Sunday, July 5th, 2020

OLYMPIA : an intimate portrait of a remarkable woman


Queer American/Greek Cypriot filmmaker Harry Mavromichalis debut feature is an exceptionally wonderful intimate fly-on-the wall documentary of the Oscar Winning actress Olympia Dukakis.  Mavromichalis turned his camera on when Dukakis celebrated her 80th birthday and trailed her on and off for the next three years.  Unscripted and unplanned,  this piece of cinema verite captured Dukakis totally unguardedly reminiscing about her life with such frankness that makes you admire her even more as both a woman and actress.

There is no  attempt by Mavromichalis  to shape her story into any chronoligical order and he took his lead from Dukaris as  she chooses to recount different aspects of her lengthy career and life.   She talked about how when she first started to act she was unable to even get auditions because her name bracketed her unfairly as only being able to play ethnic roles.  Already married to her actor husband Louis  Zorich she  moved to Montclair in 1970, seeking a peaceful place to raise a family and to  start their own theater company.

The company’s first play was ”Our Town,” in 1973. For the next 17 years, the theater produced five plays a season, including the works of Pirandello, Euripides, Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson and many others, in productions that were critically praised. It gave Dukakis the opportunity to perform the ‘heavyweight’ roles that she credits as giving her one of the very happiest times of her life.

Now Dukakis is not impressed by the trappings of fame, and we see her somewhat bemused by being given a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame .  The one time in her career that really meant something to her was the Academy Award win for her performance in Moonlight .  Being recognised for a piece of her work by her peers was the most satisfying thing to her.

Mavromichalis  films her on a variety of different occasions.  Such as the year Dukakis had the honor of being the Grand Marshall at San Francisco’s Pride and as she is being driven in the Parade she jokes “Half these people in the crowd have no idea who the hell I am?”  She is totally wrong as her performance as Anna Madrigal in Armistead  Maupins’ cult classic ‘Tales of the City’  had confirmed her status as Gay Icon.

When she bumps into Maupin months later she shares the story with him.  He one-ups that by recounting that when he was Grand Marshall in Palm Springs Pride someone had forgotten to make the sign for his car, so people were shouting out ‘Who the fuck are you?”

Dukakis has this irrepressibly sense of humor demonstrated in her story of whipping off the wig of one of her acting students, but she is not afraid of letting us see her darker unhappier side. She talks of a period of drug addiction that left her very suicidal. There is a  conversation when she very wistfully expresses   how she feels that she failed to be a good a parent to  her three (now adult) children.  Mavromichalis  sensibly lets both these scenes  play out without comment.

Dukakis passion about her work  shines through most of her when she is teaching something she has done for decades and still does now in her 80’s. In addition to this there is a wonderful scene when Dukakis is a guest at a Norman Jewison retrospective at the Toronto InternationaL Film Festival.  She uses the occasion to verbally attack a very startled Festival Director for not accepting her latest film Cloudburst .  This is a funny fearless woman in action that you wouldn’t want to cross. 

It is also Dukakis’s openness to her  spirituality that shows the depth of this intriguing woman and makes you understand more why she is ss respected by her peers and her friends. 

Laura Linney, her co star in Tales of The City. credits Dukakis as being a rare actress that has a successful career on the stage and in movies.  This profile however makes you appreciate there is so much more to this remarkable women when the role she is playing is being herself.




Posted by queerguru  at  12:11


Genres:  documentary

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