Friday, August 24, 2012

Greece, Zorba....etc.

TCM showed Zorba the Greek recently. The movie was an adaptation of a novel written by Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis, first published in 1946. Amazingly, considering that back in the 1960s the film gathered much acclaim and several awards, neither husband nor I had ever seen it. We watched. Afterwards we both wondered how on earth the movie had managed to gather so much applause. It could have been sub-titled The Anthony Quinn Show - Quinn did, certainly, light up an otherwise rather dark story with his performance as Zorba.

Alan Bates (sorry Sir Alan Bates) as the introverted but kindly Englishman was good too, but cast against type, far as I can gather. Sir Alan had natal Sun, Venus, Saturn in Aquarius, Moon and Uranus in Aries, by the way. From articles in the Daily Mail archives Bates appeared to be, in real life, equally as charismatic and unleashed a guy as was the fictional Zorba!

The two main characters, Zorba and Basil, are complete opposites in nature. The thrust of the movie is that Basil becomes infected with Zorba's enthusiasm, free sprit, and zest for life. Infection didn't travel in the opposite direction though, for Zorba remained as wild and free at the end of the story as he was in the beginning.

The darkness of the Zorba story, for us, stemmed from the scary primitive attitudes of Greek islanders at that time. There was a distinct zombie feel to the scenes where a huge posse of men (the whole male population of the village) pursue, stone and try to murder a widow. Later, a dozen or so women, clad in black from head to foot, ransack the apartment of an elderly French woman who had died just a minute earlier, her body still warm, lying on the bed. It almost made tales of The Wild West seem tame in comparison!

Husband commented: "remind me not to put Greece on our itinerary!"

I wonder how many in Europe and the UK have said the same thing this year for a different reason - Greece's ongoing economic crisis?

Never On a Sunday, a movie from the same era presented a kinder view of Greek culture than Zorba the Greek. Late 20th century and 21st century Greece has been handled with kid gloves in the movies. A lucrative tourist industry had by then emerged. Some films that spring to mind offering a distinct "come-on" to tourists: Shirley Valentine, Mama Mia, My Life in Ruins.

I never visited Greece, wasn't attracted by its particular "vibe" - or at least the vibe tourist advertising attached to the country. I rather regret it now though, and wish the ancient cradle of Western civilization, birthplace of democracy, as safe a passage as possible through current dangerous and stormy waters.

Zorba would have said - did say in the book/film:
When everything goes wrong, what a joy to test your soul and see if it has endurance and courage! An invisible and all-powerful enemy—some call him God, others the Devil, seem to rush upon us to destroy us; but we are not destroyed.

A reminder of the music and dance from Zorba the Greek:


anyjazz said...

You're right. The whole movie made me uncomfortable. Every scene. I was never sure why.

mike said...

I certainly enjoy your eclectic blog and want to say thanks! I visited Greece with most of my time on Crete...what a wonderful country! I was treated like family in most places. Can't say the same for Italy, where I was constantly on-guard for rip-offs and weirdness. Don't let movies sway you...I've seen many movies about this country (USA) that made me shiver.

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~ Strange, wan't it? I suppose we have to remember that it's a movie (or more accurately a book) of its time; the book was published in 1946 we're talking about the early 1940s or even some years earlier, long before the tourism polishers had softened rough edges of any destination. The book would probably have been a better introduction to the story and its ideas - I suspect.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Hi - and thank you kindly!
Yes, I have to say that I've never heard a bad word about Greece as a vacation destination from those I've met who have visited the country.

I was drawn more to Italy than Greece in my younger days, and loved Rome and Milan, but travelled there with a native - my first husband so that probably helped with the issues you mentioned.

The USA has been portrayed in many hues and variations hasn't it, and some way, way more scary than in the Zorba movie!

There's enough here, though, to last a person more than 2 lifetimes, travel-wise....can't help but love the land.....its government - not so much.

Anonymous said...

About 35 years ago, while waiting to be seated in the famed Round Table Restaurant at the Algonquin Hotel in NYC, I turned around to discover a certain Mr Alan Bates standing directly behind me. After Mr Bates gave me the old male once-over, he broke into a most charming smile. (My Aquarius in the 5th?) A fun memory, to be sure.

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~~ Hi! What a super memory to have stashed away!
He was quite a looker back then. He had what I and a dear, long-gone friend used to call "the typical male Aquarian look" - pleasantly regular features, a well-balanced face - usually dark hair but not always. I used to keep a list of 'em but lost it in a computer crash at some point.

His lifestory gives the lie to that old astrologers' myth that Aquarius is cold and stand-offish. ;-)