History of the Film industry and cinema in Greece

greek-cinemaIn any discussion by Greek people about Greek films you will find, that about 90% of the time, they are most likely to be referring to ‘the good old days’ of the black and white films produced by the Greek film industry, the so-called “palio kalo Elliniko cinema” – good old Greek cinema’. This is because, unfortunately, today there is no significant film production in Greece. Now, maybe a couple of films are produced once a year but these are mainly non-commercial productions and often too sophisticated for the broad masses of the Greek labor class.

Like most of the developed world, the main reason for the decline of the Greek film industry is the advent of television. For the last 30 or so years the typical Greek family has been spending their leisure time in front of the small screen at home developing square eyes. As a result of this, and the accompanying total dominance of television in the mass media, a whole generation of young Greek actors has sprung up but their skills have only been developed to the limited level of playing television roles. I don’t wish to be overly critical here but, I believe, for those who grew up with the Greek films of the 1950s and 1960s they have the right to express an opinion.

It is not the case that all these new actors are second-rate or lacking in ability but the material written for television is rarely at a level which stretches an actor and enables them to produce performances in roles that the film actors were able to play during the golden years of Greek film making. This dearth of good material whereby an actor can prove their worth is upsetting because, on the contrary, even though America had mass television broadcasting decades before Greece, the US film industry still produces new actors that in many ways produce far more skillful performances than the old school of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.

To briefly summarize, Greek television is one factor that holds back Greek actors. With very few exceptions the typical Greek serials, that are the bread and butter for these actors, merely require them to perform wooden roles with weak and poorly written scripts. When these same actors get parts to play in live theatre their performance is often the same wooden presentation that they played on Greek television sitcoms or soap operas.

finos-filmSo, what were these ‘good old black and white films’. During the 1950s and 1960s Greece had its own ‘Hollywood’ in the shape of a thriving home-grown film industry. This industry was sited around Kannigos Street and Academias Street in Athens and it was here that all the offices of film and production companies, producers and managers were based. The biggest film companies at the time were Finos Films , Anzervos Films ,Spentzos Films ,Damaskinos Michailidis.

During this period almost every borough of Athens had around ten cinemas as well as a further ten open-air cinemas. This latter type of cinema, the famous Kalokerina cinema or summer cinemas, was ( and still is) extremely popular during the warm summer months where the audience could sit in the open-air surrounded by honeysuckle, bougainvilleas and jasmine, sitting on director’s chairs, gravel underfoot, drinking soft drinks and munching upon ‘passatempos’ (dried sunflower or pumpkin seeds) whilst enjoying the film projected upon a giant screen.

greek-film-beauty-of-athensThe Greek cinema was the main form of entertainment for Greek people who were emerging and recovering from the experience of both the Second World War and a Civil War. Greece, during this time, was still feeling the effects of this trauma but the population had their eyes firmly fixed on a better future. On viewing the films produced during this period we can clearly recognize this mentality reflected in the storylines.

A large percentage of the films made were comedies which indicates a desire to forget the misery and tensions of the immediate past. The scenario of the typical comedy film was quite simple and in almost every film there was a scene of a night out at a bouzouki or night club. This also gave the opportunity for the film to incorporate famous musicians or singers and develop the popular music of the day most popular was Giorgos Zampetas ,Manolis Hiotis and Mary Linda.

Great comedians prevailed, names like Vasilis Avlomitis and Georgia Vassiliadou with Mimis Photopoulos in unforgetable films like “The beauty of Athens” (I Orea ton Athinon) of Nikos Tsiforos in 1954, and the “I theia ap to Sikago” (the Auntie from Chicago) of Alekos Sakellarios. Vasils Logothefidis and Ilia Lnikou in 1955. with “Kalpiki Lira” (The Counterfeit Coin ) of Yorgos Javellas. In the same year “Laterna, ftoheia kai filotimo” of Alekos Sakelarios with Tzeni Karezi ,Vassilis Avlonitis, Mimis Fotopoulos and Alekos Alexandrakis is one of the best films of that year and the song of Manos Hadjidakis “Garyfallo st’afti” becomes a hit.

Dimitris Horn and Christos Tsaganeas in “Mia Zoi tin Ehoume” (we have only one life) .In 1959 Christos Efthimiou with Rika Dialina ,Dionyssis Papagianopoulos and Andreas Barkoulis “Enas Vlakas kai misos” (A stupped and a half) .Kostas Hadjichristos with Stavros Xenidis and Thanassis Vegos in 1959 with the film “Ilias tou dekatou ektou”.
In 1958 Aliki Vougiouklaki the most popular actress of Greece with Lambros Konstandaras Andreas Mparkoulis and Aleka Stratigou in “Diakopes stin Aegina” (Vacation in Aegina) of Andreas Labrinos 1957, some of the most famous films of Aliki Vougiouklaki in the 50’s was “to Xilo Vgike apo ton Paradeiso” director Alekos Sakellarios 1958 “To Pontikaki” with the direction of Yorgos Assimakopoulos and Nikos Tsiforos “O Agapitikos tis Voskopoulas” “Astero” and many others, in those films almost all famous Actors of this period made there appearance (Dionyssis Papagianopoulos ,Dimitris Papamichail ,Giannis Gionakis ,Thanassis Vegos ,Koulis Stoligas, Titos Vandis ,Stefanos Stratigos and many others.

