The Illiac Passion
This dramatic movie filmed over a three-year period is a version of the Prometheus legend set in New York City.
Gregory Markopoulos was born in Toledo, Ohio on March 12,1928. He made his first film (a version of A Christmas Carol ) in 1940, with a borrowed 8mm silent movie camera at the age of twelve. He got his education at the University of Southern California. By the time he left college in 1947, he completed a trilogy titled, Du sang de la volupte et de la morte (compromised of: Psyche, Lysis, and Charmides ). These were dreamlike, dialogue-free mini dramas, filled with images of myth and symbol, and highlighted by conspicuously attractive young men. His first 35mm film was, The Dead Ones, released in 1948. With all these films, Markopoulos became one of the best known avant-gardists of the post World War II period. By 1963, with the release of Twice a Man, it was clear that Markopoulos was moving away from the filmmaking style. Shot in sharp, richly textured color, Markopoulos film centers on an argument between a youth and his mother over the fact that he has a male lover. The mother asks, « Why do you keep seeing the physician? » He replies, « When you get to like a man’s face, there’s nothing you can do about it! » In the non-synched soundtrack we hear only isolated words and phrases saying, « Why do you keep seeing? » as we watch the actors’ lips mouth silently like fish in an enormous aquarium. He did this, « to propose a new narrative film form through the fusion of the classic montage technique with a more abstract system. This system involves the use of short film phrases that evoke thought images. Markopoulos wanted to go beyond the montage ideas of Eisenstein, Resnais and Godard. He also wanted to delve right into the spectator’s subconscious, completely eliminating the middleman of drama. When taking breaks from making movies, Markopoulos liked to teach and write. In 1954, he went to Greece for a year and gave lectures on film at the University of Athens. And in the 1960’s he taught for a couple of times at the Art Institute of Chicago. In the late 60’s and early 70’s he published articles in various magazines; Film Culture, Film Comment, Filmcritica and The Village Voice. In many of Markopoulos’s film he shows excessive scenes of homosexuality and nudity. In Du sang de la volupte et de la morte, there are « closeups, in color and often protracted, of such things as a male nipple, a painted and coiffured male head, a buttock, and two-shots of a facially inert girl and boy. » In To Free the Cinema Andrew Sarris states that, « Markopoulos … is a really nasty, unpleasant person, who really plays hardball, really gets angry, vicious about things, because of this homosexual thing. » In a 1965 New York Film Festival, Markopoulos stood up to a panel of critics and called them « soulless morons, » for their offhand dismissal of what was then called, « the New American Cinema. » In a shocking move by Markopoulos, he asked that his films be removed from American distribution. The major problem was that Markopoulos was gay and wanted homosexuality to be seen in his films, but many people didn’t like that idea too much. His war, was to try to make homosexuality a beauty in life: « The average man is destroying beauty. The average man no longer looks into another man’s eyes. Everyone is afraid . . . sometimes I think the only way to save the United States is by going somewhere else–just as the ancient Greek philosophers fled to Asia Minor and Italy. » In 1967 Markopoulos and his gay lover, filmmaker Robert Beavers left the U.S for Switzerland, where he still continued making films. Gregory J. Markopoulos died « after a long illness » on November 20, 1992 in Freiberg, Germany. He had no survivors except for Mr. Beavers. Markopoulos will be remembered for the most obscure margins of film history. His works are in the collection of the Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art, the Cinematheque Francaise and at the Anthology Film Archives.