peter greenawayWhile the bean counters with MBA degrees were stifling creativity in Hollywood, the 1980s ushered in a welcome revitalization of the long dormant British film. An exciting influx of fresh acting and directing talents produced a plethora of quirky pop culture classics selling UK cinema to international markets like no time before. Against this trendy tide swam the most innovative filmmaker of the decade, Peter Greenaway, who was busy turning out a gaggle of witty short films and narrative masterpieces at an alarming rate.

After the art house success of the curiously appealing The Draughtsman’s Contract, Greenaway was besieged with attractive offers from the States, but he turned them all down preferring to follow the beat of his own minimalist drummer. Quite unlike countrymen Stephen Frears, Ridley and Tony Scott, and Adrian Lyne, Greenaway knew Hollywood wouldn’t have been a hospitable place for his savage take on the world.

The dominant Romantic narrative of American films appealed little to Greenaway who was more influenced by non-linear filmmakers like Resnais, Godard and Antonioni—not to mention a legion of Renaissance painters, postmodern photographers, Jacobean playwrights, operatic composers and cutting-edge performance artists.

Greenaway’s seamless synthesis of all these art forms can make for a pungent brew and indeed his withering Darwinian take on the world is not for the weak of heart or stomach. Eschewing the use of a traditional dramatic arc, Greenway mimics and mocks humankind’s need for shackles with narrative structures bound by order and habit. To the delight of every good cosmic librarian catalogs, the alphabet, and numbers all play a big part in Greenaway films but this filmmaker is hardly a dry esthete as evidenced by the roles water, bloody violence and messy bodily functions play in his films.

As punishing as these films can be to unsuspecting audiences, Greenaway insists he produces “entertainments” and, strangely enough, this simplification of his invigorating oeuvre is often spot-on. Pulse-less is the viewer who has no visceral reaction to a Greenaway film.

Greenaway was born in Wales to English parents who packed up the lad to relocate back home to Essex at the end of WWII. Young Peter seemed to escape unscathed from the traumas of English public school and at the tender age of twelve he decided he wanted to become an artist. After spending three years at the Walthamstow College of Art, Greenaway had his first exhibit as a painter.

To make ends meet, Peter went to work for a governmental filmmaking agency (The Central Office of Information) where for fifteen years he would receive a vigorous training in making short films about British culture for foreign markets. By the early 1970s Greenaway began to make his own shorts, a curious yet engaging group of films influenced by his passion for numbers, structural philosophy, 16th century writers, Vermeer, Poussin, and the Flemish masters.

Greenaway’s brilliant short films of the ‘70s are droll, satirical miniatures. Shot with rigid mathematical precision they poke fun at earnest documentary filmmaking, rural living and mind-numbing academic revisionism. H Is for House is a playful tour of old British manors told by a sing-song voice-over seemingly written by a slightly demented elementary school teacher.

Greenaway continued his unsettling tour of the countryside in the dark-humored Windows, where a still camera framed the point of view of both suicides and unwitting victims who have recently passed through the looking glass and plummeted to their deaths.

Water Wrackets is a blithely ironic short, setting visuals of clear, cool waterways against a pompous narration about an ancient dynasty. In Dear Phone the payphones of London’s classic red booths ring incessantly in an existential satire of missed connections in the modern age.

Vertical Features Remake is a clever parody of academia and artistic intention in which four misguided theorists attempt to de-and-reconstruct a film by the enigmatic Renaissance man and Greenaway alter ego, Tulse Luper. A murky historical figure of obscure origins the elusive Luper has left behind miles of documentary footage and a blueprint for a film but his vision gets increasing mangled by quarreling intellectuals who dice and re-piece the film into four very unique versions based on the original material.

A delightful exercise in esthetic meddling Vertical Features Remake was by far Greenaway’s most accomplished film to date and points towards the evolution of the sublime features of the 1980s.

   Continuity is boring.

Greenaway’s first full-length film, The Falls is a nearly three hour compilation of original material and documentary footage chronicling ninety-two people who have experienced life-altering changes due to a mysterious malady referred to as an “Violent Explained Event”.

