Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lumière & Co. - Theodoros Angelopoulos

Feb 2nd, 2015
Wei Lee

Inviting forty-one international filmmakers to create a short film using the same equipment used by the Lumière brothers is a wonderful idea to celebrate the first centenary of cinema. It is interesting to see how these great directors work within the limitations imposed by the film’s producers, although some of them like David Lynch seemingly broke the rule on purpose. As technology advances, obviously the way how people make and view films dramatically changes. I was reminded of the iPhone commercial parody in 2008 where David Lynch gives his opinion on the immersive movie experience that phones provide. Nevertheless, comparing to the great majority of filmmaking are digitized today, I found these pieces made by the original Lumière Brothers' hand-cranked cameras are more meaningful and entertaining than digital cinema.

The film that interests me is the piece made by the Greek film director Theodoros Angelopoulos, who films a scene from Homer's Odyssey and plays Ulysses himself. Showing a title card in the beginning, Ulysses ponders: "I am lost! In which foreign place have I landed? (Je suis perdu! Dans quelle terre entrangère suis-je encore arrivé?)". Intertitles were a mainstay of most early films. The first time when I watched this segment, I felt it was very natural that Angelopoulos applied this tradition. Nonetheless, later I thought about it more I figured the reason why Angelopoulos adopted title in this piece might have multiple meanings. Angelopoulos not only applies the tradition of silent film and theater, but also uses titles to distinguishes an act of a film, as titles are mostly used to supply an epigraph in modern days.

In addition, this segment reminded me of Angelopoulos' Ulysses' Gaze, which was also made in 1995. I believe the piece from Lumière and Company works as a continuity of Ulysses' Gaze. Without a doubt, Angelopoulos made a fundamental connection between the ancient epic poem and the cinema by actually putting in on film. Moreover, like other filmmakers in Lumière and Company that had people staring into the camera, Angelopoulos also had Ulysses notice the the existence of camera, which hacks back to 100 years ago when people were not familiar with movie cameras. Angelopoulos chose a particular moment in the Odyssey, that of Ulysses' awakening on the shore of Ithaca after his return. Ulysses wakes up on a beach, looking around without realizing where he is, and then walks toward the camera. This time, Ulysses has landed in the foreign land of cinema.
The way how Angelopoulos filmed this piece is also similar to the theater. There is only one take without any camera movements or special angle. Some people argues that Greek myth that doesn't really work on such a limited canvas, but I contend that making a longer piece to interpret a metaphor is completely unnecessary.

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