While I’m island hopping, I figured I’d entertain you with a list of documentaries I rented via Netflix. Most of them were by mail but some are available digitally. I have arranged them in the order in which I recommend watching them.
Visions of Greece 2 hours and 47 minutes total, copyright 2002
This DVD has stunning aerial footage of the most tourist-attractive sites of Greece. It really helped me see what awaits me, and helps prioritize which ruins to really go and explore. In the main 55-minute segment, text is blended in briefly to indicate where you are, and the narrator provides nonintrusive nuggets of history for some locales. The soundtrack is nice. A very relaxing trip with your eyes and a great overview (literally) of the types of ruins/buildings and beaches that await you. A 30-minutes extra footage segment shows additional scenes (again with locations blended in) with more music but no narration. Visions of Greece: Off the Beaten Path (56 minutes) is peaceful and nicely narrated (by a man this time) and covers more mainland sites. It invites you to go further off the beaten path, which segways into a final 19-minute segment of additional footage. Watching all these back-to-back is a bit repetititve, but when spaced out can make for a soothing journey for the eyes. 🙂 Areas viewed from above: Mikonos, Delos, Naxos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes, Lesbos, Thrace, Thessaloniki, the Peleponnese, Paras, Egina, Athens, Lycabettos, Hydra, Corfu. Thraki archipelago, Macedonia, the Lake Region-and more.
Cruise Greece93 minutes, copyright 2004
To dive into your Greece research, watch this DVD’s Top 10 episode: 1. Athens’ Akropolis, 2. Santorini, 3. The monasteries of Meteora, 4. Padmos (during Easter), 5. I didn’t take notes fast enough here, OOPS-I will guess Olympia 6. The Palace of Knossos on Crete, 7. Lindos on Rhodes, 8. Sissi’s palace on Corfu the Achilleion, 9. Delphi near Mount Parnassus, 10. The Blue Grotto at Zakynthos
The 93-minute armchair traveler DVD has short overviews of Athens, Corfu, Crete, Olympia, Lesvos, Mykonos and Delos, Patmos, Rhodes, Santorini, Thessaloniki, Volos and Meteora and Zakynthos. Catered toward the tourist, the script is sometimes a bit repetitive and ‘sugary’ (“passion, purity, vice and vision!”), but the visuals make up for it and you do get a nice tour and historical sampling of destinations in Greece.
Helen of Troy 2 hours, copyright 2006
This was the most captivating documentary about Greece to me. It has a great balance of showing the actual sites (with easy-to-understand map inserts), period art and re-enactments of the time that are currently being studied. Bettany Hughes pursues the life of Helen of Troy, starting with a reference to her in Homer’s Iliad displayed at the Oxford University to Athens, Mycenae, Sparta, Troy (with a detour to Istanbul) and Hattusa. I found the narrator/host engaging, the timeline (from 1300s to 1200 B.C.) easy to follow and the demonstrations of warfare of that time quite illuminating. In spite of the debate on whether Helen of Troy existed or is a symbolic thread to tell a story, the documentary is rich with perspective that can be applied to modern times.
Greece, Secrets of the Past 45 minutes, copyright 2006
Narrated by Nia Vardalos, this made-for-IMAX movie is rich in computer graphics and provides a beautiful computer-generated view of the Akropolis and the Pallas Athena statue. It provides an update on the research of Santorini, referencing the famed Atlantis legend and showing beautiful footage of the uncovered murals. Watch the end credits and you can see that the crew had fun making this movie.
Greece: Crucible of Civilization three 1-hour episodes, copyright 2000
I was excited to listen to Liam Neeson narrate this three-part DVD. It took me two tries to get into it though. Part I covers the time leading up to the Athenian revolution. It touches on Cleisthenes’ biography since his birth in 570 B.C. And outlines the events leading up to the 508 B.C. Revolution. Part II picks up in 490 B.C. and covers the leadership of Themistokles (Persian Wars) and the subsequent rise to leadership of Pericles. Part III picks up in 431 B.C and describes Athens during the Peloponnesian war up to Socrates’ execution in 399 B.C.
