What are the right words to discuss this?
– Stephen Dwoskin on Gregory Markopoulos1

Advance Guard artists are so far in advance of their audiences that they often have to explain what it is that they are doing.2 Before and after the publication of Ulysses in 1922, for example, James Joyce commissioned articles and books containing elaborate charts that outlined correspondences between the characters and events of 1904 Dublin with those of the ancient Greek epic The Odyssey, and highlighting significant colours, symbols, body organs, and so on.3 T.S. Eliot appended 12 pages of explanatory notes to The Waste Land (1922).  

The great experimental filmmakers of the mid-century were no exception. Figures such as Maya Deren and Stan Brakhage generated major texts explaining the often-esoteric content of their work, and the novel techniques they developed to give it form. Such filmmakers usually attended the comparatively rare screenings of their work, or distributed leaflets with ‘artist’s statements’ intended to orient the viewer.

Such texts were intended to illuminate, but could they be a hindrance as much as a help? Jonas Mekas suspected as much:

I have this inborn lack of interest in literal, historical, symbolic meanings of images. When I read the explanation of what Markopoulos’ Twice a Man was all about (as explained by Markopoulos himself, and by P. Adams Sitney), I was greatly amazed : “Really? Really? Is that what it’s all about? I would never have guessed.” I never gave a damn what Twice a Man was all about. What I liked and what I still like about it is beyond the symbolic and literal meanings […] when I see a film by Anger, or Brakhage, or Markopoulos, the “all about” that I get from their work is in their form, movement, color, shape, pacing – and what it does to me, how it goes through me, how it touches me, and what part of me, how deep it goes – and none of it is describable, explainable, you can’t put your finger on it. To me, if a film works only on literal levels, or on meaning (idea) levels alone, and doesn’t work on any of the others that I mentioned above – then a film doesn’t interest me, then the film is only a litter.4

Twice a Man was shot in New York in March 1963, and first publicly screened on 15 June that year at Gramercy Arts Theatre – where the Film-makers’ Co-operative (FMC) held its legendary ‘Showcase’ events – in a fundraiser to enable Markopoulos to complete its soundtrack.5 In other words, Twice a Man was first screened silent, without the complex sound design that now seems integral to its effect – the recurrent sound of rainfall, which may make older viewers rush to the toilets; the long stretches of silence; Olympia Dukakis’ broken monologue, the only words heard in the film, although we often see people silently talking, a monologue ‘cut up’ and reassembled to near-incomprehensibility; and the snatches of Tchaikovsky’s late Romantic Manfred symphony after Byron. The use of the latter over sequences of high contrast lighting, gaudy colour, fractured editing, and scenes of photogenic people in heightened situations can give the film the feel of a camp Hollywood melodrama, which may or may not have been the humourless but Sternberg-devoted Markopoulos’ intention.6

Even if those first audiences had heard the soundtrack, it would not have brought them much closer to understanding what was going on in Twice a Man. It is not clear whether Markopoulos made a presentation at the screenings or distributed explanatory texts. The earliest surviving text mentioning the film’s source in the Greek myth of Phaedra’s cursed love for her stepson Hippolytus appears to be the leaflet handed out at a screening in July 1965.7 Mekas’ texts about Twice a Man in the Village Voice make no reference to its subject matter, themes, sources, or technical innovations, and he does not seem to have become aware of them until Markopoulos’ explanatory lecture ‘The Driving Rhythm’ at the Film-makers’ Cinematheque, New York, on 9 January 1966, later published in Film Culture no. 40 that Spring.

It appears, therefore, that between June 1963 and July 1965, whether seen with or without a soundtrack (it was first screened complete at Gramercy on 4 October 1963), the viewer had to make their own way with Twice a Man. This would be a rare period of interpretative freedom for admirers of Markopoulos. He would exercise increasing control on the distribution, exhibition, and interpretation of his work to the point where he withdrew his films entirely, effectively destroying them, at least in their original form, as he re-edited, re-printed, and otherwise reworked them, and incorporated them into his eighty-hour magnum opus Eniaios. If Markopoulos had had his way, Twice a Man would have come full circle, existing only as a silent film, or as an episode of a longer silent work.  

What might those ‘innocent’ early audiences that we have just conjured, unwittingly liberated from the burden of Markopoulos’ interpretative diktats, made of Twice a Man? Had the opening credits been made by the time of the first screenings? If so, the audience would have had some clues to the film’s classical framework – printed over a relief of a Greek river god, the credits list the main roles, son, young mother, aged mother, artist physician. They might have anticipated a multi-generational family drama set in ancient Greece. Such knowledge may have led such audiences to interpret the ‘modern’ content – New York docks and streets, bohemian parties, contemporary art – in the context of Greek myth, in the manner of Ulysses, perhaps, say, identifying the man on the Staten Island ferry as Charon ferrying the dead across the river Styx to the underworld.    

