A key figure in the New American Cinema of the 1960s, Gregory J. Markopoulos (1928-1992) made ambitious films starting in the late ’40s, complex psychodramas and romantic meditations that used symbolic color and rapid montage. In 1966, he began to construct short portrait films in-camera, running a single roll of film stock back and forth so that groups of frames were exposed or re-exposed at predetermined points. But he became increasingly disgusted with the conditions and economies of screening and distribution in the US and left for Europe in 1967 with his partner, the American filmmaker Robert Beavers (b. 1949), withdrawing his films from circulation and refusing screenings, and remained there until his death.

For Markopoulos, the delicate and, in his words, “divine” potential of film was too easily damaged when the artist ceded screening responsibility to curators and institutions with their own priorities, both financial and psychological. He wished to bring spectators into unsullied, elemental contact with the medium in a context supportive of its singular powers, and therefore envisioned a situation unique to the presentation of his and Beavers’s films: the Temenos, a Bayreuth-like destination in the Peloponnese for the viewing and study of their films and accompanying writings, a world unto itself. Temenos, ancient Greek for “a place set apart” or “sacred space,” was Markopoulos’s name for both the site and screening event. Ultimately, he created the silent, eighty-hour Eniaios for exclusive viewing in this location. “Archive. For those few who will study the achievement of so many decades. Library. For those few who will discover the meaning. Amor. For those first and ensuing Temenos Spectators who will gather and claim the cosmos.” While the structures Markopoulos dreamt up for the Greek site—the screening space (“Amor”) and archive—were never built, the Temenos has persisted in significant material ways. Since 2004, Beavers has presented portions of Eniaios at the Temenos every four years. And the Temenos Archive does in fact exist—not in Greece, but just outside of Zurich.

Markopoulos wrote copiously and constantly—a prolific letter-writer and documenter of his own mind, he also published criticism regularly in journals including Film Culture and Film Comment, and, under the Temenos imprint, produced volumes of poetry and collected essays as well as dozens of publications in limited editions. Until now, Markopoulos’s writings, like his films, have been all but inaccessible—dispersed, out of print, and stowed in the vaults of library special collections. In Film as Film: The Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos, the first book to be published by his London-based Visible Press, film curator Mark Webber has brought together nearly all of the filmmaker’s published writings from 1955–1992 as well as texts that were still in manuscript form at the time of his death.

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As Webber recounts in his introduction, 1980 was a turning point for Markopoulos’s Temenos vision. The cancellation of a screening of The Illiac Passion (1967) (his re-telling of the myth of Prometheus starring Andy Warhol and Jack Smith) at the National Gallery in Athens due to the film’s nudity catalyzed the filmmaker’s search for an ideal screening site, and its discovery freed him to conceive of the monumental Eniaios. But the idea of the Temenos had been germinating much earlier in Markopoulos’s writing, even before it was named. In 1961, under the heading “DREAMS,” Markopoulos writes, “To build a modest home for the Cinema. To build the home step by step just as our films were made.” As early as 1955, in “The Responsibility of Cinema in Our Time,” Markopoulos lays out the key elements of the religio-aesthetic philosophy that will come to drive his imagining of the Temenos: the complaint about the egregious missed opportunity of film (“the Cinema is still in its infancy ... we lack a film form”), the certainty about its spiritual potential (“if used properly…the Cinema can reach the very seat of the film spectator’s psyche”) and unlimited transformative possibilities (“Cinema can draw nations together”), and the assertion of its utter particularity as a medium, outside a teleology of all other image-forms (“Cinema is the representative of Life which no other Art can give us”). The lone exception was Dionysian drama, a precedent Markopoulos embraced, and he threads ancient references and agonistic rhetoric throughout his essays. Lyssarea is the filmmaker’s ancestral village; the Temenos was to offer direct contact with a forgotten past.

Markopoulos came to concretize his determination to plumb the curative depths of cinema in his notion of the “Filmmaker-Physician” and his identification of the Temenos with ancient sites of pilgrimage and healing, and he embraces a sharpening language of “impurity” and “disease” in opposition to the “loftier existence” to which the Temenos spectator will travel. His objects of contempt are many and multiplying—producers, publishers, festivals, foundations, critics, programmers, the “PhD set,” and ”Art World Families” are all slaves to commerce and have been infected as much by “bad monies” as by meager imaginations. Markopoulos is forceful in his call for “unlearning”: “poisoned courses of conditioned thinking” have convinced spectators and filmmakers alike that the essence of cinema is one of typology (silent, Hollywood, documentary, political, experimental) rather than “the use of every particle of raw film stock.” The essays also provide crucial contexts for the filmmaker’s rage—details of the material obstructions (exploitative producers and lost materials) and the discursive prejudices (charges of “degenerate art” and, shockingly, an attack on the films of Markopoulos and others—as “these neurotic and homosexual poems ... this art of abnormality”—penned by Jonas Mekas in 1955, before he became the champion the very filmmakers he was castigating) that emboldened his extreme vision.

