Posted on Friday, June 8th, 2012 by Jordan Hoffman
Draw a Venn diagram of film that has both mass appeal and is of interest to movie website editors and, dead center, you’ll have Prometheus.
Never in my sixty-eight years of writing professionally online have I banged out so much copy about one title. There is absolutely nothing left to scrutinize – that is, until, the general public sees it and starts floating their own interpretations. This gives us a window (here in the US, anyway) of about one day.
As such, I figured this week’s TBMYPHS should be about the one thing Prometheus-related that hasn’t been overly analyzed – its title. (Prometheus, Greek titan, tied to a rock, hit Wikipedia for more.)
So light yourself a plate of saganaki, it’s time to explore our Greek titular heritage.
‘New York Stories: “Oedipus Wrecks” (1986); Bertrand Tavernier, director.
Oedipus: King of Thebes, had a complicated relationship with his mother.
“Oedipus Wrecks” was the final third of the omnibus film New York Stories. It is a very funny movie about a nebbish who is completely dominated by his abrasive mother. He takes her to a magic show where she vanishes, then reappears hovering over Manhattan where she can see everything her son does and comment on it to the whole of the city.
It’s classic Woody Allen, and definitely worth checking out. Also included in New York Stories is Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece about the death throes of a one-way relationship, “Life Lessons.” (Not so hot is Francis Ford Coppola’s “Life Without Zoe.”)
Bonus Points: Woody Allen actually has three films with Hellenistic titles. In addition to “Oedipus Wrecks,” there is Mighty Aphrodite and Cassandra’s Dream.
Black Orpheus (1959); Marcel Camus, director.
Orpheus: Mythical musician who journeyed to the underworld to bring his wife back from the dead.
If you’ve ever tuned in to NPR (or shopped at an Anthropologie) I can guarantee you that you’ve heard some of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonta’s bossa nova soundtrack.
Black Orpheus is a cornerstone of mid-century international cinema, a French film taking Greek legend and putting it in the favelas of Brazil. While it perhaps paints an overly rosy portrait of life in Rio de Janero (I’m sure they aren’t singing and dancing ALL the time) the film has an infectious zest for the celebration of life. Watch this and then get all the references you missed in the Jesse Eisenberg bird movie Rio.
Extra points: Paul Desmond and Jim Hall’s recording of Black Orpheus’ main theme from 1963 may’ve been just as important as the pill for kicking off the sexual revolution. Try it on for size.
Chronos (1985); Ron Fricke, director.
Chronos: The primordial Greek deity meant to personify time.
Not to be confused with either the titan (and father of Zeus) Kronos or with Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos, Chronos is a non-narrative film from the director of Baraka and cinematographer of Koyaanisqatsi
Unfortunately it isn’t as good as either film, but since Fricke’s output is few and far between (though we await Samsara later this year) I still recommend you check out this gorgeous sound and light show which, as the title suggests, deals with photographing the passages of time.
Marathon Man (1976); John Schlesinger, director.
Marathon: Location in East Attica where the Athenians defeated the Persians. Pheidippedes ran the 26 miles and 385 yards to deliver the news of the victory back home before dropping dead. Instead of learning from his mistake, lunatics throughout the globe have been repeating this first “marathon man’s” activities ever since.
A classic 1970s paranoid thriller, this is the one where Laurence Olivier dentally tortures Dustin Hoffman.
A juicy suspenser with lots of twists and turns, it is one of the few good movies that has used the trope of the Nazi war criminal that has escaped justice as its villain. As such, there is an added, fatalistic aspect to Marathon Man that elevates it from standard action fare.
Note: this was the first movie to hit theaters to ever make extensive use of the SteadiCam system.
I love the clip I included here, because the angry Jewish road rager reminds me of my Great Uncle.