An Interview with Robert Beavers
Printed in Millennium Film Journal No. 32/33 (Fall 1998): Beavers/Markopoulos
Tony Pipolo: When did you first become interested in film? Did you attend films or certain kinds of films regularly?
Robert Beavers: As a child, I went usually once a week to the movies and remember seeing older films from the Thirties on television. Then about 1964, when I was fifteen, I became more interested in other kinds of film and would go to see foreign films--mostly Italian and Swedish--in Boston or Cambridge on occasion. I wanted to create a film club at the school I was attending, so I went to New York--this would have been the summer of 1965--and saw films at the Filmmakers' Cinematheque, which was then at Astor Place, and visited the Film Department at the Museum of Modern Art. At that time I did not think that it was possible for me to make a film, but events gathered momentum in the following months. I decided to leave Deerfield partly as a result of the cancellation of my film program, but more because I wanted to become actively involved in film in whatever way that I could. I had also met Gregory Markopoulos, who encouraged me not to hesitate about filmmaking.
TP: Why was the film club taken out of your hands?
RB: They didn't approve of the program I selected, which was a mixture of MoMA's film collection and films from the Filmmaker's Cooperative; for a prep school in 1965, it was a little too adventuresome. Instead of discouraging me, it was an impetus toward filmmaking. I removed myself from the timetable leading me towards college, went to New York and worked at two film labs and then a bookstore. One of the labs was DuArt and the other was on Times Square. I can remember being asked to work a 16mm printer, for which I had no training; they simply put me on the machine and there I was in the dark. It was a special moment in New York, when the cost of 16mm filmmaking was still relatively inexpensive, and I was encouraged by seeing the work of filmmakers who had already reached maturity--the few fully realized ones.
TP: Considering your age, how was your decision to leave school and remove yourself from that timetable received by your family? Did anyone oppose it or make it difficult for you?
RB: My actions were greeted with bewilderment and concern. It was difficult for my family, but I would not say that they made it difficult for me. On the contrary.
TP: In addition to Markopoulos, who were the filmmakers at the time who you thought were fully realized artists?
RB: From the screenings at the Cinematheque, I was most impressed at that time by Harry Smith; and then I saw most of a Brakhage retrospective in 1966 and there were other filmmakers' works. There was also at that time a retrospective of Abel Gance's films at MoMA, films by Dreyer and Bresson at the Bleecker Street Cinema, and a retrospective of Fritz Lang at the Cinematheque. That's what I was seeing, and it continued. I also made my first film while I was in New York; it was called Spiracle and was about 15 or 16 minutes long. This was shot in 16mm and edited in the autumn of 1966.
TP: How did you get to do it?
RB: Gregory loaned me his camera and I had a bit of money from my family. It was filmed near the loft on the Bowery, where I was living at the time. Then in the winter of 1966-67, I went to Europe, where many other developments affected my filmmaking in the following years.
TP: Can you say anything else about Spiracle?
RB: Before beginning the film, I had hardly ever handled a camera. It was a modest attempt. Some scenes were successful, but the real success was simply in completing it. From the beginning, I chose to handle the camera myself and to edit the film. This first attempt was an opportunity to begin to learn. I was already more aware of qualities that the film image can possess as a result of the films I had been seeing, and I had had the opportunity of observing Markopoulos film some of the early portraits for Galaxie ; then I also appeared in his film, Eros O Basileus . The impulse for my first film came from this context and from how I was living in New York, and I would guess that the result is of limited interest. It takes time to learn from what one absorbs through film viewing and from one's own filming experience and for the one to nourish the other.
TP: Does this film still exist?
RB: Yes, it still exists. There is a copy in Brussels, and I have one.
TP: Then you left the country.
RB: Yes, I went from New York to Brussels, stayed perhaps two weeks, then travelled to Greece, taking the ferry boat at Brindisi. Gregory had given me an introduction to the writer Lilika Nakou, and she arranged lodgings for me in Philothea, a suburb of Athens. Then Gregory left his post at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago and came to Greece in the Summer of 1967. It was at this time that I made Winged Dialogue, and Gregory made the film Bliss. Both were filmed on Hydra.
When we returned to Brussels in the autumn, there were still opportunites to see films at the Cinémathéque Royale de Belgique. At one point, we were seeing two or three Mizoguchi films a day. This continued for a while, although not for long I must say. There were only a few cities where this opportunity existed, and Jacques Ledoux, the director of the Cinematheque, had made Brussels one of those cities. It was at this time that I developed a more serious interest in silent film.
TP: What was it about silent films that most impressed you?
RB: The light. Later, I became very interested in the difference in casting, the choice of actor, the figure, and the choices made for silent film--what one seeks--as opposed to the actor used in sound film. The historical development of that I found very interesting also. For instance, in Fritz Lang, the embodiment and physiognomy of the persons he chose for his characters in his silent films was for me on such a high level, a higher, more interesting level--but, of course, also a different level from the type of acting and use of the voice in the sound film. My preference is for silent film.
TP: Does this have anything to do with the weight of the image in silent films?
RB: Well, also the very choice of the persons. What is in the image--the type of person is different, much more beautiful, and the filmmaker's approach to the actor is different. I'm interested in this even though I haven't used many people in my films. I am interested in how the figure is made to embody the character, this physical quality, and the magic which exists in choosing a particular person.
TP: In terms of the light, which films or filmmakers impressed you?
RB: Oh, a number. I remember seeing extraordinary films by Erich von Stroheim and much later a duo-tone copy of The Black Pirate with Douglas Fairbanks.
TP: Had you seen any silent Dreyer, like Michael?
RB: Yes. Gregory asked to see it when we were visiting Vienna at the Oesterreichisches Filmmuseum.
TP: Extraordinary use of light, I think.
RB: Yes, yes. It's a curious film, but I haven't reseen it since 1967. Dreyer is certainly one of the prime examples of what I was trying to describe about the presence of the actor in silent film.
TP: And which von Stroheims?
RB:Merry Go Round, The Wedding March, Foolish Wives, Blind Husbands. I believe that I saw Merry Go Round with the original musical accompaniment. And one of the earliest Dreyer films I saw was Vampyr. I had the chance to see it in Rome and then found a wonderful book published in 1948 by Poligono in Milan, which reproduced a still of every shot in the film.
TP: What about Murnau?
RB: Despite interest in the person, I was always disappointed by the films that I have seen. In comparison with Vampyr, I found Nosferatu less interesting. I was more attracted to Dreyer's concerns than to the pathological element as represented in the Murnau film. I intended to resee his films last year, when they were in Zürich but did not. I probably do not have a clear view of Murnau. And I wasn't interested in Caligari either. I'm not exactly a film buff. There are vast segments of film production of which I have no knowledge.
TP: At the time you were seeing things in Brussels, had you also
then an idea or project of your own?
RB: Yes, I had already made in Greece the film that would become Winged Dialogue, and I brought this with me to Brussels where it was spliced and printed. Then I began a project in the winter of 1967, called Plan of Brussels. That's what I was working on while I was seeing so many films. Actually, there are a number of people in this film with whom I had acquaintance, including brief appearances by Jacques Ledoux of the Cinematheque , the critic René Micha, and even the director of the film lab, to which we owed so much money. More than from the films that I had been seeing, the inspiration for the film came from James Ensor.
