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october 2007

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

by Andrea Kapsaski

"If all had the same death, there wouldn't be any heroes."   S.K.

He was born on the island of Zante in Greece on February 19th 1928, the youngest of three brothers. His father had a small hardware store in the capital of the island, but left for the "American Dream" and his mother had to bring up the boys on her own.

In 1938 he left Zante to live with his mother and one brother at his grandfather's house on the Peloponnesus, where he soon met the young Takis Sinopoulos, Gavriel Pentzikis and Jorgos Pavlopoulos, who all would later in their lives be considered to be major Greek poets. Together they read Greek and International literature, Proust, Eliot, Pound and Joyce, wrote and published poems, essays and translations.

At the same he became interested in politics and joined the Communist Party of Greece. When comrades accused him one day because he read "Iera Oda" by the poet Angelos Sikelianos, he left the Communist Party, but he already had a file (which In 1949 cost him his job in the Airforce).

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

He later joined the Resistance during the Civil War. When he came back from the mountains, his mother threw a frying pan at him because he had left without telling her. At this point, he was only 16 years old.

 The family moved to Athens after the war where he continued writing and he published some of his poems in the magazine "O Aionas Mas".

In 1953 he published his first book of poetry, "Aesthesis" (Feelings) and in 1955 "Efimerida" (Newspaper). In 1954 he married the gentle and intelligent Viktoria who would become his wife for over 50 years.

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

Together they left for Paris, where he studied Editing and Film Directing at the IDHEC. When he returned to Greece in 1956, he made 13 films until 1966.

    Erotikes istories (1958)
    Mia laterna, mia zoi (1959)
    Liza toskase, I (1959)
    ... aka Lisa, Tosca of Athens (USA)
    ... aka Lisa, the Greek Tosca (UK)
    Agapi kai thyella (1961)
    Gabroi tis Eftyhias, Oi (1962)
    Astronaftes (1962)
    ... aka Astronaftes gia desimo (Greece)
    Tavromahos prohorei, O (1963)
    ... aka The Torreador Advances (International: English title)
    Kazanovas (1963)
    Teleftaios peirasmos, O (1964)
    Peraste tin proti tou minos (1965)
    Exotikes vitamines (1964)
    ... aka Erotikes vitamines (Greece: uncensored intended title)
    Dipsa gia zoi (1964)
    Pikri zoi (1965)
    Zestos minas Avgoustos, O (1966)
    ... aka The Hot Month of August (USA: dubbed version)

For most of the films he also wrote the script, and he produced a number of his films himself or with his wife.. He would also do the editing. He was not easy to work with because he was obsessed with perfection.

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

He had immense endurance and will power, combined with passion and a healthy self-estimation. He had a vision about the films he wanted to make, but was also realistic enough to understand, that Greece was not ready. 

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

Eventually Robert Altman approached him. He wanted to do a film in Greece and wanted him to be his assistant director, but then the U.S. President John Kennedy was assassinated and the film never happened.

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

During the shooting of his last film, "The Hot Month of August" whose producer he was as well, he met the American producer/director Doris Wishman who acquired the rights for the film to be shown in the US. He was very proud but would never find out what happened to the film. Wishman changed the story, added sex scenes and dialogues and for more than 40 years his last and most favourite film, that was actually nothing but a love story, would circulate in cinemas and online as soft porn with the tagline: "he blew her cool... she blew his... and her husband blew all in..." According to Wishman, she "was on vacation in Greece and bought two films from a bankrupt Greek film studio. Unfortunately, she lost the script for this film and had to make up her own story for it, so she shot new footage, invented a new storyline and re-assembled the film."

In April 1967 the Junta took over and Greece was under Dictatorship. Because he couldn't "bear this pain of intellectual humiliation," he opened an ArtCinema called "Studio", which would for almost 25 years be the source for International Cinema in Greece. It was the "Studio" that showed Fellini, Pasolini, Fassbinder, Kurosawa and Godard to a Greek audience for the first time, but it was also the "Studio" that showed all the films of Warhol, as well as Hungarian, Japanese, Australian, American, Cuban and Russian Cinema.

Small towns would form a "Film Club" to rent out films they never would have discovered otherwise, and with a copy they also received press material, political information and leaflets.

He would be arrested on a regular basis for showing Russian Films, but since he could prove that he had obtained the copies through an American company, he was set free every time. Creating this ArtCinema was one of his greatest contributions to Greek cinema, and there are many Greek directors who claim they owe their career and love for Cinema to the "Studio".

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis

 He continued writing and in 1978 he published a third collection of poetry and a novel in 1985 called "Piso ap'to chamojelo" (Behind the Smile). At the same time he worked on a translation of James Joyce "Ulysses", a task he had started in his very young days. He decided he wanted to go back to what he was: a writer. In 1985 he sold the "Studio" and started to spend more time at his summer house in Zante. Eventually his stays got longer and eventually he moved to Zante for good.

 Throughout these years, he not only published a number of novels and books of poetry, as a scholar he also wrote many studies of the Greek poets Solomos and Kalvos.

In 1991 the Greek version of "Ulysses" was published, and in 1992 he received the Highest Award for Translation from the European Community.

 In August 2006 his wife and life long partner passed away and it took him months to recover. In April 2007, shortly after his 79th birthday, he had a triple by pass operation in one of Athens' private hospitals. He would never be the same person again. He began to forget things in a rapid fashion. First he forgot how to use a TV remote or a key; he would forget names, faces, his children and grandchildren. Then he couldn't do anything without help, and he grew impatient and very angry at times.

He was at times not an easygoing person, obsessed with his work, with literature, with cinema. Being an Atheist he was not troubled by any guilt or fear concerning the afterlife—everything in life happened here and now. His key for everything was politics. He was highly educated, spoke five languages and had a wonderful sense of humour. He was a warm and open-minded free spirit who did not take "no" for an answer. He finally refused to take his medication and would neither eat nor drink anything.

Maybe deep down he knew that he wouldn't be able to live his old life again, being dependent on the care of others, unable to read, write, watch films.

 He died at 3am on August 28th 2007 and was buried in the small graveyard of Pantokratoras, the village where his father was born and that had been his home for his later years.

His name was Sokrates Kapsaskis.

He was my father.

Scene4 Magazine: Sokrates Kapsaskis


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©2007 Andrea Kapsaski
©2007 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Scene4 Magazine: Andrea Kapsaski
Andrea Kapsaski is a writer and producer in London
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives


Scene4 Magazine-International Magazine of Arts and Media

october 2007

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