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Review: Intimate and Unmissable, 'Olympia' Offers A Glimpse At an Icon

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Jul 10, 2020
Review: Intimate and Unmissable, 'Olympia' Offers A Glimpse At an Icon

Queer American/Greek Cypriot filmmaker Harry Mavromichalis' debut feature "Olympia" is an exceptionally intimate fly-on-the wall documentary of the Oscar Winning actress Olympia Dukakis.

Mavromichalis turned his camera on when Dukakis celebrated her 80th birthday, and trailed her on and off for the next three years. Unscripted and unplanned, this piece of cinema verite captured Dukakis totally, unguardedly, reminiscing about her life with such frankness that makes you admire her even more as both a woman and actress.

There is no attempt by Mavromichalis to shape her story into any sort of chronological order. He takes his lead from Dukaris as she recounts different aspects of her lengthy career and life. She talked about how, when she first started to act, she was unable to even get auditions because her name bracketed her unfairly as only being able to play ethnic roles. Already married to her actor husband Louis Zorich, she moved to Montclair in 1970, seeking a peaceful place to raise a family and to start their own theater company.

The company's first play was ''Our Town,'' in 1973. For the next 17 years, the theater produced five plays a season, including the works of Pirandello, Euripides, Eugene O'Neill, Samuel Beckett, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Lanford Wilson, and many others, in productions that were critically praised. It gave Dukakis the opportunity to perform the "heavyweight" roles that she credits as giving her one of the very happiest times of her life.

Dukakis is not impressed by the trappings of fame, and we see her somewhat bemused by being given a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The one time in her career that really meant something to her was the Academy Award win for her performance in "Moonstruck." Being recognized for a piece of her work by her peers was the most satisfying thing to her.

Mavromichalis films her on a variety of different occasions, such as the year Dukakis had the honor of being the grand marshal at San Francisco's Pride; as she is being driven in the parade, she jokes "Half these people in the crowd have no idea who the hell I am!" She is totally wrong; her performance as Anna Madrigal in the television adaptations of Armistead Maupins' classic "Tales of the City" novels has confirmed her status as a gay icon.

When she bumps into Maupin months later, she shares the story with him. He one-ups that by recounting that when he was grand marshal in Palm Springs Pride, someone had forgotten to make the sign for his car, so people were shouting out, "Who the fuck are you?"

Dukakis has an irrepressible sense of humor, as demonstrated in her story of whipping the wig off one of her acting students, but she is not afraid of letting us see her darker, unhappier side. She talks of a period of drug addiction that left her very suicidal. There is a conversation when she very wistfully expresses how she feels that she failed to be a good a parent to her three (now adult) children. Mavromichalis sensibly lets both these scenes  play out without comment.

Dukakis' passion about her work shines through when she is teaching, something she has done for decades and continues to do in her 80s. In addition to this, there is a wonderful scene when Dukakis is a guest at a Norman Jewison retrospective at the Toronto International Film Festival. She uses the occasion to verbally attack a very startled Festival Director for not accepting her latest film, "Cloudburst." This is a funny, fearless woman that you wouldn't want to cross. 

It is also Dukakis' openness to her spirituality that shows the depth of this intriguing woman and makes you understand more why she is so deeply respected by her peers and her friends. 

Laura Linney, her co star in the "Tales of The City" adaptations, credits Dukakis as being a rare actress that has a successful career on the stage and in movies. This profile, however, makes you appreciate there is so much more to this remarkable woman when the role she is playing is being herself.

Unmissable.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.


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