One of the pop music era’s greatest composers maps his personal odyssey and leaves a lot of uncharted terra.
Remaining an enigma while staying in public view is an art Vangelis Papathanassiou has mastered very well. Even the most ardent of his fans know not much about the maestro whose music is so ubiquitous that a regular listener isn’t aware it’s the Greek composer behind many a familiar sound. Given this, a film on him has been long overdue – if only to provide recognition with some background. And revelations are abound here, the major one being the fact that, as violinist Julian Rachlin admits with a slight amazement, Vangelis doesn’t read or write music, which makes his talent the most unique because Papathanassiou has produced so much beautiful classical music, as well as movie soundtracks he’s famous for, not just pop melodies.
Still, it’s the soundtracks that lie in the heart of “Journey To Ithaka” and secures the onscreen presence of Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott and other acclaimed directors, plus Sean Connery who played a vital role in the Greek’s connection with Rachlin, and fragments of such movies as “Alexander” and “Blade Runner” which Vangelis colored with his music in the way he does with his paintings. We see him as an all-round artist here – “I work like an athlete,” says maestro who inherited enviable stamina form his Olympian father, the shadowy figure behind the “Chariots Of Fire” requiem theme – enjoying everything, as Hugh Hudson remarks, and instinctively reacting to image. Although that’s not the case when it comes to those pop songs that Vangelis dismisses as if it was unnecessary, calling his work with Jon Anderson, who makes quite a brief appearance, “the misfortune to be successful” and expressing the will not to repeat himself or compromise with the industry.
The composer’s stance also doesn’t explain the absence of APHRODITE’S CHILD from this story; just once Vangelis says “we” meaning the art rock band he rose to fame with, and while Demis Roussos would have been a greater interviewee than opera singers who share their view of the maestro, his old colleague isn’t part of it all. “I’ve never been alone with music,” confesses Vangelis, yet the overriding impression the documentary shapes is one of a very lonely person, and when he adds that “music can be therapeutic and a deadly weapon” before he’s seen shooting arrows, the artist’s overprotectiveness comes through. He might be very organic tinkering with piano, treating symphony orchestra as a synthesizer or presiding over the “Mythodea” concert, but, again, there’s only the sight of a pressing plant shifting records of another of Vangelis classical works to remind us that he’s sold a lot of albums including prog rock classics like "Heaven And Hell".
What emerges as a result is a portrait of a symphonic composer, rather than performer and, thus, the mystery remains untouched. Which might be the homecoming the film’s title alludes to: riveting, if alien as any myth is.