PRINT October 2016


Temenos 2016

Screening of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Eniaios, 1947–91, at the Temenos, Lyssaraia, Greece, July 3, 2016. Photo: Linda Levinson.

THE FOURTH QUADRENNIAL INSTALLMENT of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s posthumous cinematic masterpiece, the eighty-hour-long Eniaios (1947–91), was projected on the first three evenings in July at the Temenos, an open-air cinema in a field outside the Arcadian village of Lyssaraia selected by the filmmaker in the 1980s. One night each was devoted to orders IX, X, and XI of the work’s ultimate twenty-two sections. Over the past twelve years, half of the film has been shown, roughly three orders at a time. Yet perhaps fewer than twenty of the more than two hundred pilgrims who came to Temenos this year had seen all the parts exhibited so far, for it was a young audience, two-thirds of its members first-timers.

A complex system of montage of imageless white and black leader in intricately permeating rhythms forms the matrix of the entire silent film. Into this matrix the filmmaker has inserted very brief fragments in color—often only single frames—from his previously completed films as well as from dozens of others he made specifically for Eniaios. Each order shown thus far contains portraits, evocations of places (mostly classical ruins), and radically elliptical condensations of Markopoulos’s mythical narratives.

Filmmaker Robert Beavers, who directs the Temenos, lived with Markopoulos until his death in 1992. Since then, Beavers has been working to preserve his mentor’s films, repairing thousands of splices, raising funds for the screenings in Greece and the Temenos archive in Zurich, and organizing every aspect of the screenings. This year, for the first time, he carefully scheduled the films to screen on moonless nights. Consequently, three bright planets dominated the night sky from the start of each projection: The Greeks call them Dias (Jupiter), Ares (Mars), and Kronos (Saturn). As the nights progressed, the stars Vega, Deneb, Antares, and Regulus grew brighter until the entire Milky Way appeared, arching over the screen that stood, as it always has, in the southwest, directly under the Big Dipper. At times, it seemed to me as if that stellar ladle were dripping images slowly and meticulously onto the symphonically winking screen during this most minimal, most ascetic set of three orders. The multiplicity of images, their separation, and their constellated relationships to one another refracted the astral panoply, their rapidity instantiating Wallace Stevens’s claim that the strongest modern poems “make the visible a little hard / To see.”

After a meteor drew a pencil-thin line of light directly above the screen, composer Ken Ueno, struck by the integration of the film and the environment, asked me if Markopoulos had taken into account the natural setting of the projections. The question is profound but unanswerable: In the 1980s, the filmmaker had annually screened many of his earlier films and those of Beavers in that field. But Markopoulos also speculated about constructing a Bayreuth-like enclosure to facilitate the continuous projection of Eniaios. He even envisioned the possibility of showing it sometimes at one-sixth the normal projection speed (a 480-hour version!) and sometimes backward. The latter would be feasible because Eniaios’s many portraits were all posed statically; the ancient and sacred sites were all filmed without human figures present; and, above all, the fragments are rarely as long as a second, so there is hardly any movement in the work. In the three orders exhibited at Temenos 2016, the lips of the portrait sitters occasionally moved and a few zooms could be glimpsed in the excerpts from The Illiac Passion (1964–67), the one film that appears in all twenty-two orders. When the protagonist of that film, a Prometheus figure, unbuttons his vest in a shot a few seconds long, we saw the most dramatic event of the seven or eight hours screened over the three nights. Aside from the minimal zooms in that one component, there may be no camera movement at all in Eniaios.

Beavers broke with tradition by prefacing this year’s three orders with a five-minute film of his own, showing five young filmmaker volunteers at work on the resplicing that made the printing of these orders possible. This was the first of several homages he paid to his dedicated assistants. At the “conference” he has typically held on the morning of the final day, he introduced them to warm applause and then, perhaps to underscore his appreciation of the new (and quite young) audience of which they were the vanguard, he urged the viewers to describe and discuss their experience of the two orders seen on the previous two nights. An emphasis on pure aesthetic experience, without reference to past elements, was at stake.

