Representations of the Feminine in the Greek Crossover Films of Michael Cacoyannis and Jules Dassin

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Women in Greek "Tourism" Films

    Unlike America, where entertainers, sports figures, and politicians constitute a cult of celebrity who serve as national heroes, Greece has a long tradition of valuing the arts, even in the competing ideological epochs of the

Movie poster advertising Zorba the Greek (1964). The two photos feature the bonding of the male protagonists (Quinn and Bates), and the stoning of the widow (Irene Papas), from the perspective of the thrower.

post-industrial and post-modern nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Above all other forms, poetry and prose remain respected forms of expression, and Greek poets are perhaps some of the most celebrated figures in contemporary Greece. Although Greece had a functioning film industry with origins that date back to 1905's The Weavers by the Manakis brothers, an important shift occurred in the period from 1950-1975. During this time, Greece began to produce films which competed internationally for attention from critics, film festivals, and for box office receipts. The Thessalonikki film festival was established as an international forum, and film schools such as the Lykourgos Stavrakos Film School (established in 1951) were created to elevate film to the status of an art form on a par with the other arts. The Greek film industry reached a production peak when it released 177 Greek films in 1966 and sold a total of 137 million tickets in 1968. (Constantinidis, 4) A star system, including figures like Melina Mercouri, Irene Papas, Maria Callas, and Elli Lambetti was established, giving international recognition to the themes of popular Greek culture on a global scale for the first time since perhaps, the culture of the golden age.

    The 1950s and 60s also happens to be the period of increased interest in Greece as a tourist industry. This trend can be attributed to many factors, which include the development of radar technology in the wake of World War II, which effected the commercial sector with increased air travel by civilians. By the mid-sixties, the annual number of foreign tourists in Greece was five times higher than it had been ten years earlier (Papadimitriou, 96). There was also the domestic push for tourism by the conservative Greek government, and their influence on the nationally subsidized Greek Film Center. The production of light-hearted romantic comedies with stars like Aliki Vouyouklaki, and the pro-industrial viomichanos drama can be seen as a direct reaction to leftist communist groups who opposed the rigid dictatorship. This suppression of socially critical films resulted in the ideology of the "Greek Dream." Not unlike the "American Dream" of many 50s melodramas, the fantasy often involved a rich woman who falls in love with a poor man, but lives happily ever after. Of course, the narrative neatly works itself out by the end of the final reel, when the union of the male/female relationship consummates the struggle for the success of the male factory worker/owner. Lastly, the influence of the French New Wave began to open up spaces for foreign film distribution in an international market traditionally dominated by Hollywood.

    Travel innovations, the Greek dictatorship, and changes in the American film economy all combined to produce an environment where Greece could be presented to the rest of the world at a mass-level. The cultural effect was that Greece became a modern industry where all the fantasies about the ancient world could be combined with the desires of the sun-seeking traveler. "Greekness" was now something that could be visited, experienced, and consumed on a two week holiday. In the cinema, a kind of visual tourism began with the increased exportation of Greek films, where a similar experience of Greek people and places could occur. Insulated by the darkened theater, the film tourist could virtually see, hear, taste, and smell "the Greek experience" without leaving the confines of their home country, all in the span of two short hours (Papadimitriou, 2000). The predominant forms of this period which promoted tourism on the screen were the film musical and the melodrama. Examples of these forms, which both have enduring links to the classical tradition, are Michael Cacoyannis' Zorba The Greek, and Stella, and Jules Dassin's Never on Sunday. In these films, Greece is not only portrayed as a fun-loving resort for the western traveler, but an exotic, sexual, and feminized space where classical female archetypes reappear, all in the service of "touristokratia."2

    Seferis' term for cultural tourism has many overlaps with the postcolonial approach to literary and film studies. Greece maintains an awkward space in this discourse since it has a history which is both colonial and postcolonial, whose national borders have been constantly under construction, and whose status as a "Western" or "Eastern" European country remains unconfirmed. The mixing of Ottoman, Venetian, and Greek cultures over the centuries makes it difficult to place Greece squarely within the definitions of the West. Herein lies a contradiction: most of the literature of Greece has been discussed as European, and Greece itself has been called the "Cradle of Western Civilization" by numerous historians. However, there is much recent scholarship which places these histories into question, linking Greece to the continent of Africa and the pre-classical culture of the Egyptians, as well as to the Balkan region of Eastern Europe. With these many layers of history and culture, who or what then, is authentically "Greek"? Who can represent Greece to the rest of the world, and what form can or should be used to do so? My suggestion is that in the modern films of Dassin and Cacoyannis, the Western personality of Greece is adopted as a formal and generic device in order to appeal to popular audiences and their perceptions about classical Greece. At the same time, a contradictory stereotype persists in the "orientalizing" of modern Greece as an exotic and mysterious Eastern space, whose personality is defined by feminine attributes. Zorba, Stella, and Never on Sunday crossed over because they fit squarely into commonly held pre-conceptions of both "Ellas" and "Eleni."

    The marginalization of the East by Eurocentric scholarship has been discussed by Edward Said in his famous essay, "Orientalism". In it, Said asserts that "Orientalism" is -- and does not simply represent -- a certain will or intention to understand, in some cases to control, manipulate, or even incorporate, what is a manifestly different (or alternative and novel) world...a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with 'our' [privileged] world" (Said, 90-91). Because they appeal to non-Greek male viewers, the authenticity of many Greek films from the 1950s and 60s is compromised by the orientalizing gaze of the Western film maker and viewer, which takes as its object the feminine and the classical.

    What has resulted from the popularity of these films is a mythical construction of Greece, which many audiences, Greeks included, have come to accept as an "authentic" depiction. What the world has come to know of Greece by way of the cinema and its continuation of classical themes is anything but "real." In fact, these films rely on the narrative conventions of millenia-old forms, and the patriarchal assumptions about women which accompany them. The popularity of these films in the 60s and today are a direct result of an interesting mixture of institutional grecophilia world-wide, and the economics of the tourist industry in postwar Greece.

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