In the Spring of 1968, we went to Switzerland, where Gregory had been invited to show The Illiac Passion and other films. This became a base, first Zürich for some years and then other parts of German Switzerland, mostly the Grissons and the Bernese Oberland. The pattern of residences became very elaborate! In the Seventies, we were in many places, moving back and forth between Italy and Switzerland or Greece and Switzerland with a few short periods in London or Paris and once for a few months in Berlin. My memory of viewing films during this period is weaker because all concentration was on the work and on finding means to pay for the films. It may also be that the situation had changed for me and that particular optimism about the unending bounty of films to see was less.
TP: Were you able to see the work of filmmakers like Hollis Frampton or Ernie Gehr?
RB: I was not often in New York during those years and there wasn't the opportunity. I had met Ernie Gehr in 1971 and he showed me a beautiful film, in which Andrew Noren appears. But occasions to see these films in Europe are limited; you have to be in the right place at the right time or participate in a festival, and I attended very few festivals. After the early 1970's, we concentrated on filmmaking and surviving and then on preparing the Temenos and the presentations in Greece during most of the 1980's. Even before that, there were the tasks of preserving the growing number of films and documents.
TP: We'll talk later about Temenos. What was the source of your next film, The Count of Days?
RB: The character in the film is a writer named Stefan Sadkowski, who is now dead; a rather lost person who had a very unusual life. His family had come from Poland during the second World War and been given asylum. When I knew him, he did not yet have a Swiss passport, so he couldn't leave the country and be sure that he would get back. He was living very precariously. He had a text which I used, but I re-edited this film also, condensing it tremendously and made it as clear as I could, so that now it is one-third of its original length. I kept his voice, but re-edited it completely and placed it differently.
TP: Quite a difference in length; the version I saw at Anthology was about forty-five or fifty minutes. During this period approximately how many films had you made?
RB: Between 1967 and 1970, I had made a series of six films, usually a half hour or longer in duration, and I had filmed monthly segments or exercises in addition. In these segments I developed certain techniques which would then be used in the longer films or it was a portrait sometimes of myself or of Gregory. These were usually two or three minutes in length. Eventually, in the late 80's, I combined these monthly segments, in chronological order, with the longer films, re-editing both. That has been shown once in Vienna last year--five of the six early films with the monthly segments.
TP: Did they have soundtracks or did you later add any to those films?
RB: Both. They had soundtracks and I thoroughly re-edited and sometimes re-recorded. I had to do this because in re-editing the image, it was equally important to re-edit the sound. The re-editing of the image was done between 1988 and 1991 and that of the soundtracks more recently.
TP: Did you give a title to this combined work?
RB: Yes. The first film, made in Greece, had been titled Winged Dialogue, and I reverted to this in a way and retitled the sequence, My Hand Outstretched to The Winged Distance and Sightless Measure . Or, for short, Winged Distance/Sightless Measure.
TP: And this was the title when it was presented in its entirety in Vienna?
RB: Yes. Except that they misprinted it as Winged Distance/ Siteless Measure. The longer title exists only in a written text, and it was originally intended as the encompassing title for all of my films and not just the group of six early works. The running time of this early cycle is approximately two-and-a-half hours.
TP: I hope you're planning to screen this in New York.
RB: Yes, I am trying to arrange it. What happened in 1987 is that I received financial support from a German, an extraordinary fellow named Jan Philipp Reemtsma. He had helped to create an Institute for Social Research in Hamburg and was involved in one or more cultural projects. He did not have an interest in film particularly, yet his foundation allowed me to continue my work and to preserve the films made thus far. It also indirectly enabled Gregory to complete the editing of his Eniaios film cycles.
TP: After that 2 and 1/2 hour opus, you worked on a group of films largely filmed in Italy, right?
RB: Yes. The first was From the Notebook of.... This brings us to 1971 and the original filming of the project during my first visit in Florence. It is about an hour in duration and was the second relatively long film that I had made. It was inspired by the notebooks of Leonardo and by an essay which Paul Valéry had written on Leonardo's method of creation. I had read the edition of Leonardo's writings by Richter, but then decided to use my own notes on filmmaking in relation to Leonardo and Florence. The notes refer mostly to details in the filming of my earlier work, developed further in this new context and juxtaposed to a note by Leonardo on perspective. The perspective in the film is developed by the use of a matte-box and how the masks are moved. There is a play between this space and the pages of the notebook and the view of the desk-top and the view out of my pension window. This is made more explicit when I actually introduced a second Bolex camera on the desk like a miniature camera obscura and show the movement of the shutter, and so forth.
Some of the other filming locations were also selected with reference to Leonardo. For instance, Vasari describes a wonderful scene of Leonardo buying caged birds in order to set them free, and this became the source for the opening scene in my film near the Bargello.
TP: Who sets the birds free in that scene?
RB: Gregory. We purchased the birds there on the spot. Also, the movements of the shadows in this film were inspired from reading certain notes by Leonardo, even though they do not approach in any way the beauty that he describes. I was at that time, and still am, interested in what a shadow is in film, as well as in the many qualities of color in shadows. This is a fertile area for film. I think that even Efpsychi shows some of this interest.
The second of this group of four films made in Italy and Switzerland is The Painting. As they now stand in the re-edited state, From the Notebook of... and The Painting are directly inter-related. And I am working right now on the soundtracks for these films.
TP: So, the version of The Painting that I saw at Anthology Film Archives is the first version.
RB: Yes. The painting itself, "The Martyrdom of Saint Hyppolitus,"
is in the Boston museum; the footage of the intersection was filmed in
Berne, and there are other elements--such as the broken glassand floating
dust particles. I re-edited this and added to it an interior scene
between Gregory and myself, which is juxtaposed to the figures in the painting.
It introduces the theme of tearing as an emblem of intense emotion--the
unity of destruction and unity.
I had filmed From the Notebook of... in this same room but with
the camera usually directed out the window. So these two films form
the first half of the sequence, and are followed by Work Done, also
filmed in Florence, and then Ruskin. Have you ever seen Work Done
TP: Unfortunately not. I hope there will be an occassion to do so.
RB: It is an important film in terms of my realizing certain intentions.
TP: Can you say more about that?
RB: It was made from a different starting point. The earlier films were almost all centered on a single individual, which emphasized his particular qualities in isolation. With Work Done, there was a basic change in my intention, and it was realized through a different way of filming. I had slowly changed my viewpoint in the months preceding the making of this film and was more aware of qualities which are common and shared and can be presented directly. As a result, the pace is different.
TP: And you are re-editing this film as well?
RB: It has been re-edited, and I will be working on the sound in the next few months.
TP: P. Adams Sitney suggested that I ask you about a possible relationship between Work Done and The Book of Hours.
