A filmic guidebook of the Greek capital, World Film Locations: Athens takes readers to film locations in the central historical district, with excursions to the periphery of Athenspopular neighborhoods, poor suburbs, and slums often represented in postwar neorealist filmsand then on to garden cities and upper-class suburbs, especially those preferred by the auteurs of the 1970s. Of course, no Grecian vacation would be complete without a visit to the sea, and summer resorts, hotels, and beaches near Athens are frequent backdrops for international productions. However, more recent economic strife has emptied city neighborhoods, created urban violence, and caused an increase in riots in the Mediterranean city, and representations of this on film are juxtaposed with images of the eternal and idyllic city.
Featuring both Greek and foreign productions from various genres and historical periods, the book ultimately works to establish connections between the various aesthetics of dominant representations of Athens.
About the Author
Anna Poupou, AfroditiNikolaidou, and Eirini Sifaki work as a research team in the broader area of film, television, and media studies and are coeditors of City and Cinema: Theoretical and Methodological Approaches.
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World Film Locations Athens
By Anna Poupou, Afroditi Nikolaidou, Eirini Sifaki
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2014 Intellect Ltd
All rights reserved.
City of the Imagination
Text by ANNA POUPOU & EIRINI SIFAKI
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CINEMATIC ATHENS as seen in international films is immediately linked to the stereotypical topics of antiquity and tourism, dealing with the rediscovery of its ancient values and heritage, often with a touch of Orientalism and plenty of couleur locale. At times, a certain irony is discernible towards the expectations of the visitor, who soon sees his idealized vision of the city of Pericles shattered by Modern Greek reality. On the other hand, cinematic Athens as seen in Greek films is all about change and transformation: about urban reconstruction and demolition, destruction and regeneration, political mutations and crisis.
Few images of Athens survive from the period of early cinema until the 1930s: I peripeties tou Villar/ Villar's Adventures (Joseph Hepp, 1924), O magos tis Athinas/The Wizard of Athens (Achilleas Madras, 1931) and Kinoniki sapila/Social Corruption (Stelios Tatassopoulos, 1933) are precious examples, shot in real locations and documenting the Athenian cityscape during the interwar period. However, it wasn't until the early 1950s, when the city began to recover from the turmoil of World War II and the Greek Civil War, that the Greek film industry started to represent the reconstruction of the city. The bright sun and the fair weather conditions which permitted shooting with natural light in real locations throughout the year, in addition to the total absence of any infrastructure or studios, transform the picturesque Athenian streets and neighbourhoods into a vast studio, where more than 100 films were shot each year, offering a panorama of all aspects of the Greek capital. The Athenian cityscape sometimes becomes a metaphor for the trauma of the occupation and the civil war, as in Nikos Koundouros's Magiki polis/Magic City (1954) and O drakos/The Ogre of Athens (1956), Michael Cacoyannis's Stella (1955) and Alekos Alexandrakis's Synikia to oniro/Dream Neighbourhood (1961). However, in the majority of Greek films, the image of Athens celebrates the post-war economic boom.
For a short period of time, from the late 1950s up until the 1967 coup d' état, Athens became a star in big budget international productions. In Jean Negulesco's Boy on a Dolphin (1957), Sophia Loren poses in front of the Parthenon as a barefoot girl from a fishing village who found an ancient statue and tries to sell it. In Jules Dassin's Never on Sunday (1960), Melina Mercouri strolls on the Acropolis as Ilya, the relentlessly optimistic and headstrong prostitute who represents, to the American Homer Thrace, the contemporary decay of Greece. In Robert Stevens's In the Cool of the Day (1963), Jane Fonda climbs the Acropolis Hill in her quest to regain her lost vitality through the discovery of an ancient culture. International divas are shot in front of the national uncontested diva, in sequences full of meaning, connotations and allegories.
