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Very confused dull and misleading account of Byron's death.
A Graeco-Russian co-production focussing entirely on Byron's last months at Missolonghi might be expected to bring a new kind of gravitas to the Byron filmography. Greeks and Russians, after all, worship Byron (don't they?). He is a different kind of icon in their cultures the greatest martyr for national liberty on the one hand, and the inspiration of Pushkin and Lermontov on the other. What could go wrong? Alas, Nikos Koundouros' 1991/2 film Byron, Ballad of a Demon (aka Ballad for a Daemon) does not redress the usual Frankish imbalance towards fantasy and trash. Manos Vakousis plays the hero rather as Klaus Kinski played Aguirre on his journey over the Andes and down the Amazon intense, staring eyes, pale, sweaty complexion, sick as a parrot and going slowly mad. He's ugly, and bald. The film opens well Byron and his party are silently paddled ashore at Missolonghi, in flat-bottomed boats through marsh and fog, with frogs croaking ominously all around and Turkish cannon- and musket-fire in the distance. No-one greets him, no-one smiles. The production design seems most authentic, with all the Greeks, wearing goatskins, visibly unwashed for many months. But the good effect is at once lost as the poet sighs, `Is this sunny Greece the Greece of my dreams?' in flat contradiction to what we know to have been the real Byron's awareness of what he was letting himself in for. The next nail in the coffin comes at once, as a British figure looms out of the fog, says, `This is the Greece of the Greeks and don't forget it, Byron!' and introduces himself as `Major Leicester Stanhope'. In vain we protest that the idiotic Stanhope was a colonel, and that his intuitive understanding of the Greeks was summed-up in his desire to establish a free press well before most Greeks could read. Missolonghi to the film's credit is portrayed as a filthy town, covered in mud, slime and fog. Later, William Parry turns up. He and Byron, instead of getting p***ed and making jokes about Jeremy Bentham as did the real pair strip a prostitute naked, and compare amorous experiences. `I'm here to get rid of my useless sperm,' Byron informs the lady in a later scene; `these trousers have always been too tight or maybe I've just grown fat.' Byron has no dogs to keep him company. At intervals, he falls asleep, and lo! Augusta turns up. She's played by a beautiful Russian actress, Vera Sotnikova, who wears the thickest eye-makeup since Liz Taylor's Cleopatra, plus lots of fur, most of which she obligingly removes, to enhance the poet's incestuous dreams. In one scene, they cross-dress, each enacting the part of the other. `So hate me!' he screams at her; ` because hate is a more lasting pleasure!' (the English dubbing is extremely professional). At intervals, Loukas Chaladritsanos floats in and out, Byron lusting hopelessly after him, and he rejecting Byron's advances consciously in favour of military action, something the historical Loukas was far too dumb to do. At intervals, a crowd of Greek peasants turn up (many of them with strangely Slavonic features) stare at Byron meaningfully and leave, having advanced the plot not an inch. Why they're all at Missolonghi who they are exactly what the relationships are between them what the political and military situation is are questions the film chooses not to answer. After an hour or so, you stop expecting anything to happen, and are thus not disappointed when nothing does. One counter-theme seems to be a huge church-bell, which arrives in town as Byron does, and is, before a crowd of true believers, hoisted into position in the manner of Andrei Rublev (last reel). Is the film made by Russians and Greeks, don't forget, cousins in Orthodoxy trying to say that the Greeks of 1824 needed the real God, not an ersatz western-European import? `You're not God,' Byron assures Dr Bruno at one point. `And who is Byron?' demands Dr Bruno, his cryptic syntax perhaps voicing the film's cloudy central enigma.
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