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Queering Cinephilia: Towards a New Greek Cinema

by Marina Hassapopoulou

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Straight Story. What, if anything, has changed in Greek society/mentality?

Vladimiros Kiriakidis and Efi Mouriki's Straight Story (2006) has received mixed critical reviews from local and international viewers. Regardless of the ambivalent critical reception, Straight Story carved new ground for mainstream Greek cinema at the turn of the 21st century. The film's unique premise - a society where being homosexual is the norm and being heterosexual is taboo - is ultimately deconstructed as a dream; in a still-xenophobic and ethnically/ racially segregated Greek society, dream is the perfect metaphor for this alternate reality projected in the film.

New Greek Queer independent cinema pioneers such as Constantine Giannaris (From the Edge of the City, 1998) have left their mark on newer explorations of queer identity in Greece, which is always intertwined with ethnic difference, class, and social marginalization (e.g. Xenia, 2014) in independent cinema. Straight Story does not have the same sociopolitical outlook as the independent strand of Queer Greek cinema. However, through its use of digital remix and found-footage appropriation, the film makes a powerful statement about the need for a mental reconditioning of a Greek society that keeps turning on itself. If only remaking cultural mentality was as easy and seamless as the making of this digital remix!

Eli Horwatt argues that found footage remix “has become relevant to new generations through the appropriation of contemporary images in an effort to address pertinent socio-political issues.” Straight Story is the first mainstream Greek film to rhetorically incorporate the aesthetics of remix into its critical discourse. Straight Story recreates the most iconic scene from Mihalis Kakogiannis' film, Stella (1955), where Stella's lover tragically kills her with a knife (played by Melina Merkouri and Giorgos Foundas). In a queer twist, Straight Story replays the memory of this scene by recasting it with two recognizable male actors from modern Greek cinema and TV, who play the gay version of the star-crossed couple. To a Greek viewer, the queering of Kakogiannis' iconic scene comes as a shock - a necessary shock that compels viewers to confront their own moral and social standards.

Not only does Straight Story present a queer reading of Stella, it also intercuts the remixed version with shots of the homosexual couple watching the black and white/ sepia remix, which they consider as their homo-normative society's "original" classic film. As a film-within-a-film, the remix of Stella evokes the iconic images of Kakogiannis' film to Greek viewers while creating its own iconic version -- a version that has been excerpted from Straight Story and widely shared through social media. In fact, younger generations of Greek viewers are usually only familiar with that one iconic scene from Stella (especially the line, "Stella, I'm holding a knife"), and thus Straight Story's "Stelios" (the male equivalent of the name Stella) version gains its own resonance with younger viewers as a digital remix of a scene that has been excerpted from its original context and transported into the collective cultural vernacular. The fact that the intertextual dimension of the "Stelios" remake might be lost on most international viewers is not necessarily a negative: viewers come to see the queer version of Stella as a mini-movie (a film-within-a-film) in its own right - just like the gay couple in Straight Story do. Linda Hutcheon has argued that parodies are an important part of cultural progression because "parody is one mode of coming to terms with the texts of 'that rich and intimidating legacy of the past.' " Conversely, though, the "Stelios" remake only resonates as a queer parody (or, a queer re-interpretation) if viewers are familiar with Stella. To viewers unaware of the remake's intertextual legacy, the nationally-resonant implications of such a subversive queering are not immediately perceptible; to discover these connections, viewers have to work in a historically backwards way: discovering the legacy through the remix, rather than perceiving the remix-as-remix due to intertextual awareness.

Although Straight Story's final message is rather ambiguous and problematic, the use of CGI and digital remixing, along with the queering of a film from the golden age of Greek cinema, is in itself progressive, if not utterly and sacrilegiously subversive... Sometimes a film remix of a sacred classic offers the kind of shock to consciousness and a shaking up of cultural awareness that no amount of PC rhetoric can provide.

Straight Story - Queer Remix

Scene from the Greek film Straight Story (2006) featuring a queer reinterpretation of Kakogiannis' classic film Stella (1955),

from Straight Story (2006)
Creator: Vladimiros Kiriakidis, Efi Mouriki
Posted by Marina Hassapopoulou