The Best Movies With Ancient Greek Titles You Probably Haven't Seen

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.

Eros(2004); Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni, directors.Eros: The Greek god of Love. The Roman version is Cupid. You've heard of him.

Another omnibus film. Unlike New York Stories which has two great chapters and one awful one, this one has three that are all pretty cool in completely different ways.

Wong Kar-Wai's short is about a shy tailer who has been commissioned to create clothing for a prostitute. They talk and behave sexually in the moody way people do in WKW's movies. If you liked In The Mood For Love this is like a little extra taste.

Soderbergh's is a screwball one-act play therapy session between Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin. It is hilarious and gorgeously shot in black & white. It even has a punchline and, now that I think about it, it is the funniest thing Soderbergh has ever done outside of Schizopolis. Fans of our greatest working trans-stylist really need to see this.

Antonioni, who was 91 when he made this, gets a pass on this one. It is such pretentious "foreign film" material that you can't help but love it for being a parody of itself. First, a couple eat outside, then there is screwing, then there is naked dancing on the beach. It is absurd, but if you have a soft spot for mid-century European Art Cinema (and you should know by now that I do) you have to simply salute this as a swan song. I wanna be 91 telling busty, naked Luisa Ranieri and Regina Nemni what to do in the surf!

Dionysus in '69 (1970); Brian De Palma, director.Dionysus: Greek deity of wine, theater, ritual madness and ecstacy. Boo-ya!

I'll confess another subgenre where I know I'm biased: New York-based late 60's counter-culture films. (I don't think there's been one TBMYPHS that hasn't included one.)

This time it is Brian De Palma bringing all of his split-screen documentary style to capture a theatrical adaptation of Euripides' The Bacchae. The experimental theater troupe known as The Performance Group (which would introduce us, directly or indirectly, to people like William Finley, Spalding Gray, Sam Shepherd and Willem Dafoe) were among the first artistic explorers in New York's SoHo district. At the time was made up primarily of soon-to-be-abandoned warehouses. Their main haunt was the Performing Garage (I've been there!) and it was as cool as it sounds.

Dionysus in '69 is more of a time capsule than anything else. The show was quite radical in its interaction with the audience. That isn't to say it wasn't scripted, but, like a jazz performance, it made space for things to happen and no two shows were the same. De Palma shot two nights and the result is, indeed, quite far out.

You'll never in a million years find a rental of this disc, however it is a legal stream – apparently the original Performance Group's artistic director, Richard Schechner, is still kickin' at 82 and teaching at New York University. As such, he's distributed a video version through NYU. Using that as a green light, then, let me point you to a cleaner version of it here. Watch it and be the hippest person on your block.

The Cassandra Crossing (1976); George P. Cosmatos, director.Cassandra: daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, she was granted by Apollo the gift of prophesy. Unfortunately, she oftentimes saw bad things and, let's face it, who wants to hear about bad things? As such, she had a hard time convincing anyone about the trouble she saw brewing, and was oftentimes dismissed as ancient Greece's version of a Debbie Downer.

Disaster flicks! I love 'em. While this one isn't quite as good as The Swarm it comes close for its cheese to bloated all-star cast ratio.

Sofia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Richard Harris, Ingrid Thulin, O.J. Freakin' Simpson, Lee Strasberg (!), Martin Sheen, Ava Gardner and more are all on a train, along with a terrorist and his biological weapon.

Everyone is sleeping with each other and being dramatic until it is time for heroics. Then they're all dying in more and more complex ways. They don't make 'em like this anymore.

Tyrion Slaps Joffrey For 10 Minutes To Achilles Last Stand (2011), WesterosTales, director.Achilles: Greek hero at Troy, star of "The Illiad," dipped at birth by Thetis in the River Styx to make him immortal, though (whoopsie!) held at the heel, hence giving him an Achilles' Heel.

I thought about wrapping up with Titan A.E. or the Rachel Weisz math-sploitation picture Agora, but then I looked at this video again. And I couldn't stop.


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