Various Artists: The Golden Age Of Greek Cinema (él Records/Cherry Red)


Various Artists
The Golden Age Of Greek Cinema
él Records/Cherry Red

The 1960s were a golden age for cinema, with masterpieces flowing out on a regular basis from all parts of the world, and this renaissance helped to bring the world closer together. One of the more hip locales for cinema and travel was the exotic eastern European country of Greece. For that country, it was, as él Records’ latest compilation proclaims, a golden age of Greek cinema. This two disc set captures the excitement and quality of this age via four notable soundtrack recordings, different in their own way, yet representing both classical and contemporary sounds. These soundtracks also capture the diversity of style of two of the country’s leading composers, Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hatzidakis.

Perhaps the most well-known of these four films is Jules Dassin’s 1960 hit, Never On Sunday. “Ta Pedia Tou Pirea,” the movie’s love song, would become an international hit. Written by Hatzidakis and sung by lead actress Melina Mercouri, it would win an Academy Award, and would rather quickly become a pop standard in 1961 when Nana Mouskouri released a version of it shortly after the film’s release and when American pop group The Chordettes released an English version. The rest of the soundtrack features contemporary Greek music, blending traditional Greek music with contemporary sounds.

Phaedra, released in 1962, would find Dassin working again with Mercouri, but this time featuring Anthony Perkins in the lead role. The film’s plot is an updated version of EuripidesHippolytus, a story of heartbreak and unobtainable love, and was mostly an international success. Though its story line is based on traditional Greek mythology, it’s adapted to contemporary times, and its soundtrack, composed by Theodorakis, eschews the Greek elements of its setting, aiming for a contemporary jazz style. Mercouri sings once again, on the lovely “Rodostamo” and “Love Theme,” with Perkins joining her on “Goodbye John Sebastian.”

It’s the other two soundtracks, however, that make The Golden Age of Greek Cinema a compelling investment. The first, composed by Hatzidakis, is entitled Greece, Land Of Dreams. Unlike the other films here, this was a popular European documentary, and its soundtrack is a blend of swelling musical cues that recall a celebration, swirling in and out in a dizzying manner, with Nana Mouskouri’s vocals throughout the two suites, “Athens” and “The Aegean.”  The former is an upbeat nineteen minute trip through the streets of the city, its shops, restaurants, and its festivals, while the latter is twenty-one minutes of deep, murky, and more stoic sounds, based more on traditional Greek music, and befitting the epic sea for which it is so named. Both pieces are intoxicatingly wonderful, and it’s easy to understand how these would be used for a promotional film—they paint a picture of a very exciting, vivid, lively, decadent Greece.

Electra, however, is where Greek literary tradition and musical styles come together. To score this classic Euripides tale, Theodorakis packed his soundtrack with powerful orchestration, blending in traditional orchestration and classical Greek instruments into one heady, mind-melding mix. It’s a testament to his compositional ability that he could write small pieces that are less than two minutes long and make them feel significantly longer than their brief running time. The play is a tragedy, and thus the soundtrack is dark, heavy, and occasionally morose; ominous and melancholic, the suite is significantly more potent than the rest of the music found here.

The Golden Age of Greek Cinema is most certainly an apt title; almost all of these films are in print and easily available (the exception being Greece, Land of Dreams), and they are all masterful and delightful cinematic works that hold up quite well five decades on. So, too, does their music….

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