Friday, September 24, 2021

Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021)

Michail "Mikis" Theodorakis, the renowned Greek composer died earlier this month, at the age of 96. He was best known for the musical score for the 1964 film "Zorba the Greek" which is likely the best-known piece of Greek music in the world.

I first heard it in 1970 on a LP (long-playing) of film scores at the Eccles Hotel in Glengarrif, West Cork. I was doing summer work during the school holidays at the hotel and there was another track of Greece music that I remember from the 1960 film "Never on Sunday": Manos Hadjidakis's (1925-1994), "The Children of Piraeus" ("Ta paidia tou Peiraia") later became known from the title of the film.

I don't remember any of the other tracks on the LP.

Hadjidakis received an Academy Award for Best Original Song, in 1961.

"Zorba the Greek" is based on "The Life And Times Of Alexis Zorba," a 1946 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). The author had met a Giorgos Zorbas on Mount Athos in 1915 and he became a friend of the gregarious Zorbas who was a monk. Kazantzakis made him the manager of a mine.

Zorba The Greek Dance - The Greek Orchestra Emmetron Music

A reserved English author Basil, played by Alan Bates (1934-2003), travels to Crete, to an old mine owned by his father. There, he meets Alexis Zorba played by Anthony Quinn (1915-2001) [a Mexican-American actor who had an Irish grandfather, Frank Quinn, from County Cork]. Basil asks the exuberant Alexis to accompany him to the mine and Zorba teaches the Englishman how to live life to the full despite adversity.

In the final scene Zorba and Basil dance on the beach to the music of the traditional guitar-like bouzouki. The dance would become known as "Zorba's Dance."

The dance usually has a line of dancers placing their hands on the shoulders of the person alongside them. A Greek folk dance is called a syrtaki.

"Never on Sunday" is a 1960 Greek romantic comedy film, written, directed and starring American Jules Dassin (1911-2008). It tells the story of Ilya, a Greek prostitute (Melina Mercouri), and Homer (Dassin), an American classicist.

Greece had the best economic performance as measured by annual economic growth, across the continent of Europe in the period 1950-1973.

Angus Maddison (1926–2010), the late British economic historian published data which showed that Greece was the poorest member in 1950 of the pre-2004 enlarged European Union — a year after a four-year civil war. Greece then grew at a blistering average pace of 6.2% per annum in the period 1950-1973 and by 1970, its real per capita GDP (gross domestic product) in the EU15 (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Portugal Spain and UK) exceeded that of Spain, Ireland and Portugal.

Italy grew as fast as West Germany at 5% per annum in 1950-1973.

The Greek junta didn't like artists

Constantine II became king at the age of 23 in 1964 and he was unable to adroitly handle the political convulsions that afflicted the country.

The army seized power in 1967 and Mikis Theodorakis, was a prominent leftist who had faught the Bulgarian, German and Italian forces during the Second World War when they executed some 70,000 Greeks. Later Theodorakis joined the Communists during the civil war.

After 3 years of a house arrest, the military junta in 1970 gave into international pressure and allowed Theodorakis to go into exile in Paris. Manos Hadjidakis was already in exile in the United States.

In July 1967 The New York Times reported that Melina Mercouri (1920-1994), who was appearing on Broadway in the musical "Illya Darling," was deprived of her Greek citizenship by the vengeful colonels of the Greek regime. In addition, the regime said that the actress's property in Greece was being confiscated. She spent most of her exile in Paris.

Mikis Theodorakis’ concert a few months after the fall of the Greek junta in 1974 turned into a celebration of liberty and freedom. Public Domain

Melina Mercouri sings "Ta pedia tou Pirea" from the 1960 film "Never on Sunday"

The dance on the beach in Crete from the 1964 movie "Zorba the Greek"

Postcript: Also in 1970 Holywood actress Maureeen O'Hara, who had grown up in Ranelagh, South Dublin, bought a house in Glengarriff with her husband, Captain Charles F. Blair Jr but 8 years later Blair died in a plane crash.

Maureeen O'Hara and Captain Blair used to visit the Eccles Hotel for either afternoon tea or dinner.

In 1951/1952 the legendary director John Ford made a film "The Quiet Man" with O'Hara, John Wayne, Barry Fitzgerald and Ward Bond in the leads. The outdoor scenes were filmed in counties Mayo and Galway.

'The Quiet Man" was based on a short story first published in the "The Saturday Eveening Post," an American magazine, in 1933. Maurice Walsh (1879–1964), an Irish civil servant and novelist, was the author.

Having met Maureeen O'Hara at the Eccles Hotel in 1970, I met John Wayne 3 years later at the Broadmoor Hotel, Colorado Springs, Colorado, again on summer work, this time from university.