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Film Director Jules Dassin dies March 31, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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Hospital officials say American film director Jules Dassin has died in Athens at age 96. Dassin made more than 20 films, including “Topkapi” and “Never On Sunday.” He died Monday, hospital officials said. He married famous Greek actress-politician Melina Mercouri and settled in Athens. 

Veteran US moviemaker Jules Dassin, who died Monday in Athens at the age of 96, was a film noir master who sought exile in Europe after being named during the anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s. Dassin married the legendary Greek actress Melina Mercouri, joined her campaign for the return of Greece’s stolen Parthenon Marbles and was eventually awarded honorary Greek citizenship.

Born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1911, Dassin earned a reputation as an innovative director and was one of America’s hottest young filmmakers of the 1940s with films such as “Brute Force” (1947) and “Naked City” (1948). But as an active Communist who never compromised on his beliefs, he was blacklisted at the height of the witch-hunts on leftists unleashed by Senator Joseph McCarthy.

In 1949 Dassin quit the US for Europe, arriving first in London, where he filmed “Night in the City” (1950) starring US actor Richard Widmark and now considered a landmark of the film noir genre. Moving on to France, he produced “Rififi” (“Du rififi chez les hommes,” 1955), based on a novel by Auguste le Breton, and best remembered for a now-legendary heist scene. The 32-minute sequence played without dialogue or music, and the safe-cracking scene was so detailed that Paris police are rumoured to have briefly banned the movie for fear it be too instructive to would-be criminals.

Dassin’s first movie in Greece was “He Who Must Die” (“Celui Qui Doit Mourir” 1957), based on “Christ Recrucified” by the renowned Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis. But he would soon have cause to return to the country for good. In 1960, Dassin made “Never on Sunday” a story about an American in Greece trying to save a kind-hearted prostitute. The film won an Oscar for Best Song for composer Manos Hadjidakis, and is considered one of the finest movies ever made in Greece. Dassin himself was nominated for Best Director and Best Script, although in the end he never won an Oscar. More importantly for Dassin however, the film starred Melina Mercouri, one of Greece’s most adored actresses.

Two years after another of his landmark films, another heist movie “Topkapi” (1964), which won Peter Ustinov an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, Dassin married Mercouri, who also starred in the film.

Merkouri and Dassin never hid their radical politics. Both were active in helping organise Greek resistance among expatriate politicians and artists in Paris against the right-wing junta that ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974. After Mercouri retired from film-making she entered politics, rising to become Greece’s Culture Minister in the 1980s. She made the return of the Parthenon Marbles, taken from Greece in the 19th century and now in the British Museum, a lifelong quest.

Dassin joined her campaign and eventually headed the Melina Mercouri Foundation bearing her name established to secure the marbles’ restitution to Greece. Mercouri died in 1994. Three years later, the Greek state awarded Dassin honourary citizenship for his efforts in their joint campaign.

In 1978, the Cannes Film Festival awarded him a Golden Palm for “A Dream of Passion,” one of his last films. In later years, Dassin retained an interest in politics despite advanced age and failing health. He had two children from his first marriage to violinist Beatrice Launer: Julie and Joe Dassin, a popular singer in 1970s France who died from a heart attack in 1980.

International conference at the New Acropolis Museum March 15, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Museums, Shows & Conferences, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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The place, the viewpoint and the general atmosphere of the conference on the return of cultural property for the first international meeting at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

15-03-08_new_acropolis_museum.jpg  The photograph is from the Greek Cultural Foundation’s leaflet ‘The New Acropolis Museum’

Nobody can stop an idea whose time has finally come. This blog has written on several occasions about how the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles has gone from being a national demand to an international imperative, supported by leading figures from around the world who want to see the parts of the UNESCO-listed monument reunited.

But it will take more than being in the right to get back the marbles that Thomas Bruce, the seventh earl of Elgin, dismantled, stole and took away in 1801, when Athens was under Ottoman rule. With the permission of the sultan, Lord Elgin, then the British ambassador to Constantinople, had the Parthenon friezes cut up and transported to England, where they were bought by the British government. It, in turn, donated them to the British Museum in London where they have remained since.

What was needed, as Melina Mercouri told a plenary session of UNESCO in 1982, when, as the country’s Culture Minister, she initiated her campaign for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, was “a new museum to house them,” given that the existing Acropolis Museum was already full. In order to build the Museum, Mercouri’s husband, the noted American-born French filmmaker Jules Dassin created the Melina Mercouri Foundation, to which he donated his fortune.

The state undertook the project, putting distinguished architect Dimitris Pantermalis at the helm. Renowned architect Bernard Tschumi collaborated with Greek architect Michalis Fotiadis in designing the project that is today coming to fruition opposite the Acropolis.

While the British Museum continues to insist that the Parthenon marbles should stay in the English capital where visitors from all over the world come to see them in the Duveen Gallery, its position is weakening. The upper floor of the New Acropolis Museum will showcase the surviving marbles, together with copies of those in the British Museum so as to show a complete picture of this matchless work of art.

This blog believes that they will return to their place of origin under pressure from the public and governments. One promising indication is that countries and museums around the world are starting to return works of art to the places from which they were removed due to wear, bombardment or illegal activities.

An international conference on the return of cultural property starts Monday, March 17, at the New Acropolis Museum, organized by UNESCO and the Greek Culture Ministry. It is the first in a series of international gatherings organized by UNESCO and its member states to foster awareness and provide a forum for reflection and exchanges on the issue of the return of cultural property.

Greek President Karolos Papoulias will attend the opening of the conference. Culture Minister Michalis Liapis and UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture Francoise Riviere will greet the participants. The event is coordinated by Vivi Vassilopoulou, the general manager of antiquities and cultural heritage at the Greek Culture Ministry.

For two days, the conference will address the issue, with examples ranging from Italy’s return of an obelisk to Ethiopia to the return by Edinburgh of Aboriginal remains to Australia. There’s a strong feeling among journalists that Elena Korka, the head of the Culture Ministry’s directorate of prehistoric and classical antiquities, will seize upon the opportunity presented by the conference to raise the issue of the Parthenon Marbles, because nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

Awaiting the Marbles’ return, and Melina March 8, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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Ever since her grandfather, Spyros Mercouris, the Mayor of the Greek capital, used to take her out for a walk and tell her “This is your Athens”, Amalia-Melina Mercouri knew that this was her home town.

The woman who had everything – beauty, dynamism, an unquenchable thirst for life, love and service – managed to fit it all in to her glittering life, which was not without its shadows during the years of the dictatorship. Exiled to New York at the time, where she was starring on Broadway in a production of “Never on Sunday” she was at the head of all the demonstrations for freedom and democracy in Greece. Recruited to serve her country again in the government of Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s, she was the first to demand the return of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum.

Fourteen years ago on March 6, Melina died in New York after an operation. Her beloved companion, the film director Jules Dassin who gave up his career for her, also gave his fortune after her death to found the Melina Mercouri Foundation for the purpose of building a new Acropolis Museum, now completed.

08-03-08_melina.jpg  “When the sculptures come back to Athens, so will I,” she promised.