Here it is, The Glass Man.
A man works for a mysterious company in an attempt to undo the fatal curse that has turned his leg into glass and terminally crippled his daughter. The company is said to be able to grant wishes to their employees, but he begins to doubt their power.
Title card from my film
My film, The Glass Man, is finally complete. It is an hour and twelve minutes long, so uploading this to YouTube or anywhere else will be a bit of a hassle, but it’s coming soon.
The Traveling Players (1975), directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Of all the influential, internationally acclaimed directors, Angelopoulos seems to be among the least well-known—at least in America, as far as I can tell. It is a shame when great art is ignored, but I can certainly see why his films have not interested many movie-goers. The Traveling Players has become one of my all time favorite films, but not without struggling with it first.
The film deals with a group of traveling actors attempting to perform the classic Greek drama, Golfo the Shepherdess during the Axis occupation of Greece during World War II, but it is always interrupted by some dramatic interference from the war. But there is much more going on here than a war-story—from what can be gathered from its dense narrative, parallels are drawn between the 20th-century characters and the Orestes myth of ancient Greece, creating a vast tapestry of a story juxtaposing ancient history and modern history, fact and fiction. The intensely historical nature of this film will certainly alienate those who are not familiar with ancient and modern Greek history, and to make matters more complicated, the film presents itself as a series of ambiguous yet clearly related scenes where no explanation as to who’s who or what’s happening or why is given. The surreal atmosphere is so thick it feels like a dream printed on celluloid—each shot runs for several minutes straight (only 80 shots in a 4 hour film, some shots up to ten minutes long), beautifully swooping and gliding around the action by a very controlled hand; flashbacks right in the middle of a shot without cutting, and a glacial pace that hypnotizes you into a trance much like the feeling you might get from watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Werckmeister Harmonies.
The first time I saw this movie, I did not like it, and felt that it just wasn’t good storytelling to keep such a huge epic completely inaccessible. But upon a second viewing, I was so captivated by it that I sat though the entire four hours without pausing once, and walked out of my darkened room disoriented and moved, without knowing entirely why. The film haunted me for weeks, I couldn’t get out of my head. From this second viewing I think I have figured out what was going on and why the director chose to shoot it (and most of his other films) in such a strange and mysterious style. (Imagine reading Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow, but on film.) The film is not about its characters on a personal level, but more about the tides of history and how such gigantic historical forces beyond anyone’s control affects lives and nations. This isn’t an intimate film about the lives and emotions of a few characters, it’s about all of Greece over its thousands of years of existence, perhaps about all of the human race. I think any artist can write about their own experiences and feelings, but I think it takes a great mind to successfully make a work of art that deals with things larger than themselves.
The distance the director has with the characters was off-putting at first—I couldn’t get inside the movie, it seemed cold and alienating. But from a re-watch, I was just as much affected on an emotional level as a mental one—without knowing anyone’s name or anything about them, people noticeably change, they are charged with emotion, they experience happiness, sorrow, loss, and all of that gets through to the viewer. At least to me. What I took away from all this is that it isn’t just about the characters you seen onscreen, but about the struggles and lives of everyone in general, the emotions themselves that go beyond the characters that express them. Certainly my perception of what makes a story, and what makes a character, was expanded after watching this.
Some time ago, I read that in classic Greek drama, the audience usually already knew about the stories and characters through the myths of their culture, and so plays usually did not have much exposition. Perhaps Angelopoulos followed in this tradition and trusted his Greek audience to already be familiar with the Greek history and myth that is depicted onscreen. I also read that The Traveling Players was filmed during a time of political unrest, and he had to make the script ambiguous to hide his work from the authorities. (He passed the film off as simply being a modern retelling of the Orestes myth, but of course it is about more than just that.) And yet this ambiguous, dreamlike style persisted in his films well after, which makes me think that this was really his vision to begin with. At any rate, it works brilliantly, and it was very bold of him to risk making such a political movie during troublesome political times. That said, despite all the history, it isn’t necessary to know the history in order to watch it. It certainly seemed that way at first, and it is difficult to grasp, but there is another way in, as long as you pay attention.
This film is unforgiving, and takes no prisoners. It is no wonder Theo Angelopoulos is an unknown name to Americans, and that is such a shame. It only happens every now and again when I see a film that moves me in a way I never knew a film could, staying inside of my head well after the credits have rolled. For those who have never heard of his movies, I suggest you dive into his filmography and experience what cinema is all about.
(I think that a more comfortable introduction to his movies is Eternity and a Day, which is also a masterpiece, and much more accessible. I will get around to writing a review of that one soon.)
“I love his music, and I love the fact that he is such a brave, talented man … He’s completely out of step with the zeitgeist and yet he’s enormously popular, which is so inspiring. His music fulfills a deep human need that has nothing to do with fashion.” —Steve Reich
One of my favorites. This is so sad.
“For the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, the very circumstances of Angelopoulos’s death — a traffic accident that’s taken him even as he was working on what might have been his last film — “has an enormous irony and poignancy: so much of his work is about the unfinished story, the unfinished journey, the unfinished life, and the realisation that to be unfinished is itself part of the human mystery and an essential human birthright and burden. This was part of what he conveyed to audiences, in a cinematic style that was poetry and epic poetry, steeped in the tumult of Greek history from the time of the second world war, and yet his movies were anything but frenzied or dramatic. They addressed not history’s surface action but its spiritual causes and effects; he created long, dreamlike takes in long, dreamlike films, visual compositions of great beauty and delicacy, and a tempo that was largo, rising occasionally to adagio.”