This week's 'Best Shot' film Zorba the Greek (1964) was a first-time watch for yours truly. Oscar chose it for us since it won Walter Lassally's the Best Cinematography (Black and White) statue in the year we happen to be celebrating this month. At one point in the picture Zorba (Anthony Quinn and Anthony Quinn's giant expressive face), catches his employer Basil (Alan Bates, in young, stuffy, super pretty mode) sipping at alcohol. Zorba, a man of big appetites, forcefully tilts the bottle higher to get more booze down his boss's throat.
Don't be delicate..."
He tells his boss. That's good advice if you're watching Zorba the Greek which is, and I cannot understand why no actressexuals warned me of this, a fairly reprehensible motion picture. If this series were called Hit Me With The Shot That Shows Your Feelings About This Movie, my choice would be a tie between this suspicious side eye from Irene Papas as 'the widow...' and the moment a few beats later when she spits at the men and exits the scene.
[SPOILER] The film has two major female characters. One is referred to as a "silly old bitch" and the other has no name or voice. This film's treatment of the latter, "a wild widow" is disgusting. It views her only as a sexual conquest and then as a corpse that's not even worth remembering (she's never mentioned again). The heroes can't save her but, as it turns out, they don't care anyway. Back to our jaunty score and the story of laughing dancing men bonding and building things. She is robbed of identity. Her murder is reduced to local texture, nothing more than a setpiece. [/ SPOILER]
Zorba was a massive hit in 1964 and probably helped popularize the very familiar trope of the Life Force who shakes up the Staid Hesistant Protagonist and convinces him to Engage With Life. You know how that goes. The picture is fuzzy about the why, and what good it does anyone, but it's all about the journey anyway. The film peaks right in the middle with strong playful scenes about a mine, a monastery and Zorba's famous dancing. The first dance is the film's most beautifully lit scene, all shadowy impishness and physically stout feeling.
The next day Zorba confesses to deeper truths about his life and tells Basil he doesn't understand - men, women, war... the whole lot. Basil objects that he does understand but Zorba retorts:
With your head, yes. You say this is right. This is wrong. When you talk, I watch your arms, your legs, your chest. They are dumb. They say nothing. So how can you understand?
Which is why it's so smart narratively, and also visually, that when Basil tries (awkwardly) to recreate Zorba's uninhibited passionate dancing later in the picture the shadows render him headless.
In these admittedly frequent moments when the film is all gesture and the body takes center stage, Zorba the Greek has a certain potency. It even has masculine charm. But some of the ideas jostling about in its brain aren't worth the widow's spit. Better it loses its head.
OTHER BEST SHOTS FROM THIS FILM
click on the photo to read the corresponding article!
Monks refer to him as "the devil." When Zorba dances, he moves like a man possessed...
- The Entertainment Junkie
The dark silhouettes made the women look like vultures scavenging for food...
For dance is an important narrative motif here; it is the metaphor for how much vivacity and vitality one possesses, and how much one is willing to pull the utterly English stick out of one's utterly English ass...
-Antagony & Ecstasy
all the people on this island are always in packs...
-The Film's The Thing
NEXT TUESDAY NIGHT: A special one-off TV episode of our series. Since everyone will be binge-watching Orange is the New Black Season 2, you can choose the best shot of whichever episode (or episodes) you most want to talk about. Why fight it? It's all the internet will be talking about that week.