I personally liked Parts II and III best as it gave some insight into the life of Athenians at the time. It provides an educational overview of the time leading up to Athens’ democracy and illustrates the pitfalls that led to its decline.
Athens: The Dawn of Democracy 2 hours, copyright 2007
Narrated by Bettany Hughes, this 2-part DVD covers the same time period as Crucible of Civilization. However, where Liam Neeson’s narrative is a chronological account, Brittany provides us with a more critical approach to our perception of the Athenians. With interviews of various experts and the latest discoveries about classical Greece, Bettany indicates that our romantic notion of democracy was in fact founded on imperialism, slavery and much persuasion. This DVD is rich with engaging perspective, visuals of the city, beautiful computer generated reproductions of the ancient sites, and a pretty cool animation of the battle at Salamis.
St. Paul in Greece 41 minutes, copyright 2000
This is one of the various movies that looks like it was shot in the 80s in spite of a later copyright date. Published by the Christian Organization Vision Video, this DVD traces the steps of Paul when he was a missionary in Greece. Host David Nunn is cheerful and engaging, blending history with the actual quotations of the book of Acts as he retraces Paul’s journey from Neapolis through Thessalonica, Boroea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. There is a bit of an evangelical slant in David’s commentary, but I found this a good basis to understand more about Paul’s journey through Greece and the communities he encountered. If you Google “St. Paul in Greece” you will also find that tours tracing his travels are available, if you’re so inclined.
In Search of History: The Greek Gods 50 minutes, copyright 2005
If you prefer to watch over reading the lovely Mythology, here’s your DVD. This takes us to Olympia and covers the stories of Zeus, Dionysus, Appollo, Esqulpius, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena and Hercules.
Lost Civilizations: Aegean, Legacy of Atlantis and Greece, a Moment of Excellence 50 minutes each, copyright 1995
This Time Life Series provides a nice blend of expert commentary with computer generated re-enactments of events/sites. The Aegean episode covers Troy, Mycenea, Athens, Crete and Thera/Santorini. I enjoyed seeing how a skull was transformed into the face of a Mycenean “Thug”. More has been uncovered about Santorini since 1995, but there are beautiful visuals of ancient Thera murals.
Greece-A moment of excellence covers the golden age with the Akropolis, Delphi and the Nemean Games. It describes the events leading up to Socrates’ execution. This DVD provides some nuggets not referenced in the Crucible and Dawn of Democracy DVDs, and in particular sheds light on how the Akropolis came to be dismantled and pieces ended up in the British Museum.
In Search of Myths and Heroes: Jason and the Argonauts 56 minutes, copyright 2005
I enjoyed the other episodes by Michael Wood in this series, but whether it is because I had just read the Myth or because I am so immersed in Greece right now, I felt that this episode was a bit choppy. Seeing the workshop where the Argos was rebuilt was interesting, as was observing the travels to various sites along Jason’s journey, but I felt that more could have been done with this story. Michael takes you to the Bronze Age Palace of Jason, a workshop where the Argos is re-made, to Lemnos, through the Bosphorus to Cape Jason. He offers a map of the varied routes of Jason’s return, and concludes in Corinth.
Secrets of the Dead: Amazon Warrior Women 60 minutes, copyright 2004
Archaeologist Jeannine Davis-Kimball takes us on her journey from finding 2500 year old remains in a Russian grave to confirm whether the Amazon women described by Homer and Herodotus actually existed. Surprisingly, this journey begins in Russia and ends in Mongolia, but also shows Greek artifacts. A nice documentary for those who are interested in the forensics of archeological discoveries.
Ancient Greece: The traditions of Greek Culture four 30-minute segments, copyright 1998 (feels like 80s though): Volume 1: Part 1: Art in Ancient Greece; Part 2: Mining in Ancient Greece, Volume 2: Part 3: Bacchus, The God of Wine; Part 4: Firewalking in Greece
This four-part series set me back to my 80s classroom when we had to watch movies that would put us to sleep. The narrator completely ruins this movie. The first episode was grueling because the narrator spoke in monotone and did not engage me at all. In addition, the soundtrack was jarring-which I later learned might have been the music Greeks played in ancient times, though we are told that not much historical evidence of music has been preserved. The segment about mining provided absolutely beautiful visuals though. The gold work Greeks did is mesmerizing, and I was tempted to watch this part without the volume, but then I would have missed the history behind the pieces. The series becomes more interesting in Volume 2, where we are provided a demonstration of a Dionysian dance by ‘maidens’. The Firewalking episode takes us to a small village (I am unclear where) and documents the festivities leading up to the day of Saint Constantine and Saint Eleni still practiced today. It shows the sacrifice of a goat and men walking over hot coals as they dance themselves into a trance.
While this DVD has excellent footage I haven’t seen in other DVDs, I cannot recommend it for entertainment. It will only appeal to those truly making a scholarly study of Greece who have the patience to sit through the most boring narrative I have experienced in 20 years.
Greece: Land of Sun 1 hour, copyright 2005
Buyer beware. Billing itself as “Plan your next vacation with this guide to the country that features breathtaking photography and a wonderfully complementary soundtrack.” It is hardly a vacation planner. This DVD is suitable as a backdrop to a Greece-themed party. It has beautiful shots of various locations in Greece with lovely local music, but that is all there is to it. Nothing indicates where these beautiful shots were taken, and while initially the sections (2-4 minute songs with pictures) seem to focus on particular islands, toward the end there is no telling what part of Greece the segment is covering. There are a lot of disappointed comments about this DVD, but if you need to take a vacation with your eyes, this DVD does do the trick, or it will provide your Greek party with music and background visuals.
Greece in “Hollywood”
For fun I also looked for movies featuring Greece. You can find more comprehensive lists on google, I just haven’t seen them all yet.
Mamma Mia! is likely the most popular in recent Hollywood films, and a joy to watch.
Opa! Is a sweet romantic comedy set in Padmos. One has to suspend disbelief a bit for parts of the storyline but I did enjoy it.
My Life In Ruins is a romantic comedy using a bus tour in Greece as the backdrop. I have to watch it again for the scenery, but found it a fun respite from deeper movies.
The Sisterhood of Traveling Pants films were shot on Oía, Cyclades and Santorini.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is a fun perspective on a Greek family in America.
Trojan Women was quite impressive. Shot in 1971, I didn’t feel like this was an ‘old’ movie, likely because it is such a period piece and has great actresses. The storyline is incredibly tragic, but I watched it in one sitting because the characters generated such empathy.
On the don’t bother to watch list:
The isles of Greece featuring a Tour of Crete copyright 2005 (feels like 1980s) two 30-minute segments
My oh my, this video served as comic relief more than anything else. Originally a German movie, the English script is filled with superlatives enticed to get beach bums to come lie in the sun here with the option of ‘getting away from it all’ in remote towns. The Isles of Greece takes us to Athens, Hydra and Crete. The shots are focused on watersports, sunbathers, some shopping in small streets. The episode ends with an appeal to attend a pool party where food is of a “refined variety with a touch of international taste” that pans over a buffet ending with a chicken dressed up as a person! The ‘join-in-the-dance’ shots afterwards close this 1980’s show. A Tour of Crete is narrated by a woman wrapped in nostalgia about her recent visit there. Simon Cowell would call it “indulgent” as it seems more of a forum for this woman to reflect on her trip than it helps us determine our own itinerary. The music is good though.
Goddess of Love with Vanna White is as ‘tawdry’ as the reviews suggest. Not worth a minute of anyone’s time.