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Ithaka on the Horizon by Stavro Nashi

Ithaka on the Horizon

by Stavro Nashi

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25 September 2006

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Hermes

Stavros, I do not share your love of this film. Actually I disliked it very much, and many of the people that I know watched it, felt the same. Maybe its because over here there was a flourishing Greek satirical comedy scene since the mid 1980's (where even a major television channel produced a Greek Australian sitcom, Acropolis Now, for several years and it rated very highly) and people had become jaded with this sort of satire. Gradually, this type of satire had become self fulfilling where Greeks would act like the characters in these satires because they thought that was the way they should behave. They had become caricatures of the caricatures if you know what I mean. Interestingly, other ethnic groups have now followed like the Vietnamese and Lebanese. In Australia, there are several Greek directors that have moved beyond cheap satire and are now making richer films. You may not like some of them such as the notorious Head On (written by the equally outrageous Christos Tsiolkas) where a young Greek man goes on a drug and sex binge in the tough inner suburbs of Melbourne (this film was a raging critical and commercial success in Greece), but they are showing a more realistic portrayal of the Hellenic experience. These links have a short summary of the scene over here. It is actually very interesting reading. http://www.innersense.com.au/productions/writings/greek-australian.html and http://www.innersense.com.au/productions/writings/greek.html. Importantly, even in mainstream Australian films, Greek characters are fuller. There is also a flourishing Greek theatre scene (produced by young Hellenes) resulting in sell out of performances of carefully managed performances. Obviously, there is a thirst for good theatre amongst the Greek youth. We help to raise capital to keep it afloat and attract famous Greek Australian actors and actresses which helps to bring the xenoi through the door.

I am glad Nia Vardalos made a lot of money but lets hope that with the passage of time and with some maturity she will spend that money and other funds raised to make more worthy Greek Diasporan films rather than cheap stunts.

Also, I do not share this idea that there is an unbridgeable divide between Diasporan Greeks and Greeks or that the divide is limited to Diasporan Greeks and Greeks. There are also other divides like the divide between a Greek American and a Greek Australian but people do not seem to talk about this as the Diasporan experience binds them in some way. However, a Greek Quebecois Canadian may share the Diasporan experience with a Greek Australian but they do not share cold hard winters in Montreal or the French language.

Stavros

Hermes,

MBFGW was a comedy designed to make people laugh. If you can see through the veneer of funny caricatures you will also notice some very endearing and sentimental Greek qualities that people truly admire. The deep abiding love that Greek parents have for their children, the pride in our ethnic heritage and religion, the strong connection of family, the work ethic, the zest for and love of life. Most Americans I have talked to about the movie are actually quite envious. "I wish I had a family like that" is a common refrain. BTW, drug and sex binges on the part of young Greeks do not constitute a part of my Hellenic experience nor that of the great majority of those of us who were raised by Greek immigrant parents. I don't have a problem with a young director wanting to create a film about the subject. I do have a problem with Greeks who think it is a more "realistic" view of the immigrant experience and then go on denigrate an uplifting film about a Greek family. Are you saying that you want Greeks to be depicted as promiscuous drug addicts instead of a young person trying to maintain her Greek identity and family ties?

I detect an underlying current in your post that somehow Greek Americans (like all Americans in your worldview) are not very sohisticated or able to produce serious films. Have you forgotten the accomplishments of Greek American directors like Elia Kazan and John Cassavetes?

I admire diasporan Greeks whereever they may be; each community is different and has its own unique challenges. I don't believe gaps are unbridgeable. We just have to understand that they exist (even between diasporan communities) and not pretend that they aren't there. In fact, globalization, for all its drawbacks, is making the world smaller and can only enhance the dialogue between diasporan communities and between the Diaspora and Greeks in he Patrida.

Hermes

Stavros, I think you are getting overly paranoid and misunderstood my post. Anyway, MBFGW was an embarrasing movie.

Stavros

Hermes,

You have a knack for saying occasionally outrageous things but then seem surpised when you elicit a response. Paranoid? It's just a funny movie about Greeks. Instead of laughing some Greeks think it is "embarassing" or self-demeaning. They worry about others laughing at us when they are really laughing with us. You know much more about me than I know about you. It appears however, that our immigrant experiences are very different. Whether they reflect our respective communities is hard to tell and may need further reflection on my part.

demonax

I’ve never seen MBFGW, though I did try on two occasions.
On the first occasion, I was so paralytically drunk – an office do – that I missed the screening I’d planned to attend. I remember being in the cinema foyer, ready to buy my ticket, but then I don’t remember anything after that. Maybe I did see the film after all. I don’t know. On the second occasion, someone leant me a pirate DVD of the film that turned out to be completely blank.

I don’t know any of the Aussie films H mentions, though I did see a very good film called ‘Chopper’ recently, which had some obnoxious Greek drug dealers in it.

Personally, I find ‘ethnic’ films a bit of a drag – we’ve been inundated with them over here recently, pointless lying multicultural propaganda trash about Pakistanis or Indians growing up in some northern English hellhole, as if anyone cares.

Stavros, you mention John Cassavetes. I idolise John Cassavetes. He was an undoubted genius – I use the term ‘genius’ sparingly so I know what it implies and mean it when I refer to Cassavetes. (Cassavetes is to cinema what Theotokopoulos is to art).
Now, for me, Cassavetes’ films, without being ‘ethnic’, are very Greek – obsessed with family, freedom, love, disdainful of artifice and surface, unwaveringly determined to uncover some form of human or emotional truth. I am not surprised that as a boy Cassavetes was read Sophocles by his father (see below).
There’s a great deal more that could and should be said about Cassavetes – a post at Phylax might be in order – but my point in this context is that often the best or most interesting films made by Greeks in the diaspora don’t have to be explicitly about Greeks to be Greek; that they reflect Greek themes and display a Greek spirit is more important.