Narrated in an earnestly dry manner by Colin Cantile this very tongue-in-cheek film presents a plethora of arcane facts and para-psychic paranoia in an attempt to explain the phenomenon of the “VEE”. Bolstered by the witty, minimalist score of Michael Nyman, The Falls pushed the piling-on style of Greenaway’s early mockumentaries to a logical conclusion.

Every medium has to be redeveloped.

Set in rural England during 1694 Greenaway’s first narrative feature, The Draughtsman’s Contract follows the adventures of Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a handsome but utterly amoral artist hired by a landowner’s wife to make twelve drawings of her husband’s estate to give to neighbors and friends.

After shocking the court of Mrs Herbert (Janet Suzman) with bold pronouncements and outrageous table manners the common craftsman drives the family and hired help batty with his stringent artistic demands. For payment Neville receives the sexual favors of his employer and along the way captures the attention of her fetching daughter, the unhappily married Mrs. Tallman (Anne-Louise Lambert) who, after her father’s body is found in the moat, accuses the draughtsman of murder.

This randy restoration comedy/murder mystery may well be Greenaway’s most straightforward film, yet it is also a beguilingly complex work of art. Neville shares Greenaway’s fixation on logic, order, landscape and lusty business but the machinations of the devious Herbert women prove his downfall in this wickedly funny romp.

Cinematographer newbie Curtis Clark and Greenaway came up with a studied visual style borrowed from the likes of Caravaggio, Hals, early British landscape painters, and filmmakers such as Resnais and Kubrick to present the proper, studied canvas for the film’s caustic humor. The resulting emotional detachment helps turn The Draughtsman’s Contract into an unexpected hit with art house audiences.

Forgive my curiosity, madam, and open your knees.

Although Greenaway kept busy with documentary projects for British public television it would be four years before he made another feature and with A Zed & Two Noughts (ZOO) he crashed into the crass 1980s with a rude vengeance.

ZOO opens with the aftermath of an automobile accident in which two women have perished after a rare species of swan smashes into their car’s windshield. The husbands of the women, Oswald and Oliver Deuce (Brian and Eric Deacon), are twins who have typical yet peculiar ways of dealing with grief. Doctor Oswald goes into a tailspin of remorse and self-pity until seeking comfort with his zoologist brother, Oliver and the only surviving member of the car crash Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferreol), a flamboyant, bedridden amputee.

Aiming to find closure to their tragedies the men share an unhealthy fascination with rotting flesh and kinky sex, but they are unable to save unhappy Alba who undergoes a pointless amputation on the recommendation of her quack physician. Alba withers and dies leaving the twins on their own to contemplate their own unique place in the cosmos.

A Zed and Two Naughts is a myriad of verbal and Vermeer-ian delights delving into the myths of the Venus de Milo, Noah’s Ark, and the Garden of Eden while probing the troubled psyches of the long separated twins. Bolstered by austere and sumptuous photography of Resnais’ cinematographer Sacha Viery, and a wildly humorous Michael Nyman score ZOO evolved into another black comedy that took no prisoners. Unfortunately, distributors didn’t know what to make of the perplexing film and it never found an art house audience.

Is leglessness a form of contraception?

Physical decay also plays a prominent role in Greenaway’s next feature The Belly of an Architect, the odyssey of Stourley Kracklite (Brian Dennehy), a middle-aged Chicago-based architect. He is exported to Rome to put together an exhibit honoring 18th century French visionary Etienne-Louis Boullee who, like his modern doppelganger Kracklite, had a difficult time getting any of his ambitious projects built.

Initially, Kracklite is embraced by the Roman artistic community but bureaucratic red tape, the suspicion his young wife Louisa (Chloe Webb) is having an affair, and a rancorous pain in his stomach lead the paranoid artisan to believe someone is poisoning him. After learning he is suffering from cancer Kracklite cedes the exhibition and his wife to his dashing rival Caspasian (Lambert Wilson) and turns inward to battle his illness, his demons, and the ghost of Boullee.