“Reading through this volume … we come upon two love stories,” film historian P. Adams Sitney writes in his preface: the “infatuation” of friend and collaborator Robert J. Freeman with the filmmaker, and the decades-long partnership between Markopoulos and Beavers. To this love list I would add a third: the romantically inflected relationship Markopoulos imagines with his ideal spectator. As Sitney points out, Markopoulos’s praise for other members of the New American Cinema scene (Ron Rice is a “golden poet”; American filmmakers are “like the ancient priests of Egypt” and inhabit a “Garden of Eden”) comes to a halt after meeting Beavers in 1965, and one of the book’s four sections is devoted entirely to Markopoulos’s writings on his partner’s original film language. As Markopoulos’s roster of acceptable proper names dwindles (the final list includes D. W. Griffith and Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom Markopoulos address as “Wark” and “Hawth” in two letter-essays of 1985), his articulation of the Temenos spectator elaborates. In “Inherent Limitations” of 1965, a letter to a young Beavers who has asked for counsel on becoming a filmmaker, Markopoulos describes “the deepest relation,” “the blossom ... part[ed]” to “those few ... spectators” who will understand a filmmaker’s work. In “The Redeeming of the Contrary,” from 1971, he writes: “Beloved spectators of my distant Temenos, what evolved was ... a continuous working decision not to betray you ... not to impose a message in your laps.... I have always been concerned for you.”

Those tempted to respond to Markopoulos’s articulation of spectator-as-mirror (“Who will inherit the Complete Order of Works by Beavers and Markopoulos?... Those who have the capacity to love”) with a charge of narcissism will find they are not alone. “I had often been accused of being narcissistic, just as later I was accused of being self-indulgent,” he writes in “The Adamantine Bridge” of 1968. But it would be a mistake to gawk at this grandiosity without considering its rhetorical function and theoretical potential. First, at its heart, Film as Film documents the written labor that accompanies and facilitates almost four decades of a visionary leap of faith. It represents an astonishingly intuitive and ceaseless clearing away of dead language and creative habit as he develops intimacy with a deeply original approach to filmmaking. Markopoulos’s insistent and fantastic vision of the “future” depended on a host of deferrals and sacrifices during his lifetime.

Secondly, the centrality of the spectator in Markopoulos’s vision is radical. In his search for the elect few (he imagined just one or a handful of ideal spectators), the filmmaker harnesses both inspiration (“Creativity is a persistence in Doubt”) and contempt (“like hollow patriots...the film spectators remain in their kindergarten of motion picture appreciation”). But his fervent demand for “vital communion” is accompanied by a supreme challenge, and freedom: He is looking for a spectator as imaginatively liberated as he is, as willing to “subdue the common meaning of time” in order to find out what a Temenos might look like today. The vivid force of Markopoulos’s voice shouldn’t convince us that the Temenos is fixed; rather, it is ever-evolving. When Markopoulos died, Eniaios was edited but not yet printed, and the filmmaker never saw the film projected; at the current rate of restoration (each of its twenty-two cycles costs about $25,000 to restore), it will be fully printed in 2026.

Eniaios, in its extreme length and challenging form (its images are mostly a frame long, and no two touch—each is separated from the next by lengths of black and clear film), and the Temenos, in remote Arcadia, are often regarded as inaccessible. Film as Film offers a response: not only in presenting Markopoulos’s own telling of his evolving devotion to the single frame (he had exploited it for narrative purposes in his early films before setting it free on a poetic life of its own in Eniaios) but in gathering such a significant portion of the filmmaker’s words and delivering them to potential spectators. The full and varied spectrum of Markopoulos’s modes of composition and expression (including poetic prose, spiritual anthem, aphorism, diatribe, manifesto) on display in Film as Film is not simply an annex to his filmmaking; it is an integral and inseparable component of the filmmaker’s creation. For the first time, readers can behold, in great personal and historical detail, the steady unfurling of his remarkable vision-in-formation and respond. Webber’s work takes the vital step of wrestling Markopoulos’s language out of its mythical hiding place and thus begins to open up space for the voices of spectators — ideal or otherwise.

Rebekah Rutkoff is a 2014-2015 Onassis Foundation Fellow and is currently writing books about Markopoulos and Beavers.

The Kitchen in New York will host a discussion with filmmaker Robert Beavers, scholar Daniel Heller-Roazen, the volume’s editor Mark Webber, Matthew Lyons, and Rebekah Rutkoff on Monday, September 29.

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