The “Oresteia” in film

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I am thinking of three major filmic approaches to Aeschylus’ surviving trilogy:

Ferdinando Baldi’s The Forgotten Pistolero (1969, 88’), a spaghetti western set in Mexico;

Theo Angelopoulos’ The Traveling Players (1975, 222’), a Brechtian survey of Greek history between 1939-52; and

Nick Havinga’s Mourning Becomes Electra (1978, 290’), a TV melodrama based on Eugene O’Neil’s trilogy by the same name (1931), set in post-Civil War New England.

(I might add Pasolini’s 1970 Notes for an African Orestes but at 73’ it has been left fragmentary and unfinished.)

All three films exhibit a distinct sense of place, history, class, kinship, and politics. In particular, by showing how questions of justice can become matters of civic order, they highlight the close connection between myth and progressive politics in the 20th century, a connection that the Frankfurt School and other advocates of messianic time denied systematically.

Furthermore, the films have a distinct self-reflective dimension in that The Forgotten Pistolero places Greek mythology on the grid of another mythology, that of the western; The Traveling Players presents the protagonists of the modern tragedy as the actors of the title whose performances of one and the same play are always interrupted by historical events; and Mourning Becomes Electra is a miniseries that is very much aware of its origins in a modern tragedy whose origins are in an ancient one. In the context of such dramatic self-reflexivity Pantelis, my “other self,” would also point out the special role of music in each film (by distinguished score composers Roberto Pregadio, Loukianos Kilaidonis, and Maurice Jarre respectively).

October 19, 2016

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