Like his kindred spirit Mr. Neville (The Draughtman’s Contract), Kracklite is inspired by the harmony and balance found in geometrical sketches, blueprints, landscaping and neo-classicism. The Pantheon and The Vittoriano are among the many Roman sites used as backdrops to elaborate dinners where Kracklite sits at the center of the table like a Rabelaisian Christ unaware he is being mocked by his would-be disciples. Sharing the sad fate of Mr. Neville, this artist of insatiable appetites falls victim to his own ego and the uncaring mob.

It is important to emphasize the sheer bulk of the body.

Drowning By Numbers returns Greenaway to comedy and in this murderously giddy feature set in a seaside resort he returned to the weird themes and watery elements which flowed through his brilliant short films of the 1970s.

Three generations of women of varying age, who coincidentally go by the name of Cissie Colpitts, drown their husbands for an assortment of reasons. After catching her philandering husband in flagrante delicto with the hired help, Matriarch Cissie (Joan Plowright) pushes the drunken lout’s head under the bath water until he is quite dead.

She confides her crime to her eldest daughter Cissie II (Juliet Stevenson) who takes the gruesome news in a calm, matter of fact fashion. Along with the youngest daughter (Joely Richardson) the Colpitts tease the local middle-aged mortician Madgett (Bernard Hill) with vague promises of lurid sex if he keeps mum about the murder. Bored with her selfish husband Cissie II lets the fat writer wade out into the dangerous surf then ignores his cries for help as he drowns in the mid-day sun.

Taking cue from her mentors Cissie III teases her newlywed husband about his inability to swim then lets him perish during an impromptu swimming lesson. Madgett and his weird son Smut (Jason Edwards) play host to the terrible trio engaging them in a series of bizarre, nonsensical games (“Flights of Fancy or Reverse Strip Jump”, “Hangman’s Cricket”, etc.) while the audience is left to determine the riddle of skipping girl’s countdown.

Greenaway’s most accomplished and entertaining work to date, Drowning by Numbers put a tidy bow on the director’s most accessible and successful period of feature filmmaking. But rather than rest on his laurels as the most dazzling British director since Hitchcock Greenaway would choose to push the envelope even further. The shock and awe created by his next three features helped cement his reputation as an uncompromising genius but would also do serious damage to his sustaining a career as a commercial filmmaker.

The winner is also the loser.

A pungent feast for the eyes, ears, not to mention the nose, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover picks up where the outrageous Drowning by Numbers left off.

Set in cosmopolitan London—where a gourmet eatery boom galvanized a country weaned on fish, chips, and mushy peas—hoodlum Albert Spica (Michael Gambon) is first encountered in the back alley of his trendy, upscale restaurant, humiliating a former business partner by making him eat dog feces. Mission completed, the thug goes inside to devour a grand feast and while stuffing his face Spica takes cruel pleasure in debasing his wife Georgina (Helen Mirren) and members of his gang with crude and vicious remarks.

Humiliated, Georgina begins a daringly clandestine affair with mild-mannered Richard (Richard Bohringer), a restaurant customer and the owner of a local book depository. As the rapturous couple makes love in the bathrooms and bowels of the building, the cook and other employees try to distract jealous Spica who already suspects his wife’s infidelity. The nude lovers make a hasty escape in a slaughterhouse truck carrying bloody meat to Richard’s depository, a seemingly safe haven of words and ideas.

The resourceful Spica tracks Richard down and takes giddy pleasure in murdering his rival. After making the gruesome discovery Georgina spends a last night with her deceased lover, but we learn her calm is just a facade as she has been plotting sweet revenge on her ravenous husband who will be forced to choke down a very unique delicacy in the gastronomically-incorrect finale.

According to the finicky Greenaway his most ferocious film was planned to be a not-so veiled protest against the waste and gluttony of “dining out” culture. Georgina and Richard stand heroically naked against raw, red hides of cow heads and pig torsos, soon to be served as expensive dishes to the trendy locals. In a reaction against the dilution of color in 20th century art, Greenaway went to extremes in color-coding the players’ wardrobes to the vast soundstages and the results are as eye-popping and surreal as the over-the-top narrative.

Much of the film’s black humor derives from Gambon’s magnificent performance as the diabolical and charismatic gangster. Spica’s nasty intentions are further propelled by the thumping irony in Michael Nyman’s musical score. The Greenaway/Nyman combo was beginning to rival such other great director/composer teams as Hitchcock/Hermann and Leone/Morricone—but, alas, this dream collaboration was on its last legs.

