P. Adams Sitney on Temenos 2022

DESPITE CONSIDERABLE OBSTACLES—meteorological, sociological, hygienic, economic—the fifth installment of Gregory Markopoulos’s Eniaios, 1947–91, was an astounding aesthetic success. Eniaios is a roughly eighty-hour opus composed of twenty-two cycles (referred to by the filmmaker as “orders”). Since 2004, the work has been revealed two or three cycles at a time, at intervals of four years, though the 2020 event was delayed by Covid until this past summer. The venue is a field in northwest Arcadia, and the event itself is known as the Temenos.

Usually, about two hundred pilgrims show up for the screenings. Everyone typically stays in the nearby village of Loutra Iraias, named for its natural mineral springs. Greece’s national health service used to cover the costs for patients who visited the springs and stayed in the surrounding guesthouses, which sustained the town. When the economic crisis forced the health service to eliminate that benefit, many guesthouses closed. The Covid epidemic strangled the struggling village.

This year there were unseasonable storms nearly every day of the ten-day event, which presented cycles XII, XIII, and XIV (and then cycles I, II, and III, which had been shown in 2004). The Temenos crew worked heroically, laying down tarps and drying the beanbag chairs so that only one of the evening screenings had to be held indoors (in an abandoned schoolhouse in the hamlet of Lyssarea). The weather was unusually chilly on many nights.

The disruptions required half of the viewers to stay in the town of Raftis, thirty minutes away. Furthermore, the Greek government no longer sponsored the buses that had once made getting to the screenings in Lyssarea much simpler. The guests paid an additional € for transportation and for the first time were invited to make a voluntary contribution of € to attend the free screenings. At least five participants came down with Covid.

Starting from Eniaios’s midpoint, cycle XII, this year’s event conveyed a powerful impression that the conclusion of Eniaios was in sight, distantly. Apparently, there would be no compromises, no concessions to the tastes or the pleasures of its audience. Many of the visitors this year were new to the event, and they were demonstrably appreciative of its wonders.


Screening of Gregory J. Markopoulos’s Eniaios, 1947–91, at the Temenos, Lyssarea, Greece, June 10–11, 2022. Photo: Linda Levinson.

Two contradictory factors make it extremely difficult to know what is happening in Eniaios. First, its slowness: Seeing the whole film would require a commitment of nearly thirty years. Then there is its editing speed: Within matrices of blackness or whiteness, split-second images flash on the outdoor screen for hours. Most of the images are visible so briefly they can hardly depict movement. Frequently, the viewer remains unsure of what was seen.

Before his death in 1992, Markopoulos edited each cycle from footage he’d already shot. In fact, much of his footage comes from his finished films. The Temenos organization, under the direction of its founder, artist Robert Beavers, has been painstakingly restoring each cycle in accordance with the late filmmaker’s vision. Eniaios mourns the past1—in images of archaic ruins, the empty homes of dead artists, a mysterious castle. The unusually long delay between the conception of the work and its serial exhibition ensured that many of its abundant portraits—short films sometimes created in-camera without later editing, usually taking people as their subjects—are of individuals who died in the intervening years. Significantly, the twenty-second cycle of Eniaios will conclude by interlacing three episodes from Eros, O Basileus, 1967, and four from The Iliac Passion, 1967. If we were to think of these two films as oppositional poles of Markopoulos’s cinema, the former (in which Beavers incarnates the titular King Eros) an optimistic vision of love and artistic creativity and the latter (in which Andy Warhol, Jack Smith, and others portray mythological figures) a pessimistic one, then the thrust of the whole mammoth project would be a celebration of the filmmaker’s salvific passion for Beavers, his partner for twenty-five years.

Cycle XII begins with a portrait of the Dutch Cobra artist Lucebert. From the first minute, I was reminded of the astounding daring of Eniaios. Markopoulos culled thousands of frames out of some twenty of his previously completed films, embedding short bursts of them in longer passages of black or clear leader. He did the same with dozens of portraits, of places as well as persons. Then, in an act of supreme self-confidence, he threw away what remained of the original works. He never lived to see a screening of a single minute of the eighty-hour film he composed by meticulously ordering the reedited elements into the twenty-two cycles.

The brevity of the flashes makes it difficult to know what one is seeing. Yet they force the viewer into a heightened attention.

