What a way to go out. Theo Angelopoulos was working on the set of his latest film The Other Sea. According to news sources, Angelopoulos was crossing a road in Athens, near his movie set on the port of Piraeus, when a rogue motorcyclist ran him down. The motorcyclist was an off-duty cop. Angelopoulos was rushed to a hospital where he died of head injuries. He was 74 years old. And the same day we found out about Nicol Williamson, too.
Theo Angelopoulos is not exactly a household name for most casual film-goers. His best-known film is probably Ulysses' Gaze (1995) wherein Harvey Keitel played a Greek filmmaker who returns from exile in the U.S. to attend a screening of one of his films. It's not only beautifully shot, but is self-reflexive on the world of film. Some have called it one of the best movies about movies. Yes, it is a mite obscure, but well-remembered by the people who have seen it.
My first exposure to Angelopoulos was a top-100 list published by The Village Voice some 10 years ago. A reader's poll listed Angelopoulos' 1988 film Landscape in the Mist as one of the best films of the 20th century (alongside other arty art-house classics like Hold Me While I'm Naked, The Man with a Movie Camera, and La Jetee). 10 years ago, I was in a film consumption frenzy, trying to wolf down as many obscure European classics as I could. My journey had been a passionate one, and I discovered many classics, but just as often I would run aground on something difficult and oblique (I still can't really get behind Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour). When I sat to watch an aged VHS tape of Landscape in the Mist, however, I found my passion for classic European film redoubled in a way. Here was a film that was about large things (reuniting with family, nation identity, the importance of dreams), but done without any of the eggheaded imprimatur than can often accompany difficult art films. Gone was the frustrating ennui of Antonioni, and the bug-eyed narcissism of Fellini. Angelopoulos had a crisp, compelling, dream-like style that was refreshing and easy to watch. His takes were long, elaborate and fluid. It's what he was known for. His extended takes were mercilessly rehearsed, but he made them feel natural and even soothing. His sound design was wispy and contemplative. Landscape in the Mist was such a compelling film.
Few bother to delve into the career of such a man, but he was a skilled director, an intelligent man, and he knew his stuff (he lived through the Nazi occupation, studied both film and literature in Paris, and worked with a high-profile Italian studio). No word yet as to the fate of his final film, but we have a retrospective of 28 films and documentaries that the man has left as his legacy. Time to get cracking.