R.I.P Theo Angelopoulos, died Jan 24th 2012. One of the very greatest film directors and a cultural giant who towered above shallow times.
Here are his picks for Sight and Sound’s poll 2002- the most recent film from 1966. His prime acknowledged influences: Welles and Mizoguchi, though comparisons with Antonioni are productive. It is extraordinary how such a sigificant director remains unknown and under-appreciated by many cinephiles. He has yet to conquer the USA. At least his films are finally on dvd in UK.
See also Dimitris’ fine and informative list of his films Theodoros Angelopoulos, an Observer.
2003 article by Acquarello at Senses of Cinema
Andrew Horton (ed): The Last Modernist
David Bordwell: Figures Traced in Light (excellent lengthy chapter)
Here’s an interview in the mid 2000s with the Bulgarian critic Olga Markova, translated into English:
Q: What’s your working method and has it changed during the course of your 40-year career?
A: It was different in the beginning. I started the realization of my first feature, “Reconstruction”, with everything written and prepared in advance. Only a couple of years later I started shooting the historical-political trilogy without a script, with only a few notes. The rest, which was basically almost everything, occurred during shooting. That manner of working appealed to me more. I felt that my creative work was in fullest harmony with my conscience and my senses during shooting and not during preparation. Of course, facts can be evaluated only later, when we distance ourselves. But when I am working I feel truly free, I don’t have to report to anybody. I am doing what I need, what my soul wishes. I don’t need any support. I share on the screen what I would share with my dearest and closest friend.
Q: You have a unique way of conversing with History.
A: Yes, it can be read materialistically and to be full of meanings. The important thing is to be rationalized at every contemporary moment.
Q: The political cinema you are making, does it bring you satisfaction, or is it only a burden?
A: Both. I try to be a sensitive ambassador of what is coming to me from the world. Even my films on historical subject matters reveal the basis on which our present day is built. Why do I often address the problem of dictatorship here? In order to try and explain its roots and nature. It is my firm belief that if an author/artist is striving to comprehend the present day, it is inevitable to have to explore the past and there to search the causes for one phenomenon or another.
Q: Is that why most of your characters belong to the past?
A: A lot of people don’t have a past. I am personally interested in the ones that have. Besides that, a past is never past. It exists in both the present and the future. When I am making a film, I am trying to build the foundations of something, not to ruin something. Ruin leads to ruin. I cannot feel innocent of what is happening beside me. Civic duty and responsibility is one of the most important characteristics of an artist.
Q: In contrast to many of your colleagues who also studied in Paris and went on working abroad, you continue working in your homeland, finding inspiration in national history and culture.
A: As a strange concurrence of circumstances my first steps in cinema were in Paris. Then I had the opportunity to make my choice if I want to stay there. I went back to my native land with the deep conviction that an artist with no roots ‘speaks’ with difficulty. I will remind you of the endeavors of many Europeans in USA (for example, Antonioni) that were not met with success. Despite the many offers by American producers, Fellini remained in Italy by the end of his life. My own instinct has always urged me to work in Greece in spite of some very tempting invitations. I believe that my mission as an artist is to re-create the history of the little country in which I was born. My own prizes as well as those of my colleagues confirm that the truly international filmmakers are those who have settled their roots deeply in their homelands.
Q: You immediately accepted the invitation to Bulgaria to present your film “The Beekeeper” to the first World Cinema Retrospective that was held in Sofia.
A: Maybe because we are separated by two spans of land only. Besides that I am quite sensitive to the smaller nations and the nearby countries. They have to make out with each other.
Q: It is well known that your films are not very easygoing with the mass audience. However, during the World Cinema Retrospective the screening of your film “The Beekeeper” was attended by a lot of people. Does that public assessment of your work matter to you?
A: I have always been sensitive towards the audience. I was very moved that the screening of “The Beekeeper” was attended by 4000 people in Sofia. I have never wanted to lock myself in an ivory tower. The film had been shown on national TV twice, it is enlisted in the cinematheques all over the world. Yet, I don’t want to turn that success into an absolute. The qualities of a film do not always measure up to the interest of the audience. The classical example here is “Battleship Potemkin” with its primary failure with the audience. But when a work of art has a genuine value it is a warrant for the future. The truly significant works are for the morrow of cinema as well. I don’t know if my own films will endure the check-up of time, but even only in the name of my children I wish it were so. However, people have to have the opportunity to rediscover art on the big screen, especially the young ones. I sincerely regret the fact that the time of cinema-goers is over, the people who attend the cinema halls – an essential ritual for my generation. I hope that a new generation of filmmakers will come that will leave their legacy. The colleagues from my generation have already done that.