RB: I don't know if P.Adams is referring to the Rilke; one impulse came from what I understood from reading the New Poems, the way of concentrating on an object. Then how the filming could itself suggest the form of the object that I was filming--to film more carefully and to reach the clearest composition and length for each image. It wasn't edited in the camera, but I tried to have every action realized in relation to the object during the filming. I began with an image of a block of ice, then went to the transformation of the solid element in the next image, which was a river. Then I filmed the cutting of trees, followed by the binding of a book. Each object was seen in itsel f and the unity was implied. In the first version, I did not intercut any of the scenes until the last element, the blood, is introduced and then I intercut with all of the earlier elements except the ice. It was as if I were saying that it needed all of these images to respresent the ice in the film. This is one way of seeing it.
TP: It sounds fascinating; I'm very eager to see the film. Ruskin came next and I have seen that. What was the inspiration behind the film? Had you been reading Ruskin?
RB: Yes. I had been visiting my family in Massachusetts and found the three volumes of The Stones of Venice, which a childhood friend had given me some years before. It must have been one of the first American editions with those wonderful illustrations. So I read it, and I hoped that I could do something with it in film. Then, in 1973, I went to Venice with Gregory. At the time, Italy was not too expensive, and we lived for three or four months in a hotel while I filmed. There are two other filming locations outside of Venice; one is the Bergell valley in the Grissons and the other is Portland Place in London. I filmed theVenetian locations, sometimes at three different hours of the day, in color and then filmed specific architectural details at the same locations in black and white. At the end of 1974, this was all edited and printed with a soundtrack of fragments read from Ruskin's text. This version was shown at the Asolo Film Festival in Venice where it won a prize.
Then, I decided to add a coda, which took almost a year to do; this also involved changing the sound of the original part. So I added the coda, which is composed of simple elements--the moving pages of a book with shadows between the pages intercut with falling snow--and I removed the spoken fragments of text from the main part of the film.The pages seen in the coda are from another work of Ruskin's, Unto This Last, which is quite an extraordinary text on political economy. Between the body of the film and the coda, I had also placed the date of Ruskin's death--the 20th of January,1900, but in the final version of 1992, this has been removed. It is now a simple transition from Venice and the Alps to the pages and my hand.
TP: Why did you remove the date?
RB: I didn't think that it was necessary. When I chose it, I thought that it was interesting to have this 1900 death date and after that to have only the pages of the book.
TP: The relationship between film and architecture is pretty explicit in the film. I was struck by the analogies you seem to draw between aspects of filmmaking and architecture and the way the film has, among other things, a tutorial quality, not unlike the first volume of Stones of Venice, with its lovingly detailed explanations of the fundamental principles of architecture.
RB: I have a sustained interest in architecture and filmmaking, but I cannot say that it began with reading Ruskin. I think that it is also in the early film, Diminished Frame, which was made in Berlin in 1970. I drew out of each city in which I lived a particular film, but in the case of Ruskin, I went to Venice with the intention of making the film with this source. With Diminished Frame, I was in Berlin prior to the intention of filming . Perhaps that makes a difference, or not.
In an early filming note of mine, I recently found the phrase, "an architecture
of sound for film." It takes sometimes a long while for an initial impulse
to be fully realized in the work, and I probably return often to the same
points that interest me and make a completely different film with each attempt.
An example of this is the number of films concerned with the act of reading.
One of the first was The Count of Days, made in 1969, and then
From the Notebook of..., in which the spectator is guided to read
handwritten notes; and this interest continues in the coda of Ruskin.
Whenever I have used a biographical source for a film, whether it was Leonardo or Ruskin, I have always refrained from any attempt to present the person directly and have tried to find other ways to establish their presence. Other films--such as Amor, Efpsychi, or Wingseed--have no such source in this sense.
Again, in Ruskin, I was interested in how the beginning of photography relates to how architecture was seen.
TP: Some images in the film seem to directly recall early photography in the way that you frame and mask them.
RB: Yes. To a certain extent.
TP: That whole area--the use of masks and irises--has hardly been written about--the practical uses they had before they became expressive.
RB: Well, the use can be both practical and expressive at the same time. My interest in the various maskings stems from the practical possibilities that they possess to attract, to control light in a way that could not be done by any other means that I know. Then, at a later point, I stopped using them because they...I am not sure how to put--they seemed a limitation.
TP: Are there any in Efpsychi or Amor?
RB: In Amor, as in Ruskin, the very edge of the lens is shown in the film frame; it is placed on the aperture so that the lens forms a curve. I went from using the mask to using the lens itself for the curve. Efpsychi, on the other hand, is made from a completely different source. I said something about this in the short text that I wrote when the film was presented at the NewYork Film Festival .
TP: The other transitional or punctuational device in Ruskin that I noted is how the image changes by seeming to drop down below the frameline.
RB: Yes--the turning of the lens.
TP: It has such a striking effect.
RB: But it has to be edited in a certain way to make sense.
TP: Do you know of anyone else who uses it? I can't think of another filmmaker off hand.
RB: I haven't seen it elsewhere.
TP: It seems to be one of your signature devices.
RB: Perhaps. One thing very particular about it is that when you are turning the lens on the turret in one direction, the image within the frame is seen to move in the opposite direction. So, there is this simultaneous movement of the outer edge and the image. And the black between the lenses opens a space for the editing and can be interwoven with the black of the masks.
TP: What led you to using this device?
RB: I am not alone as a filmmaker in wanting to touch and bring to life the elements of filmmaking, and this is one distinct way.
TP: But you had not done that before Ruskin?
RB: In one of the monhtly segments, I tried it, but with Ruskin, it became a strong feature. Its possibilities seemed to expand because of the locations used. As you choose your angle to film in relation to the placement of the lens, it is possible to create a new perspective. It changes the sense of horizontal and vertical by giving it a different emphasis. There is a special concern in Ruskin with what is horizontal and what is vertical, and by placing the lens in these unusual ways, one can reach other elements of the horizontal and vertical than you could not normally get to. And for a film on architectural themes, this was useful.
TP: That connection clearly comes across because while it may be unusual, the device never seems arbitrary; it seems right in relation to the material and the subject.The whole notion of `turning' also irresistibly ties in with the film's coda, in which the flipping of the book's pages perhaps allows us to see such devices in the film as the `turning of pages' in a filmic sense, that is, of the images themselves as `leaves.'
RB: This turning of the lens becomes a means for catching the double movement of sight. In a number of films, I have balanced this lens movement or a camera movement with the movement of a figure or object coming into the frame.
TP: So, for you it is a more prominent effect. One wonders how many more such effects there may be for a filmmaker to become sensitive to in exploring every possible means by which the act of filmmaking can bring about...
RB: The "act"of filmmaking? Yes, but this act is not just what is carefully composed in front of the lens. There are different points which can become articulate, and the way that I use the lenses is one of these. In other words, I do not look upon the camera as simply a recording device. There is a living quality that can be reached in the elements of filmmaking, and this quality can carry the filmmaker forward beyond his intitial intentions. A work cannot live if it only realizes intention, as fine as that intention may be.