The long takes of the prefatory film provided a vivid contrast to Markopoulos’s complex rhythms of black and white and the play between ambiguity and the certainty of recognition in the varying lengths of color film. In Eniaios—at least in its first half—Markopoulos never milked for dramatic effect the most lavish or spectacular images from his previous films. Instead, he was remarkably thrifty and minimal with his visual expenditures; and never more so than in orders IX and X: The former consists of portraits of three elderly women—art historian Carola Giedion-Welcker; Nina Kandinsky, widow of the painter; and novelist Patricia Highsmith—along with fragments from The Illiac Passion and frames from Himself as Herself (1967), here principally of a young man operating an electron microscope. The juxtaposition of these elements obscurely hints that the order posits antiscientific and misogynistic moments in the exfoliation of Eniaios: Mycenae evokes the locale of Aeschylus’s critical vision of female passion in Agamemnon and The Libation Bearers, and Himself as Herself alludes to Balzac’s androgynous fantasy Séraphîta, of which it is a very free adaptation. Order X is just as minimal, but not as dark, as IX. The portraits of Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and writer Pandelis Prevelakis initiate a theme of modern Hellenic creativity that culminates in order XI with the portraits of Lilika Nakou, a writer, and Yannis Tsarouchis, a painter of homoerotic figures. The glory of order X is the lengthy section devoted to the Ottoman buildings in Siatista. Barely discernible, dim interiors eventually yield to rooms lit by sunlight from behind Markopoulos’s camera. Miraculously, the pools of light seem even brighter than the pure whites of the flickering screen in which they are embedded (although that is impossible: The blank screen reflects the projector’s maximum luminosity).

The portrait of the filmmaker’s friend Nakou that began the third night’s order seemed to me to assign a different poetic meter to each shot: At first the image was syncopated in a bold dactyl of white light; then each new image flashed as the short syllable in various cinematic anapests, choriambuses, trochees, and bacchii. Thus the midpoint of Eniaios demonstrates, in an elementary manner, the prevalence of poetic meters in elaborately complex forms organizing the whole project. Significantly, the order ends with the first appearance in the eighty-hour film of Markopoulos himself: We see for the first time isolated frames from Swain (1950), in which the twenty-two-year-old filmmaker wanders through a greenhouse and takes flight on an empty road. Viewers familiar with Swain will remember that its protagonist flees in panic from aggressive female sexuality, symbolically represented in the original film, as well as in order XI, by a worm crawling on the wing of a dead bird. The oracular sites, Delphi and Dodona, incorporated in the order suggest the ambiguity and the dangers of prophecy or interpretation.

Very few members of the young audience would have recognized Swain or realized its context. To judge from his conference, Beavers believes that the rhythms and allusive beauty of the images ought to suffice. Doubtless, Markopoulos would have agreed. However, in notes reproduced by Beavers in the elegant brochure given to all the participants, Markopoulos assigned Greek titles to each of the orders. For the most part, these are as gnomic as a Delphic oracle and bear no apparent relation to the themes of the fragmented films, so to give them much interpretative force would be reckless. Yet the uniquely negative title given to order IX, “Polluted Day” (miasma hemera), strikes one as perhaps more significant, in this one instance, than “Things Under the Earth” (for X) or “Sensual and Unsensual” (for XI). In fact, any speculation about the structure of the whole film comes up against nearly insurmountable obstacles: Only half of the work has been exhibited so far, making speculation as tricky as prophecy. The previously revealed orders have not been seen for twelve, eight, or four years. At the current pace, it will be another sixteen years before the projection is completed. (Should I live to see it, I would then be nigh on eighty-eight years old.) The very completion of the project is endangered. Beavers has done a heroic job of fulfilling his mentor’s extravagant vision for more than twenty years, and it is a wonder that an event of this sort actually takes place in the twenty-first century. But as he nears seventy, Beavers will require more financial and physical support than he has had so far to bring the second half of this vast work to its public. Markopoulos would say: “King Ludwig is needed.”

P. Adams Sitney is the author, most recently, of The Cinema of Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Read articles by P. Adams Sitney on the Temenos 2004 (November 2004), 2008 (October 2008), and 2012 (October 2012) screenings of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s eighty-hour film Eniaios (1947–91).