Like Being in a Rainbow: Gregory Markopoulos and the Temenos
The American avant-garde filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos (1928–1992) used bold, abstract language threaded with religious aspirations when he wrote about his vision for the “Complete Order of the Temenos” in the 1970s: “With the arrival of the 21st Century and the building of the rectangular foundation of the Temenos suggested before the glorious benediction of the Madonna of Orsan Michele…will there be a respect for the filmmaker’s Intention; for the films of Beavers and Markopoulos: the Temenos with its catalogue of films.” The Temenos (an ancient Greek word meaning “a piece of land set apart for the worship of a god” or “sacred grove”) was to function as an open-air cinema as well as an archive and library for his work and that of longtime partner and filmmaker Robert Beavers.He hoped a future spectator might remark, “It is like being in a rainbow!”1 But throughout the decade, this grand vision, the wish to bring spectators into unsullied contact with the medium in a context that supports its singular powers, remained an idea.
A central figure in the American avant-garde in the 1950s and ’60s (in addition to filmmaking, he published extensively in Jonas Mekas’s Film Culture), Markopoulos grew discontent with screening and distribution conditions, and critical of the stifling of artists’ intentions by the “bad monies and grim politicizing” of institutional interests and curatorial egos.2 In 1967 he and Beavers (b. 1949) left the U.S. for Europe, hoping to find more support. The two spent the next several decades there in self-imposed exile. Born in Toledo, Ohio, Markopoulos spoke only Greek until age six; he had wanted to live in Europe since his first visits to Greece and Italy in the 1950s.
Once there, Markopoulos refused most screenings, removing his films from distribution and demanding the excision of a chapter about his work from P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film.3 In 1980, organizers cancelled a screening of The Illiac Passion (his 1967 interpretation of Prometheus Bound starring Andy Warhol and Jack Smith) at the National Gallery in Athens when they learned of the film’s substantial nudity. Beavers and Markopoulos considered organizing a Tripoli screening, but decided instead to look toward Markopoulos’s Arcadian ancestral village. Just outside of Lyssaraia, they discovered the ideal spot for the Temenos. “We chose a site surrounded by terraced fields, suspended in a sparkling atmosphere with a view that reaches to Olympia and the Ionian coast,” Beavers recalled.4
Discovery of the site freed Markopoulos to conceive of his monumental final film, the silent 16mm Eniaios (meaning “unity” and “uniqueness”). Made of 55 completely new films as well as re-edited footage from most of his previous films, and meant to supercede them as an integrated epic work, Eniaios contains 100 individual titles in 22 cycles, or orders, of three to five hours each. Many Eniaios imagesare only one frame (1/24th of a second) long, and all are bracketed and isolated from each other by intervening lengths of black and white leader. The unit of the single frame and the still image were preoccupying, essential elements of cinema for Markopoulos: “It is, perhaps, a fallacy to believe that film is constant movement.”5 He conceived of the spacing among the flickering images in Eniaios with the Greek god of healing Asclepius in mind, in the hopes of nurturing in his spectators a therapeutic form of incubation akin to the sort sick pilgrims experienced by sleeping and dreaming in the god’s temple. He “imagine[d] himself a member of an emergent, select order of psychic healers…possessing the skill to subliminally plumb the pre-verbal mysteries of an archaic past,” Kirk Winslow wrote.6
Markopoulos spent the final decade of his life working on Eniaios, and created it exclusively for the Temenos site. It was fully edited and notated when he died in 1992, but not yet printed. In 1980, a handful of foreign guests and dozens of visitors from the region, including six priests and their families, had attended the first open-air Temenos screening—a “symbolic effort in [the] direction” of Markopoulos’s ultimate vision.7 Early September screenings continued annually until 1987 (when Beavers and Markopoulos turned their attentions to editing and archiving), followed by the Eniaios premiere (Orders I and II) in 2004 and the second screening (Orders III–V) in 2008. And at the end of this month, about 200 spectators from around the world will gather in Arcadia to see Orders VI, VII, and VIII over the course of three nights.
Theirs was a highly itinerant life—Beavers and Markopoulos lived only in hotels and pensions in various European locales so as not to be depleted by domestic responsibilities. Following the creative impulse was their greatest priority (Beavers’s notebooks include a log of all train travel in 1986: 111 trips in total). Such freedom came at the price of material insecurity; poverty was ever imminent and debt constant. Beavers’s own earliest experiments with film, Early Monthly Segments (1968–70/2002), offer a glimpse of the artists’ domestic environs in Switzerland, Germany, and Greece. Markopoulos, whose fame was at a high point during these years, is typing and addressing envelopes, soliciting funds from individuals, companies, and cinematheques, so that Beavers’s early explorations could go on without interruption or frustration. He had encouraged Beavers to set monetary concerns aside in order to nurture his emergent gifts and promised that the two wouldn’t starve.