TP: Ruskin was made in the mid 1970s when certain works of several New American Filmmakers who were similarly preoccupied with the elements of film were labeled "structural." Ruskin, however, seems so alive and personal and so connected to a place and its history that any such label seems irrelevant. While watching it, I wanted to know more about the decisions behind it. For example, what led to your adding the coda?
RB: The original soundtrack had an English voice reading fragments
from The Stones of Venice, and even though these were key fragments
that I wanted the spectator to be aware of, I wasn't satisfied. I thought
they made less of the film.
TP: Did they make the experience too literally an illustration of Ruskin's ideas?
RB: Perhaps. But though I decided to remove the spoken text, I still wanted Ruskin's voice to be in the film, and the only way that I could do it was to go to the pages--the way that they move, the way that certain words stand out, and the way that they stopped moving always at certain points--and in the editing this gains the meaning of "seeing into reading"; it is both more direct and retains a clearer distance. At the same time, it made it possible for me to go back and use natural sound from the filming locations for the greater part of the film. I remember that it took me a while to act upon this decision.
TP: The interesting thing is the way you did it, making it prominent both visually and audially--the close-up of the pages and the sounds of their flipping by. Were your choices of how to do this section dictated by preceding portions of the film?
RB: By the masks. Very much so. The triangular shapes, and so forth. From the Notebook of... provides a balance to Ruskin in this sense of the pages and the turning of the masks. It also deals with the binocular fold. And there is, of course, a source in my own development for why this interests me, just as there are for other choices which I have not mentioned. It can be easier to speak about means rather than other points of temperament. My reason for making a film in a particular way is important to me but not necessarily for someone else.
TP: I concur with that although I've often felt that biographical or autobiographical sources in the case of filmmakers like you--as opposed to commercial narrative filmmakers--might have more direct bearing on the work.
RB: I am not sure that it wouldn't be true of the other film directors or filmmakers.
TP: I think the connections in the other case are too easily come by and often too neatly exploited. Hitchcock, for example, often spoke of his mother questioning him every night and of his spending hours in jail, and these stories have fed so many interpretations of mothers and authority figures in his films, which, I think, reduces the work indefensibly. Whereas when Brakhage says that he had a nightmare about killing his mother before making Murder Psalm, it could be more revealing.
RB: Yet, I still doubt that the latter is more personal, since both are statements made to the public. There is a rhetoric of the personal also.
TP: I guess we can turn to Sotiros now. What does the word mean?
RB: Well, it can be a person's name, but it also means healer or savior, and there is a temple at Bassae dedicated to Apollo Epikouros or Sotiros.
TP: So, it identifies one designation of Apollo.
RB: Yes, redeemer, healer. Because Apollo had this function as well as others. The landscape at the beginning of the film is near this temple, between Andritsena and Bassae on the Peloponnese, not very far from where we eventually had the Temenos screenings.
The film has an unusual form. I used titles: "He said," and "he said."--white letters on a black background. The first was placed to the left and the other one to the right. These titles come before or after certain sequences of images and are used in conjunction with them. It is a way to create a voice within the editing--the voice being created by the title and silent image rather than by sound. Aside from these phrases of silent images, there is a sound ambience for the rest of the film.
TP: But no actual person speaks these words. The "voice" is the image on the screen and the words reinforce that fact before and after the images.
RB: You could say it that way. I began with the film, Sotiros Responds and this is the one which has the titles. After I completed it in 1978, I had an accident in Greece. We were hit by a bus; it was quite serious. I had a fractured hip and one eye was set back and down two centimeters; I had an operation on the hip and was in the hospital for quite some time in Athens. When I was able to leave, Gregory arranged for transportation by taxi first to Ioannina and then to Austria. We were finally in a monastery outside Graz. This became a source, in various ways, for the second film, Sotiros (Alone).
TP: Had you already conceived of a second film on Sotiros before the accident, or did the accident prompt it? And why did you go to Austria?
RB: Your first question is not easy to answer. I don't believe that I already had notes for a film, but I am not sure. I think that the entire experience formed my intention in an uncanny way. While I was still in Switzerland, completing the editing of Sotiros Responds, I heard on the radio an extraordinary fragment from Alban Berg's Wozzeck, conducted by the great conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos at La Scala. This was nearly impossible to find because it was only a fragment on tape. I sent a letter to the Archivio del Stato in Rome, which had a copy of the tape, and we stopped in Rome on our way to Greece so that I could listen to it. When I came out of the session, I saw a dead bird before me and felt that it was a bad omen. Then we went to Greece and almost immediately afterwards, on Pentecost, we had this accident. Later, in Graz, I had time to read Berg's libretto--which he had written outside of Graz--and his two essays. This entered into my thoughts for Sotiros (Alone). I finally used three or four phrases from Wozzeck in the soundtrack and the choice of certain filming locations has an indirect relation to the opera. Much later, after I had fully recovered, I returned to Greece and made the very short film, Sotiros in the Elements.
TP: How short compared to the others?
RB: Sotiros Responds was about thirty minutes, Sotiros (Alone) about half that length and Sotiros in the Elements half of that, about seven or eight minutes. There are copies in the Oesterreichisches Filmmuseum and two other institutions. At least eleven of my films are in Vienna. But I was never satisfied with the third film, and so I fused it with Sotiros Responds when I re-edited this work in the late 1980s.
TP: What was the content or material of Sotiros in the Elements, and how did you fuse it with Sotiros Responds?
RB: For the third film, I had returned to Athens and used some of the same locations that I had selected for Sotiros Responds and also used titles of single words, shown forwards and backwards, superimposed over certain images. It was this which did not satisfy me. In both films, there is also the figure of a blind man, and other details which allowed me to incorporate the images into one film.
These films begin a sequence of nine films, which are not going to be shown chronologically. The order in which they were filmed is first Sotiros, then Amor, followed by the first version of Efpsychi, then Wingseed, followed by a film on themes from Borromini's architecture, and then a very short film on a painting of San Martino by Il Sassetta. After that comes The Stoas and my most recent work, The Ground , which is still without sound.
To return a moment to Sotiros, in addition to the locations filmed in Athens and the Peloponnese, I filmed in a hotel room, simply furnished with two beds, two seats, a desk, two sinks, and one wall taken up by four windows. What fascinated me about this room was how the sunlight entered and touched the wall at a certain point and then followed a path around all three walls. My filming followed this pattern of light in each of the three films.
TP: That is certainly directly related to Apollo.
RB: Yes, and in re-editing, I placed the camera movements in a different relation to the titles. Both the camera movements and the sound were placed to emphasize the left and right side of the space in the film and in the titles, "He said," and "he said." The camera movements are a distinct type.
TP: In what way; what kind of camera movements are you talking about?
RB: They are mirrored pans, usually placed between other images or the titles.
TP: Are they identical rhythmically?
RB: No, some are of a faster tempo; they also move in relation to the light. So, most are horizontal and a few are vertical.
TP: Is the "he" a direct reference to Apollo?
RB: The "he" is left unidentified. It is the voice of Sotiros without Sotiros being shown in the film. In one way "he" is the film. There is also one image of Gregory seated in a chair and the light is resting on his face. Then there was also another figure, filmed in Leonidion, and he moved about like a village fool. His name was actually Sotiros. Yet this figure and the blind man are only part of Sotiros.
