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Phaidra Film Series

Mercouri and Perkins set off sparks in Phaedra (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

Gregory Markopoulos declared his avant-garde classic Twice a Man (1964) to have been inspired by the Greek legend of Hippolytus, son of Theseus, who spurned the advances of his stepmother, Phaedra. In revenge, Phaedra wrote Theseus a letter claiming that Hippolytus raped her. She then killed herself. Believing her, Theseus cursed his son with the help of Poseidon, who frightened Hippolytus’ horses, which in turn dragged the boy to his death. There’s nothing of that story in Twice a Man, save for the hero’s death by water, which is evoked as a possible fantasy rather than an actual event. Markopoulos’ film is instead a “coming out” story of sorts. It began its life as a relatively straightforward drama, shot silently, with dialogue to be postsynced. But in the editing process, Markopoulos changed his mind and discovered his style. Instead of a regular narrative about a young man (Paul Kilb) confronting his mother (Olympia Dukakis, in her motion-picture debut) about his lover (Albert Torgessen), the film is composed of what Markopoulos called “film-phrases . . . a new narrative form through the fusion of the classic montage technique with a more abstract system.” While Alain Resnais was utilizing similarly brief shot fragments in his films (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Muriel) around the same time, the effect here is quite different, particularly since Markopoulos fragmented the soundtrack as well. So a confrontation scene in which the mother asks, “Paul, why do you keep seeing the physician?” and the son replies, “When you get to like a man’s face, there’s nothing you can do about it,” becomes a kaleidoscope of disjointed images with the words “Paul” and “Why do you keep seeing?” spoken over them. The result is incredibly beautiful, its images and editing style surpassing comparable ones in the work of Bresson and Straub-Huillet. Rarely seen since the ’60s, Twice a Man is not to be missed.

In writer-director Jules Dassin’s Phaedra, the title may suggest Greek tragedy, but what we see onscreen comes less from the era of Aristotle than that of Aristotle Onassis. In this story of upper-crust anger and self-destruction, veteran star Raf Vallone plays a shipping magnate whose faithless second wife (Melina Mercouri) makes a play for his son (Anthony Perkins). That all three leads come not only from different countries but from different planets matters not in a melodrama as gaudy as this one. Beautifully shot and scored, it’s a high-class wallow in “sin” as confected for moviegoers who might find Harold Robbins a tad low-key. Perkins is his usual sexually ambiguous self, made to seem even more so when placed alongside Mercouri, who’s so voracious that for a moment you’re not sure whether she wants to seduce Perkins or eat him. Either way, it would end in tears, as does this deluxe doozy. Both films screen as a complement to the Getty’s ongoing exhibition “Enduring Myth: The Tragedy of Hippolytos and Phaidra.” Twice a Man, Thurs., Nov. 2, 8 p.m.; Phaedra, Fri., Nov. 3, 8 p.m.; both at Getty Villa Auditorium. www.getty.edu.

—David Ehrenstein


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