In the 60’s Aliki Vougiouklaki continues her succes with “to Klotsoskoufi” of Dinos Dimopoulos (The underdog) with Alekos Alexandrakis ,Tasso Kavadia and Tzoly Garmbi.The Great moment for the Greek film industry comes in 1960 when the film of Jules Dassin “Never on Sunday” (Pote tin Kyriaki) with the unforgetable Melina Mercuri wons the Oscar for best song for the Song of Manos Hadjidakis “Ta Pedia Tou Pirea” or Never on Sunday in English.

One of the best Greek Drama film in 1955 is “Stella” with Melina Mercuri and Yorgos Fountas. Some of the most popular comedies of the 60’s where “Ta Kitrina Gantia” (the yellow gloves) of Alekos Sakelarion with Nikos Stavridis ,Maro Kontou ,Mimis Fotopoulos and Martha Vourtsi.with the amazing acting of Giannis Gionakis as “Brilis” .In 1963 “Tis kakomoiras” ( World gone mad) of Dinos Katsouridis one of the best Greek comedies with the best ever acting of Kostas Hajichristos as the errant boy “Zikos” in the grocery of Christos Dukas with Marika Nezer ,Dina Trianti ,Nikos Fermas ,Nikos Rizos and Thanasis Mylonas.

In 1964 “I Hartopektra” of Giannis Dalianidis with Rena Vlahopoulou ,Lambros Konstandaras ,Sapfo Notara ,Kostas Voutsas ,Hloi Liaskou and others.
“Tzeni Tzeni” 1966 of director Dinos Dimopoulos and script of Asimakis Gialamas with Tzeni Karezi ,Lambros Konstandaras and Andreas Barkoulis.During the 60’s Thanassis Vegos creates comedy hits with his films like “Papatrehas” “Thou Vou Falakros Praktor 000” “Pare kosme” and many others.

Stavros Paravas creates the unforgetable character of “Fifis” in various films like “O Emiris kai o Kakomoiris” of Orestis Laskos and Asimakis Gialamas “Fifis, o aktypitos”1966 “Beethoven kai bouzouki” of Orestis Laskos in 1965 together with Mimis Fotopoulos, Nikos Stavridis and Beata Asimakopoulou. In 1965 the film “To Homa vaftike Kokkino” direction Vassilis Georgiadis and script of Nikos Foskolos with Nikos Kourkoulos ,Mary Hronopoulou ,Giannis Voglis and Manos Katrakis was nominated for the Oscar of best foreign language film .
With this film was introduced a new style of Greek films the Greek Western films based mainly on the agricultural uprisings in Greece at the beginning of the 20th century.

With the introduction of color in the Greek movies we have the first Greek musicals like “Gorgones kai Mages” 1968 of Giannis Dalianidis with Mary Hronopoulou , Faidon Georgitsis,Dionyssis Papagianopoulos ,Vangelis Seilinos ,Nora Valsami, Martha Karagianni and others, “Rantevou ston Aera” 1966 with Rena Vlahopoulou ,Kostas Voutsa, Hloi Liaskou ,Giannis Vogiatzis, Martha Karagianni.Aliki Vougiouklaki continues the musicals with the famous “I kori mou i Sosialistria” “I Aliki sto Naftiko” ” to Pio Lambro Asteri” and others.Rena Vlahopoulou with Martha Karagianni ,Kostas Voutsas, Zoi Laskari, Nora Valsami where in the most musicals of that era and the choreographies basically made from Vangelis Seilinos Manolis Kastrinos and Fotis Metaxopoulos.

However, it wasn’t all comedy. There were remarkable Greek dramatic films with great Greek artists like Orestis Makris, Lavrendis Dianelos, Manos Katrakis, Melina Merkouri, Giorgos Fountas, Elli Lambet, Gelly Mavropoulou, Despo Diamantidiou and many others. In the popular Greek Drama front from the mid 60’s onwards we have mainly Nikos Xanthopoulos and Martha Vourtsi with Vasilakis Kailas with films that mirrors the life of the labor class and the poore.

By the beginning of the 1970s, however, we can see a decline in the quality of the type of films produced. Arguably, this could be because many of the actors that we had enjoyed in the previous two decades had aged and not enough roles were written for this age group. With the end of the dictatorship, the Greek film industry was freed from strict censorship and this period saw the creation of some real masterpieces. Films like “O Thiassos” 1975 by Theodoros Angelopoulos gets 10 awards and one nomination,with Eva Kotamanidou and Vangelis Kazan and “Rembetiko” 1983 of Costas Ferris based on the story of the Greek singer Marika Ninou with Sotiria Leonardou had 5 awards and one nomination.

The 1980s was the decade of the video clubs and of a new kind of Greek comedy with new stars like Stathis Psaltis, Giorgos Mosios that create the character of “Tamtakos”, Kostas Tsakonas ,Harry Klynn that creates the character of “Trambakoulas” in the film “Alaloum” 1982 and others.Thanassis Vegos as well continues his success with more comedies but this time with the adition of Drama elements. .
Thanks to the new marketing strategy of many Greek newspapers, however, every Saturday and Sunday,every Greek can find all the old black and white films in DVD format given away for free with the newspapers. So now the young generation can enjoy the films that their parents loved.