TP: Was Markopoulos's presence in the film calculated?
RB: It just happened, and I decided to film it when I saw the light resting on him. He was actually just waiting for me to finish filming in the room. Later, for Sotiros (Alone), I filmed again in the same room and also returned to Graz; this time I showed the tripod itself, the scar on my leg, and an unusual movement of the fingertips, which seem to touch before they actually do. It has a strong psychic quality. Also, I was guided by the most distinct sounds in the room--such as that of a pen writing on paper, of hangers in a closet touching one another, of water in the sink--to develop certain actions. There is a balance between these actions and the Wozzeck content. The locations in Graz included a forest and the ruin of a smokehouse, its inside all burned; and there were these ponds and a lake. I used that wonderful drowning sound from Berg's opera. The film concentrates more on the two figures of Gregory and myself. It is not exactly a narrative, but rather a condensed nucleus of one.
TP: The sounds were used, then, more naturalistically. Was this unusual for you?
RB: Yes, perhaps. In this film, I also replaced the use of the titles with showing the tripod and my hand moving it to the right or the left, usually followed by the panning movement itself, which is always in the opposite direction of the hand on the tripod.
TP: And you mentioned the scar.
RB: Yes, the tripod is juxtaposed to the leg and the scar. I was still not walking much.
TP: Was the position of the tripod related to the position that you had to film from?
RB: To a certain extent.
TP: Is it possible that this untypical linking up of sounds and objects was also a reflection of your condition? I mean, it is interesting that while your body was in such a vulnerable state, you employed a more naturalistic film aesthetic than one based on disjunctive, segregated construction principles.
RB: What was unusual was to draw a substantial portion of the image out of the preexisting sound of Sotiros Responds.
TP: Concerning the other films that belong to the series begun by the Sotiros, will the one you're calling "San Martino" remain untitled?
RB: There is a continuity between Amor, the Borromini film, and the "San Martino." Each one uses the idea of clothing in a certain metaphorical way, and they also share the same filming location, the open-air theatre made of hedges. I have not yet shown the latter two films, because I was not satisfied with the editing of the second film, and I expect to return to it soon.
The presentationof The Stoas at the New York Film Festival on October 11th was the first public showing of that film. I had only shown it silently on two or three occasions privately and even that was not necessarily a good thing to do.
TP: Why do you say that?
RB: Well, it is in some way not fair. One of Goethe's statements confirmed my thought. He said that scientists can publish work in progress, but an artist never should.
TP: Is there going to be an overarching title for this particular sequence of films?
RB: I don't know. It may take the title Sotiros. I can't say now. I may use the overarching title, My Hand Outstretched to the Winged Distance and Sightless Measure as I had first intended. I am hesitant to have this kind of conversation because if something is printed and I am not certain about it...
TP: That can always be mended. It's not only extraordinary that you've gone back and re-edited so much of your work, but I must ask you about your editing methods, since, as you describe them in one of your writings, they sound unconventional to say the least.
RB: I usually start a film with just a few notes; the notes develop further as I am filming and continue while I edit. Once the filming is completed, or sometimes before it is completed, I project the footage and then separate the shots, noting each shot and its details. And I usually snip one or two frames from the shot and place this on a sheet of paper. While editing, I have all of the footage before me wound onto cores and I have these sheets with the film frames, and I have a set of rewinds with the reel onto which I wind the pieces of film as I choose them. When it is finished or nearly finished, I then look at it on a steenbeck table or project it. It is important to have that space between editing-- and the special quality of memory which is involved--and seeing the actual film in front of one. It is to a certain extent how Gregory edited some of his films although he was thinking in smaller units.
TP: Can you speak in more detail about how you create the soundtracks for your films?
RB: I'll begin by describing the soundtracks of the six early films made between 1967 and 1970. For Plan of Brussels, I used fragments of the text Duvelor by the Belgian poet, Michel de Ghelderode. It is performed by the Toone Marionettes and has as characters, Duvelor, the devil and his wife, a monk, and others, with one voice impersonating all of the characters. I have mentioned my interest in James Ensor, and I thought that this was an interesting sound complement spoken in Brussels dialect. So I cut it to the film and added an electronic tone. I did not have access to very much equipment at that time. When I re-edited this film, I retained the text but cut and placed it differently.
For The Count of Days, I had recorded that text of the writer, but condensed it substantially in the re-editing. The next film, Palinode, was also made clearer by condensing its form. The main figure in the film is a singer, and I used sometimes just the beginning of his singing a note or sometimes a phrase and then added a fragment from the oratorio, Wagadu by Wladimir Vogel (a contemporary composer who was a student of Scriabin in Russia), based on a text from Frobenius about a famous anthropologist. That section is sung by two female voices.
This was followed by Diminished Frame, which was made when I was in West Berlin on a stipendium. For that film I superimposed simple sounds to suggest crowds: fire, droning bees, horses, and "Sieg Heil!"
TP: What was the relationship between these sounds and the images in that film?
RB: That's difficult. In black and white, I filmed the historical sites in Berlin which interested me; and then in color I filmed myself with the filters that I was using at the time, showing how I placed them between the aperture and the lens. It is another example of making an unexpected use of an element of the camera.
TP: Were you trying to suggest things about the history of Berlin with the soundtrack?
RB: Actually, I didn't know very much about the history of Berlin. On one level, the film simply grew out of the experience of living there for a few months, and when I encountered a description of crowds as being like flames, suggesting that they follow a natural law of some sort, I tried to suggest that.
TP: Although I've only seen it once, I found this film very strong and very beautiful. It recalled for me Ernie Gehr's film Germany: Signal on the Air, which is also very striking visually and aurally, but seems more directly concerned about that history, more politically-minded perhaps. What directed you to this specific sound selection--crowds, "Sieg heil!"--which unavoidablly characterize the city in a very particular way, as if it can not avoid those associations?
RB: First, I have not seen Ernie Gehr's film and cannot make a comparison and probably would not even if I had seen it. It would be very easy to draw a wrong conclusion one way or the other.
There is in Diminished Frame a balance between the sense of time
seen in the views of Berlin, in the old buildings, the streets, and so forth
(filmed in black and white as I did later the architecture in Ruskin
) and then the tense in which I filmed myself in color and is shown in
the present (how the color was being created). It is the space of the city
and of the filmmaker. On my own, I discovered the points which I wanted
to film in Berlin; for example the side of the building which had been made
bare by tearing down the next building and how the imprint had somehow left
an enormous Maltese-like cross there. I was trying to create a space in which
something could be revealed in the process of the filming and I pursued
an intuitive pattern as I chose the locations and the moments of filming.
In other words, there was improvisation within chosen limits. The result
contemplates the stillness of Aftermath and a few moments of ordinary existence
like the bicyclists or the young mother taking the groceries out of her car.
Of course, there were other conscious choices; no one films the Reichstag
or the SS headquarters without knowing that they are doing it. Perhaps the
result was to suggest this gamut, and it is certainly not to be found solely
in one place or
TP: Which film comes next?
