23 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (34) Cinema

The Asteria in Rethymnon … part of Greek culture and the tradition of open-air cinema (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I was very pleased last week to see that the Asteria Cinema in Rethymnon has survived all the onslaughts of pandemic lockdowns and Greece’s economic woes, and that it remains part of strong Greek cultural tradition.

Most of the cinemas I associate with my childhood and early adult days have disappeared: the Desmond Cinema in Cappoquin was demolished in the early 1970s and is now the site of a fire station; the Kenilworth Cinema in Harold’s Cross is a vacant site; the Classic in Terenure has been turned into business outlets; the Regal in Lichfield, once an elegant art-deco building, has been replaced by an apartment block; and the Abbey Cinema on Upper George’s Street and the Capitol Cinema on South Main Street have both been demolished in Wexford.

However, the Asteria is a beguiling presence in Rethymnon and I first noticed it in the 1980s.

Open-air movies are an enduring part of Greek cultural life. Cinema arrived in Greece in 1896. Films were projected outdoors for the first time in the crowded cafés of Syntagma Square in Athens in the summer of 1900. The so-called provolatzides unfolded big pieces of cloth to screen movies in popular areas of the Greek capital.

The first open-air cinemas started popping up, and at first entrance was free. They became so popular that by the 1960s over 500 cinemas were operating in Attica. Today, it is said, there are 65 outdoor cinemas in Athens. Some are municipal, some private, some are hidden in parks, others are by the sea or in courtyards between apartment blocks.

The Asteria on Ioannou Melissinou, beneath the slopes of the Fortezza, is the one open-air cinema in Rethymnon. Although it is only open in the summer evenings, it remains part of Greek culture. Normally there are two showings, at 9pm and 11 pm, and tickets are €5 or €7 each. A little kiosk sells rinks, beers, chips, popcorn, sweets and snacks.

The word cinema in English was borrowed in the late 1890s from the French cinéma, an abbreviated form of the word cinématographe coined by the Lumière brothers in the 1890s from the Ancient Greek words κίνημα (kínēma, movement) and γράφω (gráphō, to write or record).

The word Κίνημα has also been used widely by political movements on the Left in modern Greece.

Andreas Papandreou formed the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (Πανελλήνιο Απελευθερωτικό Κίνημα) or PAK in exile in Sweden in 1968 to oppose the colonels’ regime in Greece. When the junta fell, Papandreou formed Pasok, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), in 1974, and until 2015 it was one of the two major electoral forces in Greece, along with New Democracy.

After the collapse of Pasok’s vote after 2015, a number of parties emerged from the same political stable, including the Movement of Democratic Socialists (Κιδησο, Kidiso), formed by the former Prime Minister and PASOK leader George Papandreou. Today, that party officially calls itself To Kinima (Το Κίνημα, the Movement), although several media outlets and opinion pollsters continue to refer to it as Kidiso.

The Movement for Change (Κίνημα Αλλαγής) or Κιναλ, is now a centre-left alliance that includes Pasok and the Movement of Democratic Socialists, and it has also included The River and Democratic Left (Dimar).

As for the Asteria in Rethymnon: sit under the stars, let the cicadas chirp away, and ignore the background noise from the road or the Fortezza occasionally … they merely enhance the ambience.

The Pasok offices in Rethymnon in 2012 … signs that the party was then in freefall in a former stronghold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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