New Olympia Dukakis Documentary Offers an Uncensored Look at the Life of a Legend
Olympia, a cinema verité documentary by Harry Mavromichalis available now on Apple+, is a love letter to and overview of the life and career of an Academy Award-winning actress. Why should you care about an Olympia Dukakis documentary, oh young homosexuals?
Here are three solid reasons:
1. She won that Academy Award for her supporting turn in the Norman Jewison classic Moonstruck, starring some unknown hack you might have heard about named Cher (who was the Madonna — no, Lady Gaga — no, Ariana Grande of her time).
2. She starred in the extended series based on Armistead Maupin’s classic serial Tales of the City (including More Tales and Further Tales in 1993, 1998, 2001 and the 2019 Netflix version), an archetypal transgender character she played with delicious mystery and gusto.
3. She holds her own in the gay-catnip classic Steel Magnolias as Claire Belcher, who brings down the house, every time, when she offers up Shirley Maclaine’s Ouiser Boudreaux as a punching bag for the grieving M’Lynn Eatenton.
Not to mention her storied theatrical career, her LGBTQ activism and her take-no-prisoners dissection of age, grief, sexuality and — a constant in her work — family. Now, on the verge of her 90th birthday, she’s as uncensored as ever, railing against the social oppression of women, the hypocrisy of sexuality and the encroaching specter of death.
Mavromichalis’s Olympia Dukakis documentary is all over the place — a messy, seemingly unstructured portrait of a life. If it was a photo, it would be a collage of hundreds of pictures of the subject creating one definitive likeness, difficult to figure out up close, but resplendent with a bit of distance.
This scrappy Greek-American was a fighter from the start — against her mother’s abusive approach to parenting (after Dukakis won her Academy Award, though visibly moved, her mother told a reporter she thought her daughter was “just an ordinary actress”), against her “ethnic” looks that kept her from working (she started, with the partnership of her late husband Louis Zorich, more than one theater company that got them noticed) and against the continual typecasting that happened after Moonstruck.
Late in the film, when she visits her mother’s birthplace in Lesbos, Olympia Dukakis speaks with some local women — women who would be her peers, her contemporaries in a vastly different life had her family stayed in Greece. A few minutes later, she’s wandering through an open-air amphitheater (the Acropolis, perhaps?), and it’s obvious why she fought her entire life for what she instinctively knew. Acting was no profession: it was, and is, her true home, her pure diverse family of thinkers, feelers, lovers, dreamers.