Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

The Owl's Legacy



This five-and-a-half-hour made-for-TV series about Greek culture is far removed from the predictable blandness of a PBS documentary. Chris Marker, a veteran French director of highly personal film essays, interconnects past and present concepts of language, culture, knowledge, and power in tracing the heritage of Greek ideas--and the betrayals of those ideas--around the world. Throughout the film a number of experts are seen discussing Greek culture, singly and in groups; the groups imitate the classical Greek symposium, while the individuals are filmed in front of varying images of owls--the owl being Athena's symbol. One of the experts, the Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, states that he conceives of his music not in terms of separate parts but as "the perpetual sliding...from one thing to another"--a description that applies equally well to Marker"s method. A typical set of linked scenes begins with a group discussion on the nature of tragedy, then shifts to Lyons, where schoolchildren are learning about Dionysus; to Times Square, where we see a montage of ads for (Dionysian?) Broadway shows; and finally to an ancient Greek outdoor theater in which a woman lectures as if to school kids. The work as a whole is not as stylistically distinguished as Marker's best films, but the connections he makes present ideas as constantly changing and expanding, interacting with each other, becoming their opposites. Thus the work as a whole is useful not only for the often-fascinating information it provides, but for the particular vision it presents of our dynamic, protean world culture. The 13 episodes in the series are divided into three parts, to be shown on three successive evenings from Friday to Sunday at Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Friday and Saturday, 8:00, Sunday, 7:00, 281-8788.

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