Miraculous Greek mythology

Peter Stein loves Greek mythology and sees it as a constant source of inspiration. The celebrated German director comes to Athens this week to present the cinematic version of Aeschylus’ «Oresteia,» which he directed for the stage in 1983. Following the screening, which is part of «Cine-Mythology,» the tribute to films inspired by Greek myths and organized by the Thessaloniki Film Festival and the Cultural Olympiad, Stein will answer questions from the audience. From Riga, Latvia, where he was working on yet another production, Stein spoke to Kathimerini about the importance and the longevity of Greek myths, as well as the difficulties one faces when transposing them into contemporary art. Which is your favorite Greek myth and why? It’s hard to say, as most of them are linked to one another. They are not independent. Clearly for me, however, the most interesting element is the idea of coming to humanity’s rescue. Another interesting aspect is that myths, particularly the tragedies, reflect the political questions faced by complicated states, such as the Athenian democracy. To me these are the most exciting aspects and that’s why I consider «The Oresteia» as the single most important play remaining with us from ancient times. Why do you think Greek mythology is still attractive to a global audience? It’s hard to explain, but I think it has to do with the fact that they speak in a clear and comprehensible way about the great troubles facing humanity. That is why they can easily be transported to other cultures, such as Japan or South America. That is the power of Greek mythology and it’s hard to explain it. It’s a miracle. When working on a contemporary theater production, what concerns you most in relation to the myths? The Chorus. It is an instrument placed between the action and the audience, but participating in the action, nevertheless. It’s the point that troubles me the most and that’s why I’m always looking for solutions for a contemporary audience, so that it becomes a useful tool for the viewer, rather than something they just wait to end, before moving on with the rest of the action. Especially in «The Oresteia,» the Chorus is in charge of two-thirds of the text, so it was crucial to make its presence lively and interesting. Would you say that Greek mythology is good subject matter for cinema? Obviously, it works better as a metaphor. In the case of «Ulysses,» however, or other films narrating similar stories, it has much more to do with popular culture. Yet the Greek myths are inspiring in the way that their stories are told over and over again, with contemporary costumes, in modern form, in relation to man’s contemporary experience. The best metaphors are not the direct ones but those using the myths in an indirect way. Do you have any in mind? There are many films based on Greek mythology. Take Bresson’s films, for example, where mythological questions are narrated in another form. Would you comment on the recent Hollywood trend toward producing ancient Greek stories, such as «Troy,» as well as the two versions of the life of Alexander the Great? Clearly, in this case, the myths are used in order to get sensational results. This is about taking advantage of these complex stories, not about a new, different approach. If you come up with a musical on the life of Alexander or a pompous film, you are not telling the real story. Nowadays everything has to be swaggering and spectacular in order to attract attention. These films are based on historical events. I don’t believe that myths can be used in this way. Do you recognize myths in other film genres, such as science fiction, for instance? In a certain way, all stories are based on Greek mythology. The problem with metaphors is that the myths are used in a simplistic way, usually resulting in banal and indifferent films. In any case, the basic feelings of loneliness, hopelessness or blaming yourself for the situation you find yourself in are genuinely expressed in Greek myths. What are the major concerns when filming a theater production? Theater is based on the experience of space. If you are present, you can feel the action as it unfolds. This feeling is limited when filming because image is two-dimensional. You have to choose the camera angle and what to show. In theater, on the other hand, the audience itself chooses what to follow. The public can choose because they have the spacial experience. Another point is that theater is not created by the actors alone. It is created through audience participation. The public becomes the inspiration for what is happening on stage. If you remove them and replace them with a camera, a large part of the theatrical experience is lost. In the «Oresteia» video, I had to leave the audience out. That was unfortunate, as the performance was taking place among the audience. That cannot be transposed on film. There is a positive aspect, however. The director can choose exactly what he wants to show, do close-ups and intensify emotion, something that might get lost in theater because of the distance. I was very fortunate with «The Oresteia» because I had a number of mediums available. It was shot over a period of 40 days, a great luxury. Does the material stand on its own as a film, or is it mainly archival? I tried various ways of recording and, therefore, some parts might be successful as a filmed theater production. It is not a real movie, however. It is not a documentary either. It is something in between the two, for all those who enjoy both theater and cinema. It’s a mixed platform, and this kind of venture is always problematic, though it can be entertaining. It all depends on whether the director understands each medium’s laws. The screening will take place at the Goethe Institute, 14-16 Omirou, tel 210.366.1000. Sunday, October 26 at 4 p.m.