Zorba The Greek

by D. Bishop
Tuesday Aug 3, 2004
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I am embarassed to say that, despite my intentions to the contrary, I somehow managed to miss seeing Zorba the Greek at some point in my life prior to the release of this DVD. I implore you not to make the same mistake I did and wait so long to see it now that it is finally available.

In this 1964 Academy Award-winning film, Anthony Quinn plays Zorba, a Greek drifter who tags along with British-born writer Basil (Alan Bates) as he takes possession of some property on the isle of Crete left to him by his father. The two could not be a more mis-matched pair - Basil is a very repressed, very shy bachelor who has lived mostly through his books and finds, perhaps not surprisingly, that he is having a difficult time coming up with new material for his work. Zorba, on the other hand, has more life inside his aging body than he knows what to do with. Together they attempt to get an old defunct mine on Basil’s property up and running while they settle in to their tiny Greek town and become enmeshed in the day to day tribulations of the villagers. Colorful personalities, personal loss, shocking inhumanity, and a spectacularly disastrous feat of engineering try Basil’s patience and his confidence, but in the end teach him to take both the good and the bad with life rather than simply hiding away from everything out of fear of the unknown. He may have lost everything... but he is at last ready to live.

Despite the fact that this film is quite long (142 minutes), employs an occasionally very strange use of close-up shots, and contains long stretches without dialogue or score, the drama is very consistant, and there are very few extraneous shots that might cause the viewer to lose interest. There are enough subplots in play throughout the film to make the story seem quite rich, when in fact the basic story is actually very simple... a man learning to appreciate life. A couple of the subplots are of course classically tragic and surprisingly powerful, evoking great pity and sadness for the pathetic Madame Hortense (Lila Kedrova), and outrage at the horrific fate suffered by a local widow (Irene Papas) at the hands of jealous villagers. The beautifully expressive faces of the major players contrast the complete unreadability of the locals , signifying the unalterable, impassive movement of existence/life/fate which seems not at all affected by the great joys, dreams, sadness and loss of the individual. Life will come, and life will go, and it will bring with it a completely unpredictable array of challenges that we must either decide to risk meeting head on, or hide away from.

It is understandable that this film was very highly acclaimed in its day, and remains an oft-referenced classic. The performances are spot on, the story is intriguing on many levels, and the lesson is one that will most likely always be relevant. This is an easy recommendation, and a must see for anyone who considers himself a true student of film.

Too many classic films are brought to DVD without any special features. Thankfully, this is not the case with Zorba. The Audio Commentay track, provided by director Michael Cacoyannis and Demetrios Liappas, Director of Greek Studies at Loyola University, is definitely interesting given that the film was made so long ago, but gets a bit rambling at times, as Cacoyannis tends to repeat bits of information throughout. My favorite bit of trivia is the fact that they employed all the local fire engines to provide the rain effects, since there was no other way to create rain on location in Crete. Because very little behind-the-scenes footage has survived, a Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery is provided, with some absolutely wonderful photographs of the actors and the location. There are also two Fox Movietone Newsreels included which contain footage, shot without sound unfortunately, of Quinn’s arrival on location and the theatrical release premier. The most interesting extra feature, by far, is the Alternate Intro, a short piece that was cut from the beinning of the film due to length in which Zorba explains what he thinks God is like. Honestly, it was a sensible cut... but it is amusing to see in this format nonetheless. For fans of Anthony Quinn, the A&E Biography feature Anthony Quinn: A Lust for Life is included, which details Quinn’s very colorful career and brings even more life and depth to an already vivacious personality. The theatrical Teaser and Trailer, a TV Spot, and a sneak peek a some other Studio Classics films round out the supplemental offerings found on the flip-side of this DVD.


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