The pillars of the old New American Cinema have never lacked for ambition: In 1968, Andy Warhol showed a one-
time-only 24-hour movie; a few years later, Hollis Frampton embarked on the never-completed 36-hour Magellan cycle, meant to be screened over the course of a 369-day “year.” In 2007, Jonas Mekas undertook his 365 Day Project, making a short video for each and every day. Nothing, however, can quite match the 80-hour, site-specific movie envisioned by Gregory Markopoulos (1928–92), which, incorporating his entire oeuvre and hence named Eniaios (“Single”), was intended for showing in 22 cycles in a temenos (sacred zone) outside his father’s Peloponnesian village.
Neighborhood tavernas notwithstanding, the Museum of the Moving Image is a long way from southern Greece. Still, all four and a half hours of Eniaios: Cycle Five will be screening, introduced by a scholarly panel discussion, this Saturday in the museum’s new stadium-style theater. An imposing film object, it begins as a stately flicker, alternating brief passages of opaque blackness with moments of white light, gradually introducing split-second images of stone walls, ruins, and rural landscapes. These images from darkness are repeated at regular, if changing, intervals. The effect is hypnotic; it’s as if a world is being conjured into existence. The cycle’s second half—incorporating material from, among other films, The Illiac Passion, Markopoulos’s mid-’60s reworking of the Prometheus story—is less elemental, closer to narrative. There’s even a hint of a love story, delivered in one-second increments.
Like The Illiac Passion, many of Marko-poulos’s films were alternate myths; Eniaios proposes an alternative form of cinema. Overtly predicated on the 24-frames-per-second rhythm of the motion-picture projector, it merges physiological with aesthetic response. White light is dazzling shock. Images fly at the viewer as if from a slingshot. Each is a fleeting epiphany that turns into a percussive illusory after-image before you can even grasp it. Rarefied yet visceral, at once austere and sensuous, Eniaios is pure cinema, a monument—unyielding and elusive—to fleeting sensation.
‘Eniaios: Cycle Five’ screens Saturday, February 19, at 3 p.m. at the Museum of the Moving Image, following a panel discussion at 1 p.m. with Markopoulos’s companion, filmmaker Robert Beavers, and others.