The 1964 classic “Zorba the Greek” is finally debuting on DVD, in a newly restored print that highlights Walter Lassally’s beautiful B&W photography — reason enough to go into a Greek dance. Even better, the disc includes an audio commentary by writer-producer-director Michael Cacoyannis, which makes it worth the wait.
Many filmmakers from the 1950s and ’60s did not live long enough to enter the DVD era, so it’s great to have the 82-year-old offering his insights.
His comments about international financing in the 1950s and ’60s are particularly interesting. “Zorba” was shot in English due to considerations of the global market; thanks to overseas distribs, the pic was in profit before it opened. The film, he says, cost less than $1 million — a big jump from his four previous Greek-language films, which cost $30,000 each.
Cacoyannis gives few specifics about scenes, but praises Fox for backing him on his last-minute decision to replace Simone Signoret, an Oscar-winning star, with Lila Kedrova, an actress who spoke no English.
He also offers thoughts on editing (he trimmed pic from three hours to 2½), rehearsals, the actors (Quinn was “difficult, but wonderful”) and reasons for not shooting in color (“Greece is very much a black-and-white country because of the quality of the light”).
His commentary is interspersed with notes from Demetrios Liappas, a Loyola Marymount prof of Greek studies who offers biographical info on scribe Nikos Kazantzakis and puts the novel into historical context.
Otherwise, there are not a lot of extras, but they’re worthwhile. A brief opening scene that was cut proves Cacoyannis was smart to trim the film; unfortunately, the other 30 minutes of footage have been lost.
The longest extra is an A&E “Biography” episode on Quinn. The best addition is six minutes from Fox Movietone News: docu footage from the mid-1960s, including on-location scenes in Crete and the Paris preem of “Zorba.”
Since no narrator’s vocal tracks were ever recorded, the B&W footage proceeds in eerie silence as it shows crudely lit stars smiling at cheering crowds and Greek dancers whooping it up onstage. All of them look like ghostly apparitions of a lost, long-ago era. It’s surprisingly haunting and sweet.