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A Red Handkerchief made with Soviet threads: Kazantzakis’s (and Istrati’s) screenplay on the Greek Revolution of 1821

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This article undertakes a close examination of Nikos Kazantzakis’s first screenplay, Kokino Mandili/‘Red Handkerchief’ (1928), more than three-quarters of which is preserved in a typed manuscript at the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum Foundation in Iraklion, Crete. Kazantzakis wrote Kokino Mandili in French in Russia for the national film organization VUFKU, with the collaboration of Panait Istrati. The screenplay, which was never shot, is a Marxist narrative of the Greek Revolution of 1821. The examination of the story, plot and imagery of Kokino Mandili shows that Kazantzakis borrowed freely from major Soviet avant-garde films, primarily Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin and October and Pudovkin’s Mother and The End of St. Petersburg. He altered facts and traditional beliefs about the 1821 revolution for ideological purposes, constructed scenes through a few characteristic details, and employed montage techniques to suggest rhythm and juxtapositions and to translate ideas into images. At the same time, Kazantzakis combined the borrowings from Soviet cinema with some idealistic conceptions, thus producing a mixed artwork that alluded to both Marxist and anti-rationalist theories. In addition to contributing to our appreciation of Kazantzakis’s debts to Soviet cinema and fusion of different traditions in expressing his world-view, Kokino Mandili helps us to identify some key sources of the imagery and rhythm of his subsequent, non-filmic works and reflect on the broader issue of cinema’s impact on his literary creations.
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Keywords: Greek War of Independence; Nikos Kazantzakis; Panait Istrati; Soviet cinema; representation of history; screenwriting

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Crete

Publication date: April 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of Greek Media & Culture is an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed journal that aims to provide a platform for debate and exploration of a wide range of manifestations of media and culture in and about Greece. The journal adopts a broad and inclusive approach to media and culture with reference to film, photography, literature, the visual arts, music, theatre, performance, as well as all forms of electronic media and expressions of popular culture. While providing a forum for the close analysis of cultural formations specific to Greece, JGMC aims to engage with broader methodological and theoretical debates, and situate the Greek case in global, diasporic and transnational contexts.
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