RB: Still Light is the last in this sequence. It was filmed in two parts--the first half on the island of Hydra; it has a simple outdoor ambience which is slightly modified in size by adding and taking away echo. The second half was filmed in the apartment of the critic Nigel Gosling. I recorded a kind of cocktail of improvised statements that he made while seeing the first half of the film projected. The filming was directed towards the corners of the room and we see segments of the projection in one of the corners as he speaks and moves around. I kept some of these statements in the re-editing and placed them differently.
TP: What you did obviously affected the continuity of his statements.
RB: I had already done that in the first version! But I was a bit kinder in the second.
TP: Interesting to film an art critic commenting on your own film. What does his commentary mean to you?
RB: Gosling was a wonderful person, but his comments did not mean very much to me in themselves, and I used them in a way that I believe made this clear.
Following these six early films is the sequence of four films made in Italy and Switzerland, and I am still working on the new sound for two of these. There was more recording of sound at the filming locations in most of my later films. I have already described this in the comments on Ruskin, where I also place the sound in some cases nearer to its visible source: for instance, in the coda, when I have my hand on Ruskin's book and raise it up in a vertical position and down on the table, making a thumping sound. There is also a wonderful, clear organ sound throughout Ruskin--a single, held note, placed in relation to views of the book; each time the organ sound is heard, it increases in volume so that it takes on a different meaning. And, of course, the film ends with the sound of the book's pages fluttering.
You have had the opportunity to see a number of my later films such as Amor. There is the superimposition of layers of sound, and I used the palm of the hand to create the acoustic. I should ask you, at the NewYork Film Festival screening of The Stoas, did you have the impression that it was in stereo?
TP: I didn't, but I thought someone asked you that afterwards?
RB: It should have been in stereo with surround sound. I think it was projected in mono because the first two films were mono.
TP: Is that the only time you've used stereo?
RB: Yes, it is, and I wanted it for the sound of the wooden instrument being struck, as it is heard when one is at the location, by the river.
TP: That's interesting because you can't really tell where it is coming from, it reverberates.
RB: When I recorded it , I switched directions at certain moments, and I didn't hear this at the screening.
TP: You were trying to reflect the situation the way it would be experienced at the site.
RB: I could suggest it only to a limited degree. There was also an elaborate variation of the sounds of water from the river; that editing of the sound alone took two months.
TP: It did seem that the water sounded different every time we saw it.
RB: But not so much that you knew what it was?
TP: Just enough to make the sound as distinct as the image each time.
RB: And with Wingseed, there is the sound that the shepherds make while directing the sheep, giving signals to the flock. I re-edited them in relation to the movements of the various plants and camera movements, extending it through the whole film, interspersed with these bells. I mentioned in my little note on the film that the bells are moving and the camera movements are also moving in the same direction.
TP: For various reasons, including your living abroad and your and Markopoulos's disenchantment with distribution and exhibition practices here, your films--with few exceptions--are virtually unknown to American spectators, even devotees of the avant-garde? Can you speak about why you'|ve chosen this time to make your films more available?
RB: There is more than one reason. I believe that it is important to make the effort so that this work can be seen in America. I have waited until the films are in the form in which I want them to be seen, and I am now ready. That there was such a long period, when no films were shown in the States was due first to the need to concentrate on the filmmaking and sometimes simply to insure our continuation. Arranging screening dates or a tour and the shipping details all consumes time and there is always a question of whether it is worthwhile. On the other hand, there are young people interested in film. I have seen the beginnings of a different audience in the past two or three years--more attentive to the work.
TP: Do you see that here in New York as well?
RB: It's difficult to judge. I believe that I do, but I function here with a big gap like Rip Van Winkle. I did not show films in the States between 1974 and 1996. In other words, nothing after the screenings of Still Light and Work Done at MoMA or From the Notebook of... (of which they have a copy).
TP: Are the changes you detect, then, mostly in Europe?
RB: Well, I have had some opportunity to be acquainted with audiences
in Frankfurt, Vienna, and Paris. There are two different contexts: one is
the cinematheques and universities, and the other is the museums and galleries.
In the galleries and museums, it is curious to see how young artists who
make film installations are promoted to a certain extent. This has been done
before in past decades, but it will be interesting to see if it develops
further or is simply a fad, which can be commercially promoted. So far, the
results do not interest me, but I sense that the public is generally open
and eager to see good work. Frankly, as limited as the film world is by commerce,
it is in a less confused state than the other visual arts. After seeing one
of those mammoth exhibitions of emerging artists, I will go with pleasure
to see almost any film at a cinematheque
or in the movies. But this shouldn't obscure the better developments that I mentioned. For example, didn't you think the public at the Film Festival was attentive?
TP: Yes, I did, absolutely. But much of that audience was made up of people who have always been passionate about the kind of films that you and Gregory have made. So many filmmakers are more interested in topical and politically correct issues; to even refer to a film's aesthetic dimension today is suspect; you have to defend it.
RB: Well, I know that from the response which Amor received in 1996. As a visitor, and this is not very diplomatic, I would say that this is more typical in New York. It is not new to see that the same persons who fanatically defend minorities are in real terms infected by a snobbery which produces exactly the result that they are deploring.
TP: To talk about what's going on in the avant-garde today is to talk about many things, but in many circles it is not to talk about aesthetic issues. People immediately equate that with a film's being regressive, irrelevant. In this climate, your films seem completely against the grain, maybe in ways that you didn't expect.
RB: Not that I don't expect it, more that I don't take it into consideration.
TP: And you should not have to take it into consideration.
RB: I have made films from the age of seventeen until now, and I hope to continue. It is interesting how a filmmaker manages to continue or decides he must pause. Both have a value.
TP: You said before that this was an interesting moment. If you mean that the time is right, right for what, exactly?
RB: Everything cannot be steamrolled down--neither an entire population nor an entire audience can be reduced to the lowest level. There is always a spiritual force which renews itself in cycles, but the individual filmmaker's life has a certain trajectory and he or she hopes that certain helpful occasions may allow the work to develop. It is not possible to predict what form these occasions will take. It is important to continue to work and it is wonderful when this can be nourished by response; every filmmaker wants to be accepted, yet certain gifts come simply from putting the work first. That is basic.
TP: You made a statement about that in one of your short writings. Do you recall?
RB: No, what was it?
TP: "There is no fear of isolation while the filmmaking continues; its development is response enough."
RB: Yes. And, of course, underlying that is the filmmaker's private life and the question of what sustains him. The big question of love is important.
TP: Let's talk about the Temenos's projects. First, what Temenos is, what are its origins, and how was it generated. Then, what it meant to Markopoulos and what it means to you, especially in light of your present efforts.
RB: The ancient Greek word Temenos means "a piece of land set apart" and it has the additional connotation of "sacred grove." It designates both the film archive and the creation of a future projection space in harmony with the films, that means an appropriate context and as far as possible a permanent standard for projection. Because when Markopoulos decided in the early 1970s to remove his films from distribution and to concentrate solely on creating new works, it was as much a result of discontent with the existing showcases as it was to realize an ideal context for the future spectators of his films.