Here’s a nice summary of Cassavetes’ intensely Greek background – http://www.adherents.com/people/pc/John_Cassavetes.html. His father sounds like an interesting man too. Most of the quotations come from the book ‘Cassavetes on Cassavetes’, which is indispensable for John Cassavetes aficionados.

Hermes

I wrote paranoid because: 1) I do not advocate that Greek immigrant cinema should ONLY reflect drugs and sex, it should reflect reality, idealised 'reality' and the Directors or writers imagination, 2) I am aware of some of the sophistication of Greek American cinema and therefore do not think Americans are simpletons. And I am sure there is good cinema being produced today but I am not close enough or have enough time to know about it. Also, if I had a view Americans were unsophisticated brutes then Australians are positively animals in comparison. But I do not hold that view.

Stavros, I am not a very sentimental person. Once I have seen one Greek immigrant comedy attempting to appeal to the lowest common denominator I have seen them all and for me this movie was last in a long line of this genre. By the time I saw it was tired of the cliches and the detrimental impact it was having on the Greek community and how xenoi perceived us. Also, I have lived through the immigrant experience, both good and bad, and I do not care to keep watching it forever. I believe Greeks are capable of a lot more and I want to see them achieve this.

demonax

My link above didn't work. Here it is again.

http://www.adherents.com/people/pc/John_Cassavetes.html

Hermes

And one Greek who did achieve a lot was Cassavetes and his father. They sound like very decent human beings.

Stavros

Demo,

Thanks for the links. Cassavetes' Dad was the first Greek to graduate from Harvard. He used to do my Dad's tax return every year and I met him once when I accompanied my Dad to his office hoping to get a glimpse of his son. No such luck but his Dad shook my hand, a big deal for a ten year old, wet behind the ears, kid like me. My favorite movie with John? Dirty Dozen, of course, with Telly "Who loves ya baby" Savalas and Lee Marvin (a genuine WWII Marine hero turned actor).
PS What do you know about Johnny Otis?? He's getting a future post.

Hermes,

Believe it or not I played a small role in organizing a Greek Film Festival in Portland Maine at the University of Southern Maine. This is its 2nd year and we don't plan on ever showing MBFGW. Your assessment of the movie is rather tame compared to what others have said about it. My problem is I am sentimental; it comes with age. Part of the problem, as I see it is that modern film-makers are trying so hard to be edgy and trendy and avant garde, that the audience leaves the theater feeling like they have been hit my a 2x4.

Greeks are capable of much more. Let's at least celebrate Nia's acomplishment. BTW she narrated a documentary about Greece bankrolled by Alex Spanos which was SUPERB. It is now showing at the IMAX Theater at the Boston Museum of Science. She is also filming another movie, this time in Greece.

Scruffy

I thought it was a great movie Stavro. What many like old HERMeister and the like probably forget is that "us" Americans are so BUSY screwing over the world during the day that at night when we relax we truly want to watch some mindless comedy or "feel good" adventure movies.

Hermes, you can have your "English Patient" but I'll take Die Hard III and MBFGW any day.

Remember, as I said, Imperialism takes up too much of our energy during the day. We (Americans) just need a break!

P.S. By the way, Greeks are SO like the stereotype in the movie when it comes to fooling with foreigners (outsiders). I had a friend (female) who was told to get "PSOLEE" at the bakery instead of "PSOMEE". So go figure. Some stereotypes just fit, and there's nothing wrong with that. Greeks are good people, but lack self-effacing, self-deprecating qualities that Americans have.

And finally, remember, in the Greek language there is no word for "HUMOR" so they use the English word. This should tell you volumes...

Cheers, Scruffy

Hermes

Stavros, I agree with your first paragraph. A family member of mine is involved in organising the local Greek Film Festival and I must say I am tired of every movie being about Gypsies, drugs, masochism, sex changes and so on. That is why I enjoyed Eleftherios Venizelos so much last year because, although it was one of Vulgaris first efforts and was a little rough around the edges, it was a good drama dealing with idealism, vision, treachery and catastrophe. But it should not be a binary argument: MBFGW or avante garde. There are plenty of films that can be made in between these poles where you can leave the cinema uplifted and enlightened.

Scruffy, I've never watched the English Patient.

demonax

Stavros
I've never heard of Johnny Otis, and have resisted the temptation to google him in anticipation of your post. I'm impressed by your Cassavetes connection, very impressed. When I get to shake your hand, I'll be shaking the hand that shook the hand of Nick Cassavetes. How cool is that.

Stavros

Scruffy,

I bet you have felt like the WASPY leading man in my MBFGW more than a few times. It is not easy marrying into a Greek family but it is a personally enriching (and challenging) experience as my brother in law of 25 years found out. You have made more than your share of "sacrifices" for your Greek family and I admire you for that. Not many xeni learn the culture and language as well as you have.

Hermes,

In all seriousness I would appreciate any Greek movie recommendations you might have for our next festival which is in the planning stages now (besides Venizelos which I am trying to procure based on comments you made on MGO previously about it).

Demo,

I'll try not to wash that hand too often in anticipation of our meeting. BTW, do you have a favorite Greek radio station on the internet you like in particular. Please note the link in the upper right of the e-radio homepage linking to e-radio Cyprus.

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