Q: What’s the most important thing in your life?
A: That is what I have done and it has appeared on the screen: that’s me. This is the only thing that matters. Not recognition, not prizes, not honors. I’m not making films in order to please someone. For people like me filmmaking is a way of life. When I speak about my life, I have to speak about my life in terms of films. That means that the making of films is my second parallel life. I like that quote from Faulkner: “The world was created to be turned into a novel”. In my case, I would like to believe that the world was created to be turned into a film. My works are a kind of a testament to my 38 years of creative life.
Q: Would you change your typical style? You are among the record-holders in world cinema in terms of long tracking shots.
A: The long tracking shot is not a whim of mine, and neither is it Miklos Jancso’s. As early as 1904 the Italian Giovanni Pastrone launched that idea. Later it was lifted up by Murnau, Renoir, Orson Welles. It is possible that sometimes I ‘bring’ the long tracking shot to an extreme. A person ‘brings’ to an extreme his own abilities when he is testing them. In literature long and short phrases have the same right to exist. I am still a prisoner of my love towards long ones… What is more important for me is the spectator to take into consideration the context of a particular work. Every work has to have its own distinctive features for which to be recognized. It is not possible a film which is built on many layers to be allied to a linear work. I have never adapted my distinctive features to the requirements of the producers.
Q: Could you characterize periods in your work?
A: In my opinion they are three – the first one, which coincides with the turmoil protests in Western Europe, is a period of ideological and political films. In the second one history and politics are in the background, i.e. history and politics serve as a background for the personalities of the characters to be expressed. During the third period the emphasis in my work is on human destiny. I still am or at least I think that I am a very sensitive receiver of everything that is happening in Greece and all over the world.
Q: That creed of yours finds its poetic confirmation in “The Weeping Meadow” ( the first part of your new trilogy) which is spread over an immense period of time: from the October Revolution up to the present day.
A: I hope that my third trilogy is a poetic resume of the past century, a resume which through a love story challenges time to a duel, takes a piercing look back and establishes a connection with the century, experienced by us now. And I also want the three films to be autonomous. For me “The Weeping Meadow” is a peculiar elegy about human predestination. It is rooted in the Oedipus myth. For the first time since “Reconstruction” I give the leading part to a woman, and there are four stages in her development: of the fragile girl who ‘discovers’ exile and death, of the maiden in love, of the mother, and of the recluse. The second film is titled “The Third Wing” (“The Dust of Time”), it starts in Uzbekistan, gets over Siberia, and ends in America. I crossed the borders of seven countries and three continents; I experienced violence, terror in the name of terror, humiliation in the name of humiliation! And the third film titled “The Return” (or “Dead Zone”) will be set in the neutral zone between Greek and Turkish Cyprus. Harvey Keitel, Michelle Pfeifer and Sean Penn will star in it. I already made a DVD which will include information about my full filmography and cut scenes that did not make it into my films. It is painful to throw out material that was already shot. I cut almost an hour out of “Ulysses’ Gaze”, one endless beautiful journey down the Danube River with a group of gypsies. I have to get rid of material in the final stage. For me it is easier to do the visual version than the sound version.
Q: After such a poetic resume, I would have to ask you if you are a pessimist or simply sceptic?
A: I am neither a pessimist, nor an optimist. Being an optimist means not to have a very clear view of the facts. Man cannot intervene in a way to make a very significant change in the world. Being a pessimist means to resign, to abandon the possibility, the dream for a better world. Both concepts come to a deadlock. I, personally, do my best to think logically, to see clearly…
2011 quotes, interviewed for Sight & Sound :
“When you start making films, you’re acutely aware of convention. Though personally i don’t find you choose the method in which you make a film. You are the one who is chosen”
“The only place i feel really at home is in a car next to a driver. I don’t drive myself, but i find the simple act of passing through landscapes very moving. The way i look at the world on my travels is what essentially defines my film-making”
" I don’t make films just to try and achieve something. It’s the experience that counts- the process"" Every thing back then that looked like a series of bleak possibilities for our future is now being confirmed. I come from a generation where we thought we were going to change the world. Back around 2000 was when it felt like the dream was over"
“ The end of The Dust of Time is the end of a dream. This new film (The Other Sea) is about the lack of a dream at the moment. I don’t think the problems of the present are necessarily financial problems, but a general lack of values. This new film talks about a closed horizon. As a country, it’s like we’re sitting in a closed waiting room, and we have no idea what’s going to happen when that door is finally opened.”Read less