Three evenings of Gregory Markopoulos' visionary early films at the Pacific Film Archive
That "astounding simplicity" is readily apparent in A Christmas Carol (1940), a compressed bildungsroman evoking a richly embroidered fabric of memory with only a few spare images (mother setting the table, father looking up over his newspaper, figures dancing on a nearby rooftop). Twice a Man (1963) reveals the full extent of Markopoulos' dream of a new narrative language. A psychologically fraught interpolation of the myth of Hippolytus and Phaedra (son seduced by mother and liberated from suicidal thoughts by a healer-artist), the film surfaces an internal state of emergency in a persistently emergent form.
Most remarkable is the densely interleaved editing by which Markopoulos folds multiple registers of time, color, and theme. Though often likened to other seminal works of the American avant-garde (especially Stan Brakhage's Dog Star Man, 1961-64), Twice a Man's fractal form also recalls contemporaneous French films like Alain Resnais's Muriel (1963) — though if anything Markopoulos's cutting seems more evolved for its thoroughgoing commitment to simultaneity. Beginning with a ferry ride into blue New York, suggestive of any number of mythic crossings, there is an ever-sharpening concordance of different blocks of imagery. The protagonist's central struggle to get out from under his mother and be reborn as his own person takes root in these syntactical somersaults. Indeed, this is where the modernist character of Markopoulos's work shines through: a classical story embodied in the radical address of the senses. (You don't need a neurologist to know that your brain gets a tune-up watching this film). Less successful is the cut-up spoken address that Phaedra delivers to her son, with which Markopoulos seems a little too assured of his genius. The haranguing pure speech dampens an otherwise brilliant film with a faintly misogynistic mist.
Though Markopoulos delved still deeper into myth with his Illiac Passion (1964-1967), he also gravitated towards more focused portraits of people and places in these years. San Francisco Cinematheque will screen Galaxie (1966), his anthology of New York people, in May. Meanwhile, the PFA sneaks in Ming Green (1966) before the epic Illiac Passion. The silent film gathers up images of the New York home Markopoulos was soon to leave as if for a bouquet. Edited in camera with great fluency, Ming Green revises the still life for cinema: the apartment's objects sit in repose, vibrating with the articulation of color and residue of memory. Flourishing superimpositions put on a terrific show without abandoning the refined air of quietude. It's unlikely that you'll see a more exquisite short roll of film this year.
SECONDS OF ETERNITY: THE FILMS OF GREGORY J. MARKOPOULOS
Feb. 9-16, $5.50-$9.50
Pacific Film Archive
2575 Bancroft, Berk.