Even though big-budget, large-scale international productions abandoned Athens soon after the briefly cosmopolitan 1960s, the city became a privileged location for B-movies, war films, car-chase films and dubious spy adventures. Robert Aldrich can be considered the godfather of this trend with Angry Hills (1959), starring Robert Mitchum, followed by Henri Verneuil's Le Casse/The Burglars (1971) with Jean Paul Bellmondo and Omar Sharif. In Anthropophagus (Joe d'Amato, 1980), Signs and Wonders (Jonathan Nossiter, 2000), Dead Europe (Tony Krawitz, 2012) and various other sensational low-budget adventures, Athens figures as a nest of spies, a dangerous and exotic trap against a backdrop of shadow governments and social unrest, where the past comes alive to haunt the heroes.
In the late 1960s, during the dictatorship (1967–74), a new generation of auteurs emerged, creating a political and independent cinema. In the films of the New Greek Cinema, the Athenian cityscape is depicted through the social problems connected with rapid urbanization and the abandonment of rural areas. The city is represented as the result of real estate speculation in Prossopo me prossopo/Face to Face (Robert Manthoulis, 1966); as banishment in Evdokia (Alexis Damianos, 1974); and as a place of sexual repression and patriarchal control in Ioannis o Vieos/John the Violent (Tonia Marketaki, 1973) and To proxenio tis Annas/Anna's Matchmaking (Pantelis Voulgaris, 1974). Finally, Athens becomes a field for the negotiating of recent history and collective memory in the films Meres tou 36/Days of 36 (1972) and Taxidi sta Kythira/Voyage to Cythera (1984) by Theo Angelopoulos; Kierion (1968) by Dimos Theos; and Ta hromata tis iridos/The Colours of Iris (1974) by Nikos Panayiotopoulos.
The 1990s inaugurated a veritable trend of 'city films' which focused on the transformation of the Athenian cityscape: Apo tin akri tis polis/From the Edge of the City (Constantine Giannaris, 1998) traces the urban living conditions of the new demographics that emerged from the flow of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Whether featuring realistic situations, nocturnal flâneries during romantic encounters (Ftina tsigara/Cheap Smokes [Renos Haralambidis, 2000], To oniro tou skylou/A Dog's Dream [Angelos Frantzis, 2005]) or dystopian depictions of society's anxieties, as in I epithesi tou gigantieou moussaka/The Attack of the Giant Moussaka (Panos H. Koutras, 1999), their common feature is that their storyline is built around the Athenian city centre, the triangle between Omonia, Syntagma and Monastiraki Squares. These films register a city in transition through a process of gentrification – the remodelling of former industrial zones such as Gazi and Metaxourgio to accommodate new cultural hubs and entertainment venues.
However, the much-touted regeneration of the Greek capital never did take place – either in reality or in fiction. Films made in the 2000s do not represent the anticipated celebration of Athens of the 2004 Olympics, bur rather its decay, as in the film Tungsten directed by Giorgos Georgopoulos, filmed in 2004 in the southwest working-class suburbs of Athens but actually released in 2011, depicting a threatening, oppressive, almost deserted city. Similarly, a football match is not an occasion to narrate a national victory but rather a story of disgrace, punishment and forgiveness in diorthosi/correction by Thanos Anastopoulos (2007).
