food in the arts


Dir:Theo Angelopoulos/ Greece/ 1974
Apart from the distinctive American and Russian traditions of the 'hunger and thirst' theme, a striking example occurs in Angelopoulos's first international success. Spanning fifteen years of Greek history, the film's core is the misery of World War II and its aftermath. One remarkable scene sums up the the wartime experience of famine. The starving actors close in slowly on a solitary chicken seen on a snow-covered slope: as the New York Times critic wrote: Angelopoulos ' has filmed hunger.'

 Angelopoulos, born in Athens in 1936, is a film-maker who refuses compromise. The slow pace and austere style of his work are utterly against current trends, and the content is invariably as formidably intellectual as it is emotional and poetic. He is, to put it bluntly, not everybody's idea of a good night out. At his best, however, he is unquestionably a master. And only the fact that he so obviously knows it renders that fact unsympathetic.

Now finally invested with the Palme d'Or at Cannes - a prize he has coveted for years, even to the extent of making a churlish speech when he was offered the runner's-up award - Angelopoulos seems content to allow history to judge his work. It will certainly judge The Travelling Players (O Thiassos) a classic.

It was filmed in Greece in 1974, at no small risk, under the hard-line rule of the Greek colonels' junta. Why the military police who watched its progress allowed it to be completed is a mystery, since the film clearly examines the turbulent history of its country of origin from a radical Brechtian point of view. Perhaps the colonels' men thought that this story of a troupe of itinerant actors touring Golfo the Shepherdess, a pastoral folk drama set to music and song, was harmless enough. But it wasn't, since the period in which it is set (1939 to 1952) warmed the seeds of their masters' military coup.

Almost four hours long, The Travelling Players has its actors first watch and then get caught up in the political events of the period, so that even the play changes its emphasis. As they progress through the often rainy and wintry provincial Greece in which Angelopoulos usually prefers to shoot, the sequences become longer and longer and the pace seldom changes. The whole film is accomplished in around 80 shots.

But despite that, and even though no one but a Greek can understand all the political, historical and mythic allusions, it is a fascinating progress, enlivened by Yorgos Arvanitis's often luminous photography, Loukianos Kilaidonis's throbbing music, including songs and dances adapted from folk sources, and performances that seem utterly truthful.

by Derek Malcolm (with preface by Ian Christie)

art and food
literature and food
music and food
photography and food
 The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema for Contemplation (Princeton Modern Greek Studies)
  Theo Angelopoulos: Filmische Landschaft -

Rick Stein's Food Heroes & Another Helping (DVD)
Rick Stein's Food Heroes & Another Helping (DVD)