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover sparked much notoriety and drew large art house audiences in Europe and the States. But the film marked the end of Greenaway’s “classical” period as he would soon embrace other multi-media formats in a quest to push his chosen field to new frontiers.

Looks like catfood for constipated French rabbits!

Greenaway continued to make documentaries of the straightforward variety for British public television and those which adhered more to his own unique style through the 1980s. While the musical content of the nearly four hour-long Four American Composers (Robert Ashley, John Cage, Meredith Monk and Philip Glass) was sympathetic to Greenaway’s eclectic tastes, the resulting short films (based on live performances in London) turned out to be digestible and illuminating fare.

The Ashley and Cage segments prove to be the most cinematic of the lot. Greenaway’s visual deconstruction on Ashley’s wry, singsong performance goes long in capturing what one could imagine to be the monotony of rural Nebraska life. While the staged set pieces of Cage’s subtle and thorny compositions provide moments of anxious drama, one can argue it is Glass’ Wagnerian minimalism which is most in tune with Greenaway’s repetitious approach to art and filmmaking.

Iconoclasts exist with respect to that they destroy.

Greenaway’s other notable shorts of the 1980s (The Coastline, Making a Splash, Inside Rooms, Fear of Drowning, Hubert Bals Handshake) cover much of the same ground as his earlier documentaries with more of a general audience in mind. By the beginning of the new decade Greenaway embarked on a new style of historical, scientific and literary filmmaking with the intent of enlightening the masses.

As the opportunity to shoot expensive feature films began to dry up during the mid-1990s, this Greenaway’s new approach gave him the opportunity to continue working in a mass media medium.

A TV Dante is a multi-media presentation of The Inferno shot in collaboration with collage artist Tom Phillips who had done his own translation of the work in 1985. Famous “talking heads” (John Gielgud, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Robin Wright-Penn, etc.) take turns narrating the epic poem and expert commentary is offered by the likes of David Attenborough over the horrors of hell depicted by state of the art video imagery.

The made for television Death in the Seine is a haunting piece, chronicling the post-mortems of many poor, forgotten Parisians dragged out of Seine River in the years after the French Revolution. The ashen victims are laid out naked on a slab where they take on a dignity denied their class while being catalogued for posterity.

M Is for Man, Music and Mozart, a collaboration with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, takes place on an 18th century stage where a series of whirling dervish male dancers accompany a female voice chronicling people, places and objects which begin with the letter M, to the enchanting music of Mozart.

Although the action is contained to one busy soundstage Darwin is a compact but colorful docudrama on the life of the great Evolutionary beginning with the event of his birth, professional growing pains and a clash with his physician father, the voyage on the Beagle, the revelations found on the Galapagos Islands, the controversy surrounding the publication of his scientific findings and, finally, the pomp and circumstance of his funeral at Westminster Abbey.

Though this fifty-three minute potpourri is driven by a didactic narrative Bert Svenhujsen, as the middle-aged and elderly Darwin, is a case of yet another brave Greenaway actor willing to bare-all for his art.

Produced in tandem with the feature Nightwatching, Rembrandt’s J’accuse fits in nicely with these films as an intellectual essay pondering the story behind the Dutch master’s Night Watch.

In this zesty and informative reenactment of a work in progress we find Rembrandt van Rijn (Martin Freeman) stuck in the quandary of trying to produce a memorable work of art while trying to please several difficult clients. In his witty narration Greenaway reveals Rembrandt’s Amsterdam to be a hotbed of political and societal intrigue and the multi-layered action presented in the panorama of the groundbreaking painting has eluded the eye of uneducated museum-goers.

Greenaway re-evaluates the many isolated incidents portrayed in a revolutionary work of art which boldly satirized the town’s many important families and set into motion the uncompromising artist’s decline as an employable court painter.

The middling commercial successes and the great critical notoriety of Greenaway’s recent work did little to mellow his approach to filmmaking at the turn of the 1990s.

A lush pageant of words and water, Prospero’s Books is a mind’s eye adaptation of Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest. As Prospero Greenaway cast an actor who in the eyes of