The key element remains the unity of the work, especially in the case of a filmmaker like Markopoulos whose productivity spanned nearly five decades and culminated in the final monumental film cycles. The scale and the form of these final films were conceived for the Temenos.
During the 1980s the film presentations, which we organized in the Peloponnese, were a symbolic effort in this direction. There, outside the village of Lyssaraia, the villagers from the surrounding region of Gortynia, the visitors from Athens and others from abroad gathered during the first weekend of each September and this continued as an annual event until 1987, when we had to interrupt it to concentrate on the archive and film preservation.
TP: When would you say this desire and the conception for Temenos originated?
RB: I cannot say exactly when the idea originated, but throughout the1970s it had already become a central concern in Markopoulos' writings. It was also a result of many negative experiences with existing forms of distribution. But the ideal of the Temenos would have been necessary even without these problems.
TP: These bad experiences were in both the U.S. and Europe?
RB: Yes. You could say that it was a result of both the early experiences in the States and then in Europe. On the other hand, as the idea of the Temenos became clearer, it gave him the strength to develop his filmmaking to the furthest reach. It also helped us not to be distracted by the lack of understanding in the audience of that time.
TP: What do you mean?
RB: We didn't worry about whether the films were going to be ignored or paid attention to and that gave us the necessary freedom. But I should add that it was only after the first screenings in Lyssaraia that I was convinced that it was a worthwhile and desireable strategy. It was probably the most important projection that I ever had.
TP: You mean the first presentation in 1980?
TP: Which film of yours did you show?
RB: We showed my Sotiros films and then Twice A Man .
TP: So it was a validating experience.
RB: Validation through what we had managed to accomplish under difficult circumstances. That is the difference.
TP: And obviously it inspired you to continue.
RB: Yes, it was a physical confirmation. The site had called for the event.
TP: What was the first screening like in terms of the audience and
RB: It was unusual. We had at least five Orthodox priests and their families, the people from most of the villages of Gortynia (from Dimitsana, Langadea) and sprinkled in were other persons who had a vital interest in film and more specifically in our work. For the most part they had to be enthusiasts, if they did not come from the surrounding villages, because the only existing road was one that could make you fear for your life, or at least for the life of your car. It was so rocky and unsafe. Now, however, there is a decent road.
TP: Did you have anything to do with that?
RB: Perhaps, indirectly, because this fellow from the area, who had moved to Athens, created the plans and presented them to the Ministry, and in this presentation there was a long description of Temenos. I think there is a copy of this document in Markopoulos' papers. With the new tunnel, which was more recently built between Corinth and Tripolis, the journey from Athens now takes only three hours as opposed to seven. It goes without saying that the journey became part of how the event was perceived. For some, it was a film event that they continued to remember years later.
TP: A real pilgrimage.
RB: The strength of the event came in great part from the extraordinary setting. We chose a site surrounded by terraced fields, suspended in a sparkling atmosphere with a view that reaches to Olympia and the Ionian coast. It is an area with nearly no touristic development. This setting possessed a quality which allowed the spectator to approach each film with vivid anticipation; both the film and the viewer were breathing in these simple surroundings an unencumbered sense of projection.
TP: Did you speak at all before the screenings, introduce them in any way?
RB: Yes, there was a welcome, but little more than that was said because we had printed a presentation text in English and Greek. It was not intended to be didactic. Anyone who attended saw how we had created this simple event and had the chance to understand its true meaning. They learned from that.
In addition to the other private benefactors who helped us to make these screenings possible, there was a friend, Constantine Antonopoulos, who owned a wine company and gave all of the wines that we needed. Every year there was at least a small buffet and the wines from Patras. The spectators simply had to invest in the journey, and in return they were given the film projections, a bit of food, and the serene atmosphere.
TP: People were not just coming to see movies, then. They were participating in an event with many aspects. The fact that they had to make the journey which required great effort, and they knew what kind of planning went into the entire event--is that what you mean when you say they understood its true menaing? That the site, the journey, the effort, the projection were all part of the teaching, the whole experience?
RB: Yes, all of this in relation to the content and form of the films.
TP: In the light of that, does this mean that there could never be another site that would be in harmony with the work?
TP: It could be achieved elsewhere, given the right conditions?
RB: Given the right spirit, yes. But it would take an equal constellation of factors.
TP: Did you or Markopoulos ever talk of that possibility? Would this be a considered factor in the efforts to secure an endowment?
RB: It's possible. It was not intended as a mausoleum. The question is more one of proportions and the manner in which the event is realized--without distracting appendages or those mechanisms of marketing which end by engulfing everything.
TP: Do you feel especially burdened since Gregory's death in having the responsibility for this all on yourself? Perhaps burdened is not the right word since I know you feel very passionate about it.
RB: I have seen the first signs during my last two visits in the
States of a new support for the Temenos idea. Recently, someone was speaking
with me about vineyards and explaining how "cost intensive" they were because
they cannot be harvested for the first seven years. The Temenos is growing
the same way, and it can reach its full realization only if it is supported
both here and in Europe. The reality is that the idea grew out of the continuous
growth in the filmmaking first, then out of the need to preserve this work
and to present it properly. In the first years and even now, this has been
possible only through the generosity of friends and patrons, who matched
our commitment and helped in whatever way they could. This also included
persons who were never able to attend the film presentations in Lyssaraia.
Now it is necessary for
others to see that the Temenos is a valuable opportunity to protect and extend a certain conception of Film.
In real terms, Markopoulos has left a magnificent body of films in the Temenos archive, over one hundred films in the Eniaios cycles alone, and we have basically three inter-related tasks: (1) to print the preservation negatives of these films, which cannot be seen until the negatives and the projection copies are made. The running time is approximately 80 hours; (2) to create the permanent projection space; and (3) to establish the means of its continuation.
One of the wonderful things about Markopoulos' films is that he made them all with extemely limited means. This is the proof of their great subjective worth, and the viewing conditons must equal this richness and precision.
TP: Perhaps the Temenos project is a symbol to counter many forces and currents that have been occurring in the avant-garde film world for the last twenty years.
RB: Once it is completed, people will see that it is not a question of scale but of careful decisions and the proper technical means to sustain a standard. Then we may see the work as it has been intended by the filmmakers. In any art that is a rare occasion.
TP: Let's return for a moment to the situation of those first screenings. How long did screenings usually last?
RB: We did not make long programs. It was not the intention to show everything at once. We drew on the films which were available--in Markopoulos' case this meant showing only the films that had been printed before 1972. A total of about thirty-two films were shown over the years.
TP: That's not a lot, really.
RB: Some were repeated.
TP: Was there discussion afterwards?
RB: The spectators reached the site usually walking down the footpaths (the monopati) from Lyssaraia and the projection began immediately with the sunset. They were provided with flashlights or torches for the fifteen-minute walk back to the village, and they would stop there at one of the kafenions or grocery shops to discuss the films or drive to one of the other villages. There were also discussions during the next day in anticipation of the next evening. There are also several points of interest in the region--not only the temple at Bassae, but the monasteries near Dimitsana and Stemnitsa.
