A Tribute to Theo Angelopoulos

Acclaimed Greek fimmaker Theodoros “Theo” Angelopoulos died last month. He was killed January 24th when he was hit by a motorcycle a few blocks from where he had been shooting his latest film, The Other Sea (L’altro mare, 2012) – it was to be the final installment of a trilogy on immigration. Suranjan Ganguly, a colleague of mine at the Film Studies Program here at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently organized a private screening of one of Angelopoulos’ films titled The Suspended Step of the Stork (To meteoro vima tou pelargou, 1991). In memory of Angelopoulos and his work, Ganguly kindly agreed to answer some questions about the Greek filmmaker.

K: One of my favorite descriptions for the word “epic” is that of any narrative which tells the story of a tribe. With that in mind, would it be fair to say Angelopoulos was an epic filmmaker?

S.G.: His major films are epical in the sense that they focus on the processes of social and historical change within his native Greece, how people are both victims and makers of history. There is also the issue of scale: his films often cover a huge expanse of time as in The Travelling Players (1975) and The Weeping Meadow (2004) during which the lives of his protagonists are transformed over and over again by forces beyond their control.

K: You recently described Angelopoulos as “a filmmaker whose work means a lot to me.” What is it, specifically, about his work that resonated so deeply with you?

S.G.: I am drawn to Angelopoulos for a number of reasons: his ability to evoke the mythic within the everyday facts of history; his preoccupation with borders, landscape, and migration which have personal resonances for me; his extraordinary shaping of time and space through the ingenuity of his long takes; and his great gift for image-making which often generates a sense of transcendence.

K: To commemorate his passing you have opted to screen his film The Suspended Step of the Stork. Why this film?

S.G.: I decided to program this particular film partly because it is so hard to see in the U.S. and partly because it encapsulates many of his life-long concerns which I’ve described above. It is also a film which marks the start of his “international phase” with actors, like Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, appearing more and more in his films.

K: Angelopoulos won recognition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995 for Ulysses’ Gaze (Grand Jury Prize) and again in 1998 for Eternity and a Day (Palme d’Or), but long before that he reached critical acclaim with The Travelling Players  (1975) and Landscape in the Mist  (1988).  His career spanned 47 years. From your perspective, what were the highpoints of that career, and how did they differentiate from the films he made that, in your opinion, were not as strong?

S.G.: The early films, for me, are the strongest, culminating in The Travelling Players which is surely one of the great landmarks of world cinema. There is a falling off, in terms of quality, after The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) as Angelopoulos begins to search for a global audience and tries too hard to please the festival juries at Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. Both Ulysses’ Gaze (1995) and Eternity and a Day (1998) with a cast of big names–Harvey Keitel, Bruno Ganz, and Erland Josephson–come across as contrived and pretentious for this reason. There is a striving for effect, a self-conscious, even formulaic, use of all the Angelopoulos “ingredients” which makes these films forced and artificial. However, The Weeping Meadow is vintage Angelopoulos–a return to form.

K: Given how much Greece has been in the headlines lately, in regards to the global economy crises, what insights do you feel that Angelopoulos’ films offer to outsiders about Greece – the country, the people, its history, and its place on an international scale?

S.G.: I think if there is a message it is about Greece’s ability to survive all the vicissitudes of history and endure as a nation with a profound connection to its historical and mythical past.

K: How do you think public reception toward Angelopoulos may have changed over the years, and how would you compare him against other filmmakers who are also well known for their use of long and uncut sequences?

S.G.: Here, in the U.S., Angelopoulos is still largely unknown to audiences because his major work remains unavailable. This is, of course, not the case in Europe where he’s regarded as one of the last great auteurs of the cinema. His use of the long-take aesthetic places him in the company of filmmakers such as Antonioni, Jancsó, and Tarkovsky who have all influenced him. I think Jancsó, in particular, taught him how to master complicated sequence shots through which historical processes can be unraveled. Put differently, the staging of history–which is so crucial to Jansco’s cinema–is very much in evidence in Angelopoulos’ work and is achieved primarily through the moving camera and the extended take.