The viewer may have a had a general interest in world cinema and linked the protagonists’ journey through a lifeless, purgatorial, urban high society in the manner of Marcello’s in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). Fellini’s next film had recently opened in New York to much media fanfare when the Twice a Man benefit was screened, so the Italian’s work may have been in the minds of some at Gramercy. Alternatively, if, like most of the practitioners of American experimental cinema, the viewer was interested in high modernist poetry, she may have paralleled the film’s purgatory to Eliot’s ‘Unreal city’ in The Waste Land, itself citing Baudelaire’s ‘Unreal city, city full of dreams, / Where ghosts in broad daylight cling to passers-by’.8 She could have exercised the kind of literary or socio-biographical analysis Markopoulos loathed to the themes of wandering, exile, exclusion, or entrapment. Structurally and thematically, Twice a Man proceeds by asserting rigid binary opposites that are then collapsed into something more ambivalent and rewarding: dark/light, sound/silence, male/female, human/divine, present/past, youth/old age, individual/group, exterior/interior, muteness/speech, movement/stasis, water/air, fragment/whole, illness/healing, and, finally and transcendentally, death/life.

Our viewer might simply have followed Dwoskin, who was part of the FMC milieu within which Twice a Man was first screened, and who marvelled at Markopoulos’ control of form and film architectonics, and his ability to use certain cinematic techniques to achieve emotional effects, rather than the work’s putative content.9 The most celebrated of these techniques in Twice a Man is the use of the flash frame which Markopoulos took from Griffith, Eisenstein, and the French Impressionist filmmakers of the silent era, and orchestrated into clusters to create ‘thought-images’.10 These patterns work conventionally to express the characters’ subjectivity, but function more innovatively as a formal element that are orchestrated in a ‘musical-mathematical structure’11 with the use of inward and outward dollies, high- and low-angled shots, and exploratory pans, to generate a ‘dynamic rhythm’ that reveals the film’s ‘ulterior’ and invisible spirit, and that is available  to any viewer with eyes, ears, and a soul, whether she knows her Greek myths inside out or not.

Twice a Man (1963 USA 45 mins)

Prod, Dir, Scr, Phot, Ed: Gregory J. Markopoulos, based on versions of the Hippolytus myth by Euripides, Ovid, Seneca, Jean Racine, and James George Frazer

Cast: Paul Kilb, Olympia Dukakis, Violet Roditi, Albert Torgesen


  1. Stephen Dwoskin, Film is… : the International Free Cinema (London: Peter Owen, 1975), p. 159.
  2. Markopoulos called Twice a Man “a film of the American Advance Guard.” Gregory J. Markopoulos, “Twice a Man: Three Time Prize Winner” in Film as Film: the Collected Writings of Gregory J. Markopoulos, Mark Webber, ed. (London: Visible, 2014), p. 221-223.  First published in Bolex Reporter, Volume 16, Issue 1 (1966).
  3. Jeri Johnson, “The Gilbert and Linati Schemata: Table of Correspondences” in James Joyce, Ulysses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 734-739.
  4. Jonas Mekas, “Movie Journal (August 21, 1969)” in Jonas Mekas, Movie Journal: the Rise of the New American Cinema, 1959-1971, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press), p. 363-364.  First published in the Village Voice.
  5. Jonas Mekas, “Movie Journal (June 13, 1963)” in Movie Journal, p. 92. First published in the Village Voice.
  6. Josef von Sternberg is mentioned several times in Markopoulos’ writings and taught him at the University of Southern California in the late 1940s. Mark Webber, “Introduction” in Film as Film, p. 9.
  7. Gregory J. Markopoulos, “Twice a Man statement” in Film as Film, p. 209-210.
  8. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (New York & London: W.W. Norton, 2001), p. 7, 22 (Eliot’s note quotes Baudelaire in French). Markopoulos closed his 1966 lecture with two quotes from Eliot. Gregory J. Markopoulos, “The Driving Rhythm” in Film as Film, p. 220.
  9. Dwoskin, p. 158-160.
  10. Gregory J. Markopoulos, “Towards a New Narrative Film Form”, in Film as Film, p. 207.  First published in Film Comment, 6 (Fall 1963).
  11. Markopoulos, “The Driving Rhythm,” p. 214.

About The Author

Darragh O'Donoghue is an archivist at Tate and a contributing writer for Cineaste. He recently completed a PhD on the Stephen Dwoskin Archive at the University of Reading, and contributed to the 'Beyond Bollywood' event at Tate Modern in April 2022.

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