TP: Was the language ever a problem? I assume they were shown in English?
RB: Yes, in English. But I don't think that any film caused a language
problem. There was an Aesculepian quality to Markopoulos' concept of the
Temenos. In some of his writings he compared how the spectator should see
the film image in the Temenos to ancient medicine and how a visitor to the
Aesculepion (the ancient therapeutic sites) would be induced to have dreams
and in experiencing these dreams, he or she was relieved of the weight of
illness. In film, of course, it was not a question of illness but of the
weight of the emotions and passions. The projected film image reaches deeply.
It can remain with the spectator and awaken thoughts long after the actual
screening. Like all powerful images, it can literally change how we see.
Or how we see and hear. That should answer your question about language in
the films, especially
in these films.
TP: What was the size of the screen?
RB: There was a wooden frame set up which was ten or eleven feet by seven, as I recall. It was held together by wooden slots; there were no nails, and the screen was suspended from this.
TP: In subsequent presentations did the audience increase?
RB: It varied. Some of the priests didn't return; other times there were more foreigners and sometimes fewer.
TP: Did the priests have any reactions to the subject matter or imagery of the films?
RB: They were extremely polite. At the time that we were preparing the first screenings, we were told in Athens, "You are crazy! What are you doing, taking your films to the villagers; they are liable to murder you." But there were certainly people there who had never seen anything like our films and to whom it was an important experience. In fact, there were even some older spectators from the villages who may have never seen a film projection. So I would say that we succeeded.
Before organizing the first event, Gregory had been invited to show The Illiac Passion at the National Gallery of Athens, but they cancelled the screening when they realized that the film contained substantial nudity. It was after that and other experiences that we reached Lyssaraia. In Athens you can encounter extreme hypocrisy in certain circles. As one of our friends said, "What do they mean, the Greeks aren't ready for nudity?"
TP: In my experience teaching film, it's often less the nudity than the context of the nudity that makes people uncomfortable; the form of a film like The Illiac Passion presents nudity in a way that might elicit a very different reaction from the one elicited when nudity is naturalistically integrated in a conventional narrative, where it seems "justified" by the requirements and situations in the story.
RB: It has to do more with the emotion. Now that there are, of course, few restrictions, there is at the same time a curious prudery. When I showed Markopoulos' trilogy--Psyche, Lysis, and Charmides --at Berkeley, it was interesting to see the students' reactions. Some were offended--or, more correctly, threatened and afraid, while others, perhaps a smaller number, were enthusiastic. In both cases, the response was immediate and strong, and I was particularly interested to see their reaction to this film, since it had been made in the late 1940s when the filmmaker was the same age as these young people.
TP: I think you're right. When a film presents emotion or nudity or sexuality in such a personal, direct way, those elements are more insistent and difficult to deal with. Conventional narratives, even the most emotionally-involving ones, ironically also provide more distance, so that it is much easier to fantasize without feeling threatened.
RB: Perhaps it is the directness of the image. What we wanted in the Temenos screenings was to give the audience the richness of the image in the natural setting and without false explanations.
TP: And you naturally encountered mixed reactions to this?
RB: Yes, because there were different generations; grandparents, old shepherds, young people, even children. Some came only once and others attended every year.
TP: And each year you had to work equally hard to raise the money.
RB: There were economic developments in Greece--or a lack of them--and there was the political terrain. Neither was particularly helpful. On the other hand, the Greeks are a responsive people and a sizeable number of individuals did respond to our needs. That meant everything from providing an electrical generator to printing the annual presentation texts and arranging hospitality. The needed sums were quite small, but we still had to seek anew each year.
TP: Considering the extent of this effort and dedication, is it correct to assume that you shared the same passion and commitment to the project with Gregory, or would you say that your present endeavors to secure its continuance are partly through loyalty to him?
RB: Ah, is it the same?... It cannot be the same. It has to be different.
TP: Different from Markopoulos' or different from some of your other responsiblities?
RB: More the first than the second. When I spoke about the unity of the work and the appropriate space for the films, our commitment is very close to the same, and there is, in addition, a continuity in the way that we lived with filmmaking at the center.
TP: These are the bases of your shared dedication to the project.
RB: Yes, and it is that which should sustain it. Plus the hope that other individuals will join in realizing the next major tasks.
TP: Is it fair to say that, in addition to these shared reasons,
you also feel a certain obligation to continue and realize the goals that
Markopoulos wanted, and that you also see those other reasons we spoke of
earlier, having to do with the general need for a reaffirming of those values
that privilege the image and appropriate projection space?
RB: Yes, there is, as I said, an underlying unity there. It is based on the courage to continue the filmmaking. And the effort made for the Temenos, both its archive and film presentations, does not work against this. On the contrary, it is a source of clarity and continuity.
When I spoke with those young people the other day after the screening at MoMA, I stressed preservation and the ideal of the film presentations, and the more experience they have with the substance of film, the more chance there is that they will not be sidetracked and may actually join this cause.
TP: When you approach people who might be possible supporters of the project, especially those who may not have a special passion for the cinema, at least in the sense we're speaking of, how do you present the idea? What do you offer them?
RB: In the past two years, I have been creating preparatory events
for Temenos in the context of host institutions in the States--for example,
the Foundation for Hellenic Culture here in New York, which was kind enough
to help me create the first exhibition dedicated to Temenos. On a different
level, the various museums and archives, which have presented the Markopoulos
film series or retrospectives have also helped to create a new awareness
of the films, and there are the recent publications by these institutions
or by Temenos. My own time is balanced between these gestures towards a new
audience and the continuation of the filmmaking. Then the renovation of a
space for the archive is being done in Zurich, and this development should
allow persons to study the materials within the context of the ongoing work.
So, when you ask me
how I present the idea and what I offer prospective supporters, there is a range of responses to give.
Then, building upon the recent exhibitions and screenings in the States, there will be an association, The Public for Temenos, which will keep its membership informed of the archive's progress and of occasions to see the work. I am pleased that a number of persons who have attended the most recent private events have shown an interest, and the momentum is building. If possible, we will print the first of Markopoulos' film cycles in the next six months. I say "if possible" because there is still much that has to be done. At least, we have the not-for-profit corporation, Temenos, Inc., and are putting in place the other necessary elements.
TP: As you say, the most important first step is to get those 100 films of Markopoulos' printed, right?
RB: Yes. What was shown at Lincoln Center was not even a complete cycle. It was the re-edited form of Twice a Man; and all of his new films and the re-edited earlier work is spliced and ready for printing as the funding develops. It is still a substanital task and will cost about $35,000 per cycle .
TP: Supposing you can get two cycles printed in the next year, do you already have a site in mind where this event can take place?
RB: Even while preparing the funding and the laboratory work, it is necessary also to prepare the public in advance, so they will have a chance to understand the distinct qualities in the later development of Markopoulos' filmmaking. Then there is the intention to organize the next Temenos event at the same site in Greece and arrange for more participation from the States.