meteor shot across the horizon, some ten degrees above the screen—not one of those fleeting yet always thrilling white pencil lines of light with which I had been familiar, but a brilliant red stream of blazing incandescence so close to earth that it took seconds to pass between the screen and the Dipper before disappearing into darkness.

Three nights of Eniaios in the Temenos had tutored our eyes to appreciate the intricate interplay of nocturnal rhythms, from the single-frame images stretching into minute movements or rare scenes of motion to the nightly engorgements of the moon and the slow arcing of the stars. Markopoulos’s art had dematerialized Chartres, the Baroque Pfarrkirchen of Graubünden, a Byzantine church (in order VIII’s Tsindoukidis/Salonica), and the ruins of Olympia, in order to disperse them as rhythmic monads of light into the Arcadian night, where the gift of the meteor so aptly punctuated the once-in-a-lifetime experience of watching Eniaios VI, VII, and VIII unfold in this magisterial film cycle’s perfect setting.

P. Adams Sitney, who teaches at the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University, is currently writing a book on cinema and poetry.