venetian influence
Anthony Horowitz on Thessaloniki, the Greek answer to Paris that you'd never thought to visit

I have always loved travelling to places I’ve seen in films or read about in books. The Third Man has taken me to Vienna, James Bond (From Russia with Love) to Istanbul, Peter Mayle to Provence and Ian Rankin to Edinburgh. I’ve wanted to visit Thessaloniki, which sits on the northern edge of the Thermaic Gulf, ever since I read Victoria Hislop’s The Thread, a sprawling family saga that starts in 1917 and continues through the war years to the present day. It is largely thanks to her that I now spend so much time in Crete. Her novels aren’t just very readable. They can turn you into a Hellenophile.

The year 1917 was the defining year for Greece’s second-largest city. A famous print made at that time shows a truly fabulous conglomeration, sitting on a turquoise sea with Roman, Christian, Byzantine and Venetian influences coming together in what could easily be a set for Game of Thrones. But then a fire that started in a kitchen spread with shocking speed. Some 9,500 houses, churches, synagogues and mosques were destroyed. More than a quarter of a million people were made homeless.

The city’s troubles didn’t end there. Bombed by the Italian fascists in 1940 (another 800 buildings were damaged or destroyed), Thessaloniki was seized by the Nazis a year later. Some 56,000 Jews, 96 per cent of the Jewish population, were taken off to the camps, never to return. In the place once known as the “Mother of Israel”, just 1,200 Jews remain.

Watch on

A fascinating documentary on the making of Jim Henson’s 1986 cult hit LABYRINTH. Just still in shock at how practical and magic everything is…the film is so impressive because there aren’t a lot of digital computer tricks as much as it is clever puppetry and compelling design. 

A few highlights for me were: 

1. The ways they worked with the baby utilizing windmills and bells to get reactions out of him, the brilliance of Brian Froud, the designer responsible for the crazy puppets and the world that Labyrinth puts forth. 

2. Jennifer Connolly did all of her own stunts, and in the practical reality of Jim Henson’s set, it seemed terrifying and thrilling. The tunnel of hands was all practical- a 40 foot tower using hundreds of actual human hands grabbing onto Jennifer- it’s one of the most inspired and terrifying scenes in the entire film, and it’s even more so because it seems so real. If LABYRINTH had been made today, there would be a sort of digital cloud over that sequence and it would have had half the impact. 

3. Cheryl McFadden and the choreography of the ballroom scene, the only human scene in the entire movie, for the most part. 

MEMORABLE QUOTES from the documentary:

1. “Working with a baby had it’s problems, but then I tried directing chickens”- Jim Henson on Toby.

2. "…that they were the gentry dressing up and they were playing at being goblins and I tried to reflect that in the masks I designed. Although they had this Venetian influence, they’re actually supposed to be parodies of the Goblins themselves. I wanted everything much larger than life as it was a fantasy.“-Brian Froud on the design of the ballroom scene in LABYRINTH.

3. "When I go see a film, when I leave the theater, I like a few things. I like to be happier than I was when I went in, I like a film to leave me with an ‘up’ feeling. And I like a picture to have a sense of substance. I like it to be about…about life, about things that matter to me. And so I think its what we were trying to do with this one. I was trying to do a film that would make a difference to you if you saw it.”- Jim Henson on LABYRINTH.