Markopoulos’s paradigm of ideal patronage involved a dialogue of boundaried intimacy: in speaking urgently about his creative vision, he sought a potential donor who would register deep recognition—and offer a completely non-interfering form of monetary assistance. Such a relationship was not dependent on a judgment of Markopoulos’s work; like others, one enduring patron, a Greek chemical engineer who provided funds over the course of two decades, never saw a single Markopoulos film. But support also came in modest sizes: a single meal, a roll of film, a bus ticket, or an extended due date for a bill from a film lab, an Italian tailor, a master bookbinder (Beavers and Markopoulos bound all their writings in hand-painted, embossed volumes).
With Markopoulos’s death came the loss of the engine behind this single-minded demand for support. But Eniaios was left unprinted, and so the enormous burden of manifesting his Temenos vision fell to Beavers. A single cycle costs between $20,000 and $25,000 to print (including internegative stock and answer copy). And as the 2012 Temenos event approached, the Greek economy continued to devolve, and the major Greek partner of the project, the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation, was no longer able to offer funding. Beavers considered canceling the event, but thought better of it.
At the Temenos Archive near Zurich, he and volunteers Lucy Parker and Ian Wooldridge, both British filmmakers, painstakingly repaired the Eniaios camera original by hand over the course of many months. More than half of the several thousands of splices in each cycle had come apart. Old glue had to be removed with a flat razor blade, and the frames re-bonded on an extremely small splicing edge. (Because of the nature of Markopoulos’s editing, not a single frame can be lost.) And in New York, Kitchen curator (and Temenos attendee) Matthew Lyons proposed a 21st century form of patronage to Beavers, overseeing an Eniaios restoration Kickstarter project. Last month 176 online donors gave a total of $24,000 to support the lab work and this summer’s screenings.
In Greece, Beavers has spent the past month conducting a silent orchestra of dozens who are preparing for the arrival of Temenos pilgrims. Local government officials in Arcadia have provided a bus to bring travelers from Athens to Loutra (a tiny spa village known for its therapeutic natural springs where most of the foreign guests stay), and will pay for the mowing and preparation of the grassy screening site, the repair of the screen itself, and a welcome dinner. The wooden screen has been stored with a local carpenter since the 2008 Temenos event; once mended and painted, volunteers will tether it to the ground. A tailor in Athens will sell the red beanbags that serve as seating in the Temenos field; a Greek publisher friend is putting together the over-sized cream-colored programs that will orient spectators to the three evenings of Eniaios screenings. 16mm projection equipment will arrive from Holland and Germany; the projectionist, Katherine McKay, will fly from Toronto.
Markopoulos envisioned Eniaios as a gift to the Temenos spectator: an invitation to acclimate to the divine potential of “film as film,” to receive, under a starry sky and in a mind loosened from everyday concern, the flash-like encoding of imagery. Per Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, the livelihood of a gift is dependent on its ongoing circulation—it can’t be hoarded, set aside, protected, or stopped, but must be continually folded back into movement. In his decision to move forward with the Temenos screening this summer, Beavers seemed to know this all too well: “I could not take the chance,” he said. “If we don’t do it, we run the risk of stopping the project permanently.” And in the face of the absence of an ideal patron, a dispersed community of Temenos caretakers has ensured that the gift will continue to move.
The 2012 Temenos screenings run from June 29 to July 2 in Lyssaraia, Greece.
- Gregory Markopoulos, “Towards a Complete Order,” Cantrill’s Filmnotes 21/22 (April 1975): 28-30.
- “Towards” 29.
- It was re-incorporated into the 2002 edition.
- Tony Pipolo, “An Interview with Robert Beavers,” Millennium Film Journal. (Nos. 32/33 Fall 1998) 31.
- Gregory Markopoulos, “The Intuition Space.” Millennium Film Journal. (Nos. 32/33 Fall 1998) 72.
- Kirk Winslow, “Intergalactic Trance-Migration.” Millennium Film Journal. (Nos. 32/33 Fall 1998) 79-80.
- “An Interview” 27.