K: Angelopoulos is quoted as saying that “being simple is the hardest thing.” What do you think he meant by that?

S.G.: I think he’s referring to the challenge all artists face–of conveying the complexities of a situation or event in a simple and yet profound way. Not to simplify but to convey the essence with depth and feeling.

K: What role did politics play in his films?

S.G.: All his major films are political in the sense that they focus on the making of modern Greece. At the same time, the infusion of the mythical, often replete with Homeric echoes, places that history within a larger context and creates a complex notion of time and space.

K: What closing remarks do you think would be appropriate in eulogy?

S.G.: There are few filmmakers left today who can articulate such a distinctive vision of living within history and myth, of reconfiguring one’s sense of self in relation to these larger processes.  It is to Angelopoulos’ credit that, while his work is deeply rooted within the historical and political realities of Greece, he can make us reflect on our own preoccupation with identity, consciousness, and finding our place in a world of shifting boundaries.

Φ Φ Φ

Suranjan Ganguly is from India and teaches film at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He offers a wide range of courses which focus primarily on poetic cinema and draw on the aesthetic, cultural, and philosophical contexts of international cinema. He is the author of Satyajit Ray: In Search of the Modern (2000) and is currently completing a book on Adoor Gopalakrishnan, India’s most distinguished contemporary filmmaker. His work has appeared in Sight and Sound, Film Criticism, East-West Film Journal, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, South Asian Cinema Journal, and Asian Cinema.

0 Response A Tribute to Theo Angelopoulos
Posted By morlockjeff : February 12, 2012 4:43 pm

I have always wanted to see more of this director’s work on the big screen but have only seen one – LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST.

Posted By morlockjeff : February 12, 2012 4:43 pm

I have always wanted to see more of this director’s work on the big screen but have only seen one – LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST.

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : February 12, 2012 8:54 pm

Sad to say that I haven’t seen any of this fellow’s films. RIP, in any case, and I will seek them out with my limited means (and local, rural Vermont). According to recent FB accounts, quite a few buildings are burning in Athens, as well as other locales. The Asty? was mentioned as one historical cinema venue that has been destroyed. Bummer.

Posted By wilbur twinhorse : February 12, 2012 8:54 pm

Sad to say that I haven’t seen any of this fellow’s films. RIP, in any case, and I will seek them out with my limited means (and local, rural Vermont). According to recent FB accounts, quite a few buildings are burning in Athens, as well as other locales. The Asty? was mentioned as one historical cinema venue that has been destroyed. Bummer.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 15, 2012 2:59 pm

I wanted to do something about Angelopoulos, but I have seen so few of his films that I opted not to. But, I am so glad you acknowledged him. Nicely done.

Posted By Susan Doll : February 15, 2012 2:59 pm

I wanted to do something about Angelopoulos, but I have seen so few of his films that I opted not to. But, I am so glad you acknowledged him. Nicely done.

Posted By keelsetter : February 15, 2012 3:59 pm

Angelopoulos’ work is definitely a bit tricky to find here in the U.S., but for those who can screen Region 2 dvd’s they can find many titles to choose from at Amazon.com, as well as some recent box sets put out by the B.F.I.

For anyone looking to read a bit deeper, here’s an excellent piece by SIGHT & SOUND:

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/49816

Posted By keelsetter : February 15, 2012 3:59 pm

Angelopoulos’ work is definitely a bit tricky to find here in the U.S., but for those who can screen Region 2 dvd’s they can find many titles to choose from at Amazon.com, as well as some recent box sets put out by the B.F.I.

For anyone looking to read a bit deeper, here’s an excellent piece by SIGHT & SOUND:

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/49816

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Black Film  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films About Gambling  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies