In a 2015 article, the journalist Alex Proud described the British 1990s as a decade that had started as one of confined opportunities and evolved into one marked by an easygoing attitude, a desire for (often conspicuous) consumption, and a hedonistic and optimistic climate like that of the 1960s.Footnote 2 The Greek 1990s were comparable: bookended by a political crisis at the start of the decade and later marked by desires for modernization and rising living standards.Footnote 3 This climate influenced the period's public history (the production of historical discourses outside the academic realm), manifestly including representations of the past in art and the media.
History is constructed in the way we anticipate, perceive, interpret and narrate facts in relation to past and present.Footnote 4 There is a rich literature on film as a medium of (re)construction of the past and as a form which reflects the historical and cultural context of its production time.Footnote 5 In the 1980s, Pierre Sorlin argued that history is built and shaped by the media, while cinema influences this process by providing historical ‘facts’ to viewers.Footnote 6 Eleftheria Thanouli too has recently argued that films narrate and explain the past through a set of narratives, and argumentative and ideological mechanisms. Films do not pretend to objective representation of the past, but construe relations between images and the historical past.Footnote 7
My discussion from a historical vantage-point examines a commercially successful film of the 1990s which narrates aspects of everyday life in the 1960s, scrutinizing the continuities and discontinuities between these two periods and examining how the film's view of the 1967–74 dictatorship contributed to its success. I explore its visions of the rebellious 1960s in the prosperous 1990s, arguing that End of an Era approached the dictatorship with a view to underlining the continuities between these two historical periods, especially in perceptions of modernity through consumption. Underplaying the authoritarian aspect, the film highlights the young generation's innate drive for defiance, manifested through a fascination with Western consumer trends. This choice was likely to appeal to viewers during a period when modernity was largely perceived as a consumer-oriented process focused on the embracing of popular Western cultural references.
The dictatorship has preoccupied historians, political scientists and other scholars, especially in the last two decades, yet a focus on cultural history remains marginal.Footnote 8 Since the 1980s, the public sphere has often approached the dictatorship with a focus on its kitsch aesthetics.Footnote 9 This viewpoint led to the demarcation of a kind of ‘stylistic’ borderline between a kitsch authoritarian past and a more ‘tasteful’ democratic sequel. Such approaches saw the dictatorship as an archaizing parenthesis within a wider postwar period marked by the dynamics of modernization. End of an Era deviated from this norm, opting instead to portray the dictatorship as a period during which Greek consumer politics were already influenced by international trends. The film saw modernity as a powerful bottom-up process linked to cultural consumption, which the dictatorship failed to interrupt.
According to Lucy Delap, modernity tends to stress discontinuities between the past and the present, and is a blunt tool to uncover older phenomena which societies rework.Footnote 10 Modernity is a non-linear, ever-changing process whose analytical valence is weak unless historically located. Western societies often valorize tradition as a call for a return to simpler, less sophisticated lifestyles. In Mediterranean societies, where attachment to tradition is strong, meanings attached to modernity are fraught with anti-modernist tendencies.Footnote 11 Modernity and tradition are often viewed as antagonistic, as are supporters of modernity who desire relations with advanced capitalist economies and supporters of tradition who view such contacts as alienating.Footnote 12 Such dynamics seem to largely depend on economic developments, as attested by the fact that the appeal of Westernization intensifies in prosperous times. (The financial crisis of the 2010s, on the other hand, showed that in times of hardship people tend to embrace tradition and institutions such as the nuclear family.)Footnote 13 Historicizing the power of the desires for modernity in Greek society, this article argues that, despite substantially different political conditions, both the 1960s and the 1990s represented periods of economic growth during which desires for convergence with the West through the adoption of consumer trends were powerful. The impact of End of an Era is explored within this historical landscape.
My discussion unfolds in five stages. First, it presents the film's importance, its reception and the ways in which it influenced Greek cinema; I then historicize the scenario, highlighting how the film was a comment on modernized lifestyles. I go on to argue that the modernizing trends of the 1990s were primarily focused on alignment with Western consumer culture, as earlier in the 1960s. I then discuss how the film frames the military regime's failure to implement its conservative cultural agenda. Finally, I comment on how End of an Era highlighted consumer and cultural referents, viewing 1960s modernization in such a way as to appeal to 1990s audiences.
The film that ended the drought
Released on 20 January 1995, End of an Era received positive reviews and won several awards in the Thessaloniki Film Festival (including best film and best screenplay). It screened in international film festivals such as those of Chicago and Karlovy Vary. The film was initially released in five Athens cinemas (four in central middle-class districts) and in one in Thessaloniki, a consumer geography which reveals that distributors felt the film would attract middle and upper-middle class audiences.Footnote 14 It was also positively received by the press. The centre-left Eleftherotypia, often unsparing in its reviews, saw a lively, humorous, and fresh approach to the passage into adulthood, influenced by British Free Cinema and the French Nouvelle Vague.Footnote 15 For the centre-left Ethnos, the film explored the 1960s through a nostalgic prism. Kokkinos’ intention to evoke nostalgia in viewers (for example, through black and white shots and 1960s style opening credits reminding viewers over forty of the visual culture of their youth) is obvious, and nostalgia aesthetics also marked the film's advertising campaign.Footnote 16 Nevertheless, reviewers downplayed Kokkinos’ emphasis on issues pertaining to daily life (especially those concerning ‘rebellious’ consumer choices) sidelined in earlier films dealing with the dictatorship, such as Λούφα και παραλλαγή (Loafing and Camouflage) by Nikos Perrakis (1984). Such issues were also understated in the (public) historiography of the dictatorship in the 1980s and the 1990s, which focused almost exclusively on student resistance to the regime.Footnote 17 Ethnos noted the enthusiasm for rock music and cars, but pretty much ignored Kokkinos’ fresh approach to the public history of the dictatorship.Footnote 18 A key point in the film is that the authoritarianism of the dictatorial regime is underplayed. Violent scenes are absent, and aspects of authoritarianism, like police arrests, are commented upon in dialogues but never depicted on screen. As Periklis (Yiorgos Pyrpasopoulos) recalls, ‘anxiety was […] unknown at that time’. Athens is depicted as a peaceful city connected to international culture. The epitome of this rapport is the foreign saxophonist (Andreas Natsios) seen playing jazz in the streets in several scenes: he, not coincidentally, features as the main figure on the film's promotional poster. This choice capitalized on the 1990s ideological climate, when expectations for an easy life were high and visuals of such a lifestyle appealed to wide audiences.Footnote 19 Such ‘relaxed’ representations are pivotal in how the film identifies modernity with cultural contact with the West by means of consumption.
The film industry prospered in Greece between the late 1950s and the early 1970s. Television had arrived in the late 1960s, but only became popular after 1970, and cinema remained the most influential mass medium until the early 1970s: domestic producers created 117 films in the 1967–8 season, selling 137,074,815 tickets.Footnote 20 After 1967, the military regime tightened censorship, promoted military films of dubious aesthetics, and tried to discredit earlier productions.Footnote 21 The regime employed television for propaganda, yet consumers embraced the new medium: by 1971–2 cinemas were closing down.Footnote 22 By 1974, 69.2% of urban households had a TV set.Footnote 23 The years following the restoration of democracy in 1974 were infertile for commercial cinema. Around 1980, there was an attempt by some producers to revive cinema, with piecemeal success before the industry entered a deeper crisis after 1984.Footnote 24 The popularity of films produced exclusively for the VCR market made conditions even tougher after the year 1985.Footnote 25 In 1989 (perhaps the worst year since the 1940s) just ten films were produced, and most failed to find distributors. After 1990, the Greek Film Centre gradually began to encourage filmmakers to challenge the dominant trend of the 1980s and to start producing films which did not carry explicit political messages. This policy led to the emergence of new directors such as Layia Yiourgou and Periklis Choursoglou who instigated a shift back to the successful formula of the 1960s. This included a renewed trust in linear narrative, editing which created continuity, the use of the camera as invisible spectator, frames emphasising the characters, the sovereignty of dialogue, placing the object of interest in the centre of the frame, the use of light to designate human figures as carriers of action, audio-to-video synchronization, use of music to invoke emotions in the viewer, construction of a clear cinematic space, use of a linear, chronological structure and continuity between frames so that viewers can easily follow the plot. What such filmmakers sought was to enrich the successful 1960s formula through combining it with subject matter of particular interest to the 1990s, including, significantly, nostalgia for the past.Footnote 26 Such elements are evident in End of an Era, the first black and white film produced in Greece in decades. Colour TV sets had become commonplace by the early 1980sFootnote 27 but viewers remained familiar with black and white aesthetics: TV channels regularly screened 1950s and 1960s films.Footnote 28
The crisis in the film industry persisted into the late 1990s, when commercial TV stations began to claim an active role in film production, using actors who had gained popularity starring in early 1990s successful private television series. Films like Safe Sex by Michalis Reppas and Thanassis Papathanassiou (1999) and Πολίτικη Κουζίνα (A Touch of Spice) by Tasos Boulmetis (2003), sold over one million tickets, breaking records that had stood since the 1970s.Footnote 29 End of an Era marked this revival in the mid-1990s as the first Greek film for almost a decade to sell some 200,000 tickets.Footnote 30 Shortly afterwards, films such as Ο οργασμός της αγελάδας (The Cow's Orgasm) by Olga Malea (1997) and Βαλκανιζατέρ (Valkanizater) by Sotiris Gkoritsas (1997), reached similar levels of popularity and were seen by some as a regeneration of Greek cinema.Footnote 31 Further, End of an Era featured actors (Dimosthenis Papadopoulos, Peggy Trikalioti and others) who were subsequently cast in other films and television series. Indeed, End of an Era inaugurated a wave of films, including Peppermint (1999) and Uranya (2006), both by Kostas Kapakas, and Πίσω πόρτα (Back Door) by Yiorgos Tsemperopoulos (2000), which focused on everyday life under the dictatorship, touching upon themes that had remained marginal in earlier works such as Πέτρινα χρόνια (Years of Stone) by Pantelis Voulgaris (1985) or Loafing and Camouflage.Footnote 32 These themes centred around rites of passage from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adult life, sexuality, and inter-generational tensions often provoked by very different reactions toward ‘novel’ cultural products.
End of an Era's innovation lay in its engagement with the shifting attitudes toward political life in the 1990s: what appears on the big screen may be fictional but it retains codes which the mass audience is capable of interpreting.Footnote 33 End of an Era tuned in to the existing atmosphere of reduced interest in politics. The post-1974 public sphere had been intensely politicized, especially for the young.Footnote 34 PASOK, a mass political party with a radical profile established in 1974, had a record of 50,000 and 110,000 registered members in 1977 and 1981 respectively (and around 1000 local branches).Footnote 35 As left-wing politicization began to influence culture, film narratives about the military regime were constructed through motifs of the martyr Left.Footnote 36 In the 1980s, political engagement began to decrease.Footnote 37 In cinema, positive representations of individualism by both emerging and established filmmakers, such as Nikos Vergitsis and Pantelis Voulgaris, gained traction.Footnote 38 This political apathy grew after the October 1993 national elections, with interest in party politics declining further and political identities attenuating.Footnote 39 Directors of the 1990s now approached the dictatorship with a focus on popular culture.
Historicizing the script
End of an Era narrates the adventures of a group of high school seniors in Plaka, in the school year 1969–70. Plaka had evolved into a tourist area with a vibrant nightlife in the 1960s and maintained this character until the early 1980s, when a regeneration project transformed it into a more respectable hospitality district. As a listed area, Plaka had escaped the postwar building craze, maintaining its neoclassical houses and thus remaining suitable for the shooting of scenes set in the 1960s. In one of the first scenes, Periklis drives his jeep through Athens’ busy centre to the funeral of his friend Christos (Dimosthenis Papadopoulos), all the while remembering their last year in school together. Throughout, the film switches between the 1960s and the 1990s. Christos arrives in Athens with his family in 1969, having moved from Patras in preparation for entrance exams to the Athens Medical School. Families from the provinces saw higher education as a path of upward social mobility in the cities.Footnote 40 In the film, Christos joins a group of middle and upper-middle class students who have been raised in more liberal families. The youngsters come to accept Christos when he proves his knowledge of rock music in a quiz and by implication his interest in the global scene of protest, or least of sexual liberation.Footnote 41 End of an Era's characters display a keen interest in music, and their friendship revolves around rock. They also appear to be interested in theatre and cinema. We will explore both these topics later.
The story revolves around the students’ efforts to show resistance to the Dictatorship by staging a play (by school custom, it was the grand-aunts who organized these events), a cultural genre then infused with anti-establishment sentiments. The students decide to stage Ionesco's Rhinoceros instead of one by a Greek author that would have been a more conventional choice. They convince the school's principal (Yiannis Rozakis) to accept their proposal and allow them to cast girls from the neighbouring high school in the female roles. This – for mixed schools were introduced only in the late 1970s – was itself an act of resistance. (Though Yiannis, a communist student played by Tassos Yiannopoulos, views it as pointless.) The female characters [particularly Stella (Peggy Trikalioti), who is in a relationship with Yiorgos (Kostas Kazanas)] allow Kokkinos to comment on shifting attitudes towards sexuality. The film has few sex scenes (mild by 1990s standards) but systematically comments on the sexual life of adolescents and premarital sex. In the last section of this article, I argue that such comments on sexuality expressed more the unease of the HIV/AIDS era of the 1990s and less the sexual opening of the 1960s.
The dialogues convey an enthusiasm for modern consumer goods such as cars and TV sets, symbols of the postwar prosperity which the dictatorship did not halt. Real GDP grew by 6.2% per year in the period between 1950–73, more than in advanced economies such as Germany and France (5% and 4% respectively) or the peripheral economies under authoritarian regimes, Spain and Portugal (5.8% and 5.7%).Footnote 42 Indeed, between 1968–73 (the period the film focuses on) GDP rose by an annual 9%.Footnote 43 This new prosperity facilitated the popularity of novel products, especially within the field of communication: TV sets, cars and travel are an integral part of the End of an Era's landscape.Footnote 44
In End of an Era cars are the means by which the characters get to have new experiences, such as driving while listening to music. These experiences help shape their masculinities and feed many of the film's scenes. Yiorgos, who enjoys access to his father's car, constructs his masculinity around the privilege of ‘auto-mobility’. He finds life in Athens fascinating despite the fact that the city is under military rule. Christos’ identity, by contrast is constructed around a desire for escape and a fascination with British culture: ‘Real life is in London.’Footnote 45 This desire to escape irritates his repressive father (Vangelis Kazan), an inconspicuous junta supporter who manipulates Christos’ life, reproaches his interest in foreign culture and criticizes the lifestyle of his son's new friends.
The 1990s: modernization through consumption?
End of an Era opened fourteen years after Greece joined the European Economic Community in 1981. The decision to join the EEC, made by the New Democracy government, enjoyed limited political support. There was marked ambivalence in 1980s Greece, with an animated (though subsiding) anti-Americanism on the one side and significant interest in Western popular culture on the other, attested by, among other things, the popularity of American TV series.Footnote 46 Greece soon adapted to an international climate marked by a passion for consumption and individualism, and reservations toward Western culture subsided.Footnote 47 In the 1990s, living standards improved further, and consumer desires became largely identified with Europeanization. Pro-European sentiments strengthened when PASOK won the October 1993 elections and, abandoning its earlier Euroscepticism, aligned itself with the 1990s pro-globalization euphoria, including participation in the European Monetary Union (EMU) project. Optimism was reflected in surveys conducted at the time and indeed in the way in which the 1980s have been remembered.Footnote 48 Greek society saw the EU as the ideal vehicle for cultural and political modernization.Footnote 49 The Greek 1990s enjoyed apparent stability in policy direction, and a gradual build-up of economic success.Footnote 50 Participation in the EMU was heralded as a beacon of future prosperity, stirring the expectations of the market, the middle classes and labour unions alike.Footnote 51 Greece secured a strong role in the European Union project, and the country's average income gradually approached that of richer Western European countries. Consensus on Europe also helped mitigate polarization. The 1996 ‘sofa’ elections saw reduced enthusiasm for electoral campaigns and party gatherings.Footnote 52 The notion that Greece was an underdeveloped country faded.Footnote 53 This spirit was captured in a mid-1990s survey, which showed that while 31.8% of Greeks viewed their economic situation as bad or very bad, 62.8% rated theirs as moderate, good or excellent.Footnote 54 It was also reflected in the media, with magazines and television programmes promoting conspicuous consumption.Footnote 55 We now know that the 1990s prosperity was fragile and largely financed by easy credit. But this hardly concerned consumers at the time, least of all the young.Footnote 56
Greece appeared to be a continuously modernizing, post-industrial society, with a service sector that absorbed about 60% of its workforce and produced about 70% of its GDP.Footnote 57 This ‘modernization’ focused on consumption, while social attitudes pertaining to other matters such as sexuality remained conservative. The majority of Greeks (77% in 1994 as opposed to a mere 58% in 1985) saw the Orthodox religion as important.Footnote 58 In the 1990s the discourse of the Orthodox Church gained ground in the media, especially in the last years of this decade, when the Greek Church was headed by the charismatic Archbishop Christodoulos Paraskevaidis.Footnote 59 Greek society, to a degree, embraced modern gender roles (female employment, gender equality) but remained sceptical towards demands such as gay rights.Footnote 60 End of an Era's representations fitted into this framework, which combined the desire for consumer-based modernization and cultural pluralism with the persistence of older attitudes.
The Dictatorship (1967–74): ineffective restrictions
End of an Era portrays the dictatorship as incapable of consolidating its cultural politics. The coup was the expression of the most reactionary element of the post civil-war armed forces. The Colonels feared an election victory for the Centre Union, a coalition of centre parties, which had won the 1963 and 1964 elections (the latter with an impressive 52.72% of the vote) and overturned the long political hegemony of the Right. The Centre Union adopted a modernizing agenda with emphasis on education: the development of technical and professional education, language reform, and the extension of compulsory education from six years to nine.Footnote 61 It also implemented a policy of economic expansion.Footnote 62 These initiatives appealed to large portion of society, especially the progressive young. The dictatorship overturned the trend toward reform. It reversed the educational reforms and introduced a reactionary cultural agenda which promoted tradition (including folk culture), religion, and the ancient past. With regard to cinema, it funded war films and films of a nationalist character, while tightening censorship for all film genres, even comedy.Footnote 63 The dictatorship also encouraged interest in television and sport, seen as harmless entertainment.Footnote 64 Greece hosted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup finals in 1971 and 1973, in Athens and Thessaloniki respectively. Though in theory the military regime condemned Western cultural influences, in practice it saw tourism as a valuable source of income. It tolerated social deviance by tourists even when this upset local communities; the Cretan village of Matala, which saw hippies from around the world flock to its shores, is a prime example.Footnote 65 Likewise, the regime tolerated Plaka's unrestrained touristic development, with some transparently gay-friendly spots.Footnote 66 Undoubtedly, the dictatorship kept a lid on the influence of the 1968 événements in Greece; yet young people sought to maintain communications with the West, seeing such contact as a means of resistance. While, for example, foreign music groups stopped performing in Athens after the establishment of the dictatorship (the last one to do so were the Rolling Stones, on 17 April 1967), youngsters continued to frequent rock clubs to see local groups play.Footnote 67 Such efforts by youngsters to maintain cultural contacts with the West play a crucial role in End of an Era and would have been positively received by viewers in the pro-Europeanization climate of the 1990s.
Linking two modernities
End of an Era narrates the efforts of a group of middle-class youngsters to participate in Western modernity through consumption, variously understood. Periklis, for example, runs a pirate radio station, along the lines of a tradition that originated in the United States and other Western countries in the 1960s, which saw many young people communicate their music tastes to the world.Footnote 68 In the film, Kokkinos depicts music as a field upon which tradition and modernity collide. Rock music round the world had acquired anti-establishment connotations, contesting state and parental authority.Footnote 69 For some adults, rock music had become the emblem of the aspirations of an emergent middle class, yet established patriarchal authorities saw the need to control the mass media.Footnote 70 Tensions of this kind can be seen in End of an Era, especially in the relationship between Christos and his father. Christos often argues with his father over rock: his father believes it could affect Christos’ school performance. The father also rejects his son's interest in the cosmopolitan middle-class values that rock represents, viewing them as hostile to tradition.
Such disputes between Christos’ and his father's over musical tastes highlight music's political valence. Christos’ father encourages his son to listen to Yiorgos Economidis, a radio producer of the Radio of the Armed Forces (ΥΕΝΕΔ), a junta sympathizer, and the writer of the lyrics of its anthem. Unlike Christos, Periklis, who lives with his divorced mother (Despina Tomazani), enjoys high levels of personal autonomy, and is allowed to decorate his room according to his rock aesthetics. Yet if rock had, in the 1960s, acquired connotations of contestation towards the establishment, its revolutionary overtones weakened after 1974, when Greek political songs gained in appeal.Footnote 71 Rock was still played at parties, but in general Greek political songs predominated.Footnote 72 This changed once again in the early 1980s, when punk rock and heavy metal were anti-establishment statements.Footnote 73 A new generation of those born in the early 1960s not only didn't respond to the political discourses of the initial post-dictatorship period but became increasingly disillusioned with the PASOK government after 1981 and the continuation of such practices as police violence. This culture of contestation was largely space-specific, concentrating around central Athens, especially in the ‘anarchist’ district of Exarchia. These youngsters were not interested in Greek political songs performed by artists in festivals organized by the youth wings of political parties (these had lost most of their appeal by the 1980s), which were for them associated with the establishment, preferring foreign music genres.Footnote 74
In End of an Era Kokkinos is careful in his representation of adults, avoiding depicting them as inflexibly conservative. Take Yiorgos’ father, Vyronas (Alexis Gkolfis). Living affluently with his son, he seems to be lured into the pleasures of modern commodities such as cars and TV sets. Associating masculinity and bachelorhood with interest in consumption, End of an Era challenged the ‘Mrs Consumer model’ that suggested women, more than men, were eager to embrace modern consumer trends.Footnote 75 From the viewpoint of the 1990s, this representation engaged with then recent transformations in relations between masculinity and consumption: following other European countries such as the UK, Greece witnessed the proliferation of lifestyle magazines targeting young urban men in the 1980s.Footnote 76 Such discourses blossomed further in the 1990s, when lifestyle discourses also proliferated on commercial radio and television.Footnote 77
In End of an Era, Vyronas maintains a good relationship with Yiorgos (the latter describes his father as a ‘nice guy’) founded on parental leniency. This relationship is expressed primarily though the offering of material goods: he gives Yiorgos his car (although his son has no driving license) and money for entertainment, and allows him to smoke and have sex with Stella in the family home. Yiorgos exhibits a macho masculinity that is dependent on his fortunate financial position. Vyronas provides these amenities without asking Yiorgos to adapt to his own moral priorities. Yiorgos’ machismo includes indifference towards his girlfriend and even her pregnancy. His character is reminiscent of earlier roles such as that of Kostas (Nikos Kourkoulos) in the 1961 blockbuster Κατήφορος (Downhill) by Yiannis Dalianidis. Following on the transnational panic over youth in the 1960s, this film had linked juvenile deviance with imported attitudes and habits such as drinking, smoking, rock and roll and casual sex.Footnote 78 The film gave several young and talented actors debut roles and its fresh topic and commercial success (161,331 tickets in the 1961–62 season, ranking first among sixty-eight movies) ensured it became a key reference in 1960s Greek cinema. However, similarities between representations of masculinity in the two films only extend so far. Downhill expresses the 1960s, when anxiety over youth was high in the West and beyond and deviant masculinities were depicted as requiring parental discipline and state intervention. In the retrospect of End of an Era, Yiorgos is not portrayed as dangerous to society (in the last scenes he appears to be an ordinary family man), merely as annoying to his circle. Even Yiorgos’ indifference towards Stella's pregnancy was, most likely, not that offensive to a society accustomed to seeing abortion as an acceptable means of contraception.Footnote 79
End of an Era blended 1960s liberalizing sexuality with a dose of scepticism not unrelated to developments at the time of its production in the early 1990s, when concerns over HIV/AIDS led young and middle-aged Greeks to turn away from casual sex.Footnote 80 Even the Greek edition of Playboy approved of the latter.Footnote 81 Successful series of the early 1990s such as Οι τρεις χάριτες (The Three Graces) by Michalis Reppas and Thanassis Panathanassiou (Mega Channel: 1990–92) related the tribulations of dating and depicted singlehood and long-term abstinence from sex as an acceptable condition for middle-aged women.Footnote 82 Likewise, female characters appear restrained in End of an Era: Stella experiences premarital sex but only within a monogamous (on her part) relationship, which is a far cry from the ‘provocative’ femininity of 1960s films.Footnote 83 Her willingness to engage in premarital sex appears morally justified by her deep love for her first boyfriend. Stella's decision is, in retrospect, vindicated: the film's final scene reveals that she marries Yiorgos after high school.
The West had seen a sexual revolution in the 1960s. In postwar France, premarital sex was commonplace.Footnote 84 Germany followed a similar path.Footnote 85 This liberal climate even reached late-Francoist Spain.Footnote 86 The ways that this sexual revolution influenced Greece are not obvious. The rise in abortions (about 150,000 per year in the late 1960s, according to one estimate) shows that pre-marital and extra-marital sex were common.Footnote 87 1960s films portrayed premarital sex as common in cities but condemned by the older generation and the state as evidence of moral decline. Condemnation of premarital sex (particularly for females) lasted until the 1970s and later, especially among working-class families.Footnote 88 In the cities, even young leftists (who would theoretically be less likely to adopt the norm of the nuclear family, upheld by the post-civil-war state as part of a broader nationalist ideology) often preferred stable relations and marriage to casual dating.Footnote 89 As for rural areas, where premarital relations existed, they remained largely concealed.Footnote 90 Surveys show that, even in the 1980s, about one third of students of the University of Athens responded yes to having sex before adulthood in 1991, compared to 17% in 1978.Footnote 91 Such data corroborate the rise of adolescent sexual activity in the 1980s and show that Greece was not swept into the international backlash against sexual activity prompted by the fear of HIV/AIDS epidemic.Footnote 92 Instead, this development was regulated through a combination of the internal political climate of the 1980s and the protective nature of the Greek family. The PASOK government encouraged a more liberal approach to sexuality.Footnote 93 Concern over HIV/AIDS remained relatively moderate: the number of carriers in Greece was limited and the protective structure of the Greek family cultivated an illusion of immunity, at least among heterosexuals.Footnote 94 Greece continued its slow process of liberalization, especially in relation to premarital sex. By the 1990s, condoms were easily available in Athens.Footnote 95 This did not extend to tolerance towards divorce, which continued to be perceived as a ‘social threat’ (even by some sociologistsFootnote 96), like single-parent families.
End of an Era mirrors this gradual social process. Consensual sex appears possible between Yiorgos and Stella, but out of bounds for the ‘platonic’ love between Christos and Lena, and generally uncommon: most characters are single. Premarital relations are no easy affair (highlighted here in Lena's reluctance to date Christos) and young males satisfy their needs by visiting prostitutes. The concept of casual sex between youngsters and mature people is addressed in Christos’ affair with Periklis’ mother. It is a relationship defined by guilt; ‘You don't have to say anything’, says Periklis’ mother to Christos as he leaves her bedroom. It seems that End of an Era's heroes are participating in the sexual liberalization of the 1960s only reluctantly.
Throughout the film, expectations of modernity revolve around enthusiasm for visual culture. Yiorgos is fascinated when Vyronas brings a TV to watch the 1970 World Cup finals, the first to be broadcast in Greece. When the signal is received on the TV, Yiorgos and Stella are thrilled with the commercials: the scene captures the transition of the transmission of consumer messages from print to electronic media that technologically more advanced societies such as Italy had experienced ten years earlier.Footnote 97 It is a moment which expresses the enthusiasm of the youth for the opportunities for communication that television offered, even under the dictatorship. Not coincidentally, marketing and advertising were established as professional careers in Greece in this same period.Footnote 98 This excitement for visual culture resonated with the late 1980s and early 1990s enthusiasm for novel televisual products, which End of an Era's viewers had relatively recently experienced: commercial and satellite television arrived in Greece in the late 1980s following eager anticipation.Footnote 99
Kokkinos captures this young passion for international culture under the dictatorship. Cinema, literature, theatre acquired political significance, creating a cultural terrain that contrasted with the military regime's priorities. Censorship was less severe between 1970 and 1973.Footnote 100 The years 1970 and 1971 saw the establishment of some 150 publishing houses and the circulation of some 2000 new titles, including Brecht and Gramsci.Footnote 101 The New Greek Theatre emerged as part of the international political networks of the New Left, a political movement campaigning for civil, political and other rights. Actors of political plays established ties with their audiences, encouraging their followers to view themselves as part of a group of global dissidents.Footnote 102 In choosing the staging of a play as an act of contestation, Kokkinos acknowledges theatre's subversive dynamics. Cinema too was significant in terms of its form, symbolism and reception.Footnote 103 Yet this is contested in End of an Era, in which the characters treat cinemas only as a place for entertainment and watch soft porn. Cinema is mostly discussed as a form of contact with modernity. As only affluent consumers could afford to travel abroad with any regularity, cinema became a vehicle of fantasy, enabling those who could not travel to gain an insight into life abroad. In End of an Era, this point is explicitly made when Christos and Yiorgos discuss the British film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Karel Reisz (1960).
Music played a similar role. According to the historian Leonidas Kallivretakis, a student at the time, youngsters were mostly rock and roll enthusiasts and typically not so interested in Greek political songs.Footnote 104 Rock music had limited political valence in Greece in the years around 1970, in contrast to other countries, such as France for example, where rock (especially then novel sub-genres such as psychedelic rock) expressed the spirit of the May 1968 uprising.Footnote 105 End of An Era's characters align themselves with this apolitical stance: the group of youngsters accept Christos because of his familiarity with rock music. The characters are seen singing English songs or debating whether specific songs (for example, ‘Esso Besso’ by Rosemarie Squires) can be considered as belonging to the genre of rock. Periklis’ station plays foreign music, much to the irritation of the communist Yiannis, the only one among the youngsters interested in Greek music. Through Yiannis’ character, Kokkinos captures a cultural tension: Greek political songs dominated post-1974 culture, but around 1970, the situation was quite different. This was a time in which youngsters were out buying albums by bands to which they had been introduced through radio or film, transcribing the lyrics and translating them into Greek to decipher their meaning.Footnote 106 Kostis Kornetis distinguishes youngsters into two distinct categories according to their music preferences: the ‘yeyedes’ (deriving from the repetition of the word ‘yeah’ which featured in many of their songs) and politicized students.Footnote 107 In the film, Kokkinos relativizes this distinction: its characters politicize culture through theatre, yet their musical tastes are close to those of the ‘yeyedes’. This loose form of politicization is expressed in dialogues prioritizing pleasure and individuality over collective values: when Lena asks Christos how interested he is in the play, he replies, ‘This is not the first thing in my life’.
In End of an Era politicization influences juvenile lifestyles even though politics was not at the top of their list of priorities. This is evident in the atmosphere prevailing during rehearsals, with the students chatting and joking, and not taking the rebellious aspect of their project that seriously. This is eloquently presented in the scene in which the students convince the school principal to stage a play by a foreign playwright. By contrast with 1960s films, which depicted school environments as extremely strict–the 1962 film Nόμος 4000 (Law 4000) by Yiannis Dalianidis is a well-known example–the school principal is open and willing to discuss the students’ demands. This reflects the relaxation of school discipline, which had been happening throughout the 1970s and was accelerated by the establishment of mixed schools in the early 1980s.Footnote 108 Here, in Kokkinos' film, the overbearing character of the educational system during the dictatorship is rather underplayed.
A low degree of politicization and relaxed representations of authoritarianism in End of an Era expressed a historical juncture, when expectations of stability and an easy life were at their peak. Since the 1980s, and more systematically in the 1990s and the 2000s, Greeks had been claiming their place in the international economies of pleasure. Film and other artistic representations which glossed over the recent conflicted past, choosing to highlight continuities between the authoritarian and post-authoritarian society in their consumerist attitudes, were likely to gain in popularity.
Epilogue: what brought Greeks back to the cinema?
End of an Era brought the domestic film industry back into play. It introduced new features, inspiring other filmmakers of the late 1990s and beyond, and contributed to a revival of the Greek film industry that lasted up until the economic crisis of the 2010s. Reading the film as a form of public history, I have sought to analyse the ways in which End of an Era offered an appealing narrative about the ‘rebellious’ 1960s through the ‘prosperous’ 1990s. Looking back at the dictatorship though the 1990s consumer-oriented frame of values, the film downplays authoritarianism, depicting resistance as achievable through the adoption of consumer and cultural attitudes that carry anti-establishment connotations. Kokkinos depicts the dictatorship as a period when a youthful desire for modernity undermines the cultural framework of authoritarianism. He offers a sort of historical alibi to the consumer-oriented modernization of the 1990s, representing it as a process going back to the first postwar decades. Audiences embraced this narrative, and End of an Era attracted almost 200,000 viewers at a time when going to the cinema to watch a Greek film was uncommon. This wide appeal made End of an Era a landmark.
Panagiotis Zestanakis is a cultural historian. His interests include the history of everyday life in post-authoritarian societies, the history of media and communication and the uses of history in web cultures. His work has appeared in several academic journals, as well as in edited volumes in English, Spanish and Greek. He is currently working on a monograph on consumer change in 1980s Athens.