The power of the twelfth cycle was immediately apparent to everyone present. The brevity of the flashes makes it very difficult to know what one is seeing. Yet they force the viewer into a heightened attention to the metrics of the images in order to resolve the intriguing hints of visible objects and the spaces they occupy. Each sequence presents a different editing strategy—different rhythms, different degrees of depth, different fragments of movement and stillness. Viewing them becomes an exercise in patience, with promised revelations both fulfilled and withheld. After the relatively straightforward portrait of Lucebert, that of the gallerist Marguerite Maeght is very slow to disclose its subject. The subsequent evocation of Colette’s apartment blends into the Maeght portrait before it.

Critic Kirk Alan Winslow wrote seven years after Markopoulos’s death and five before the 2004 premiere of cycles I through III:

Markopoulos endeavored to remain and transcend himself, attempting to balance a legion of antithetical forces: the rich hallucinatory allusiveness of Romanticism vs. the unadorned factualness and concrete immediacy of the Modern; the classical ideals of the eternal and archetypical vs. the practical discoveries of the surprising, eccentric and exceptional; the severe nurture of the natural vs. the shielding artifice of the urbane; the archaic magic of theater vs. the “futuristic” science of media.2

In two emails to me (both dated July 4, 2022) Beavers wrote:

I see the “adversative” of [Cycle XII’s] title [“They, on the other hand”]3 as expressing the artists (Lucebert against Mme. Maeght and Konstantinos Byzantios opposite Felix Baumann, the Zurich Kunsthaus director) facing the institutions or powers of the art world. . . .

I have thought for a long time that there is a window into Gregory’s temperament shown by the women that he films; and I think that this was true from the very beginning in Psyche, Lysis and Swain. . . . And the films of place are sending the same message . . . the qualities that Gregory draws out of the details in Colette’s apartment, a wonderfully humane elegance. . . . Eniaios XIII is a clear structure, expressing this. First the portrait of Jasper Johns, a perfect example of the isolated male artist followed by Rocca Sinibalda which is an elaboration of the fortress of emotions—love at its center surrounded by stone, then the portraits of Peggy Guggenheim and Pania [sic] Grady, surprising vital . . . maybe the one has comedy but it might be more a Demeter to Grady’s Persephone. Peggy Guggenheim . . . I leave you to unravel XIV: it has Jonas Mekas and Shirley Clarke, both for whom Gregory had an ambivalent relation, followed by Liddell and Papanoutsos who represent a different ambivalence . . . in relation to Cavafy, and indirectly himself as homosexual poet/filmmaker. Opposed to them is the very strong site of the mysteries of Eleusis followed by the portrait of Eutaxias, for whom Gregory had a special affection and respect . . . a powerful male homosexual who had a career in politics and functioned as a grey eminence and philanthropist. . . . The portraits are the public arena of intuitive encounters, and the reels of Swain [1950], Eros, The Illiac Passion and The Mysteries [1968] are the personal, mythic, and lyrical essence.


Gregory J. Markopoulos, Eros, O Basileus (Eros, the King), 1967, 16 mm, color, sound, 45 minutes. Eros (Robert Beavers). © Estate of Gregory J. Markopoulos.

The oppositions Winslow and Beavers identify between portraits infect individual portraits with ambivalence. Johns (whose portrait starts Cycle XIII) is a power in the art world; the footage of him depicts a remote presence. In Cycle XIII, Markopoulos manipulated his portrait of Peggy Guggenheim by flipping the film strip from left to right and sometimes upside down; he makes her hop comically around her sculpture garden in the project’s drollest episode since one featuring Gilbert & George in cycle II. Filmmaker Shirley Clarke appears after Jonas Mekas (once a friend and supporter against whom Markopoulos had turned) and aestheticians, critics, and a politician–art collector (that is, Evangelos Papanoutsos, Robert Liddell, and Lambro Eutaxis) in Cycle XIV, whose Greek title translates roughly to “It Seems Murders and Graves.” Appropriately, the ruins of Eleusis, sanctuary of the mystery cult of the afterlife, occupy the middle of this descent into Hades.

P. Adams Sitney is the author, most recently, of The Cinema of Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2014).

NOTES

1.Tony Pipolo aptly emphasized the theme of erotic loss in The Mysteries (the final element of cycle XIV) in his recent book, The Melancholy Lens (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021).

2. The complete text was originally published in the European Media Art Festival catalogue, Osnabrück, Germany, 1999.

3. Each cycle has a title in Greek alphabetically encoded in flashing frames.

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