After 2008, as Athens enters the spotlight of the international media as a 'City in Trouble', a Greek 'New Wave' emerges drawing attention in the arthouse festival circuit (Akadimia Platonos/Plato's Academy [Filippos Tsitos, 2009], Strella/A Woman's Way [Panos H. Koutras, 2009], Hora proelefsis/Homeland [Syllas Tzoumerkas, 2010], Macherovgaltis/Knifer [Yannis Economides, 2010], Wasted Youth [Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel, 2011], To agori troi to fagito tou pouliou/Boy Eating the Bird's Food [Ektoras Lygizos, 2012], Luton [Michalis Konstantatos, 2013], Wednesday 04.45 [Alexis Alexiou, 2014]). Whether presenting the city centre in decay, with urban riots between the police and protesters, the emergence of racism and neo-Nazism, run-down suburbs and multiethnic neighbourhoods or deserted streets and closed shops, these films record the transformation of Athens in economic and political crisis. Such imagery becomes the new Athens 'landmark', replacing the cinematic hegemony of the Acropolis. Only history will tell if contemporary Greek cinema prefigures indeed a more permanent transformation of symbols in the collective urban memory.CHAPTER 2
OPEN-AIR CINEMAS IN POST-WAR ATHENS
Text by DIMITRIS BLEFTHERIOTS
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IN THE 1960s, neon lights flickered in the buzzing streets around the centre of Athens. Along Stadiou, Panepistimiou and Akadimias Streets, on Vassilissis Sofias and Patission Avenues, and around Omonia and Syntagma Squares, the presence of global capital was felt through bright, flashing advertisements of products and services that connected the city with the world's international networks of commerce. Particularly striking and full of cosmopolitan seduction were advertisements for airline companies that instantly evoked glamour and freedom in newly discovered globetrotting mobility: Pan Am, TWA, Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa and of course Olympic Airways, the then luxury company and national treasure owned by Aristotle Onassis, himself a cause célèbre amid the international jet set. Putting the destruction of the post-war period firmly behind it, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s Athens was transformed into an attractive metropolis uniquely combining its classical heritage with modern architecture. Cosmopolitan aspirations were enhanced by new iconic buildings that put the city on the international architectural map: the new American Embassy designed by Walter Gropius opened in 1961, followed two years later by the Athens Hilton (the 'world's most beautiful hotel' according to Conrad Hilton), designed by the Greek team of Manolis Vourekas, Prokopis Vassiliadis, Antonis Georgiades and Spyros Staikos, while the International Terminal of Athens Airport designed by Eero Saarinen was a work in progress throughout the decade.
At the same time, during the long, hot summer months, in the Athenian neighbourhoods similar bright lights flickered on hundreds of screens in crowded open-air cinemas that stood on public squares, street corners or amongst the newly-built multi-storey apartment blocks that came to dominate the city's built environment towards the end of the decade and the beginning of the next. For most of the 1960s, there were over 400 open- air cinemas in operation in Athens, a city with a population that just nudged over 2 million – a cinema for every 5,000 residents! In the popular Greek films of the period, the lights and sights of the new, Modern Athens became distinctive and recognizable attractions, spectacular moments that froze the narrative and celebrated a newly rediscovered cosmopolitan status.
But viewers would also be treated to films from around the world; in the same way that Athens aspired to find a place amongst the world's great cities, on the screens of the open-air cinemas Greek films were rubbing shoulders with those made in a very broad spectrum of international film industries. While the indigenous sector held a healthy share of the market, American, Italian, French and British films were competing with Indian, Turkish and Japanese productions, creating a most eclectic and peculiarly cosmopolitan viewing 'menu' for the city's cinema-going public. Interruptions were a prominent feature of this mode of viewing: not just the mandatory intervals that initiated social interaction amongst the spectators as they wandered around the cinema, but also the intruding noises or lights from neighbouring buildings, the loud comments during the screening or the occasional (usually good-natured) disagreements between members of the audience about the looks, actions or morality of the protagonists.
As Athens walked the tightrope of development and modernization, a precarious balance was struck between the old and the new, between the city centre and the neighbourhoods, with cinemas – open in all senses of the word (to other cultural, geographical, historical and cinematic contexts) – blending the exhibition spaces with the local communities. The integration of the open-air cinema with its context made it a vital part of urban living and a space where friends and neighbours met and interacted, sharing cosmopolitan dreams stirred by the European economic miracle.
However, as development, reconstruction and urbanization intensified in the 1970s, unchecked by planning laws and regulations, the fabric of the city changed, the increasing density turning the earlier celebration of the busy streets into a continuous grumbling about the overcrowded urban environment, its citizens choking under the thick cloud of pollution that blocked out the Athenian sky. Cinemas began to close down, reflecting the film industry's own crisis: the 420 open-air cinemas of 1965 were reduced to 310 in 1975 and to less than a hundred by the end of the millennium. It was in the 1970s that the term 'oasis' was first coined to describe open-air cinemas, emphasizing the new function of the venue as a place where you went for a breath of fresh air, to escape from the noise, heat and claustrophobia of the apartment block and signalling the radical decline of the urban configuration that enabled the integration of open- air cinemas with their local communities.
New lights began to flicker in the neighbourhoods, this time from television sets placed on balconies lined with luscious vegetation as Athenians desperately strived to create little private 'oases'. Gradually, as the nuclear family replaced the extended one and as community interaction in the neighbourhoods diminished, scores of open-air cinemas closed down, with the few that remained becoming exceptional spaces, recognized for their historical significance rather than for their direct cultural relevance.
Since the 1990s, a new cosmopolitanism has taken over the city, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming into an urban and social space that has proved very reluctant to accept them. Unlike the fascinating cosmopolitan attractions of the 1960s, the recent flows of global displacement are largely viewed as threatening, contaminating the city's ancient heritage, now reclaimed not only by neo-fascists, but also by a considerable section of nostalgic and xenophobic Athenians. Open-air cinemas have by now become truly exceptional, contemporary monuments bearing testimony to a long-vanquished glorious past. Widely reported in the Greek electronic media was CNN's branding of Cine Thisio as the 'world's most beautiful cinema' on the grounds of its unique combination of spectacular views of the Acropolis with the viewing of films, the latter almost a minor distraction that cannot possibly compete in terms of spectacle. Other cinemas, such as the historic Cine Aegli, aspire to establish exclusiveness through segregated seating arrangements that offer a 'private veranda', where a small group can enjoy a four-course meal. Articulating a desire to construct a 'gated' viewing experience informed by exceptionalism and exclusiveness, this appropriation of the venue stands in startling opposition to its 1960s version. But perhaps that should not be so surprising, given that the Athens of the 1960s bears little resemblance to that of today.
VILLAR'S ADVENTURES/I PERIPETIES TOU VILLAR (1924)
25 Poseidonos Avenue, Trocadero, Faliro
THE DIRECTOR OFVillar's Adventures, the Hungarian Joseph Hepp, arrived in Athens in the 1910s as a Pathé cinematographer, worked as one of the first projectionists in downtown cinemas and was considered one of the pioneers of early Greek cinema. Filmed in 1924, Villar's Adventures is a late example of a slapstick chase comedy in which the main actor, Nikos Sfakianakis, tries to embody the Greek version of Charlie Chaplin. The film could be used as a tourist guide: Villar visits the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Philopappos Hill, the Zappeion, Herod Atticus theatre and other monuments. In fact, the succession of the city's locations is used as a narrative structure for the viewer, giving a linear order to the chaos of the primitive narration of this film. In this scene, Villar visits a music club on the Faliro coast. On his way back to the city centre he takes the tram, jumps into a taxi, then onto a motorcycle and finally ends up running towards Syntagma Square. Hepp attempts to show Athenian modernity of the 1920s through the motifs of speed and mobility, showing fashionable clubs and women in bob haircuts dancing to jazz rhythms. However, the empty streets of the upper-class central districts with few pedestrians, little traffic and limited public transport are more evocative of a sleepy Mediterranean town of the nineteenth century. It was precisely during this period that the Athenian conglomeration was redesigned, as the arrival of refugees after the Minor Asia War doubled the city's population and led to the emergence of slums and new working-class districts: Hepp's Athens avoids these mutations and creates an elusive cinematic city enclosed in a sterilized monumentality, dreaming of an imaginary modernity. Anna Poupou
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Table of Contents
Athens: City of the Imagination
Anna Poupou and Eirini Sifaki
Open-air Cinemas in Post-war Athens
Athens is Burning
Nikos Panayotopoulos’s Athens: From Relic of Antiquity to Hipster Urban Refuge
Controversies of Space in Popular Greek Cinema (1950-70): From the Courtyard to the Living Room
Dirtopia and Its Urban Subcultures: Cinematic Athens in the Post-dictatorship Era
Afroditi Nikolaidou and Anna Poupou
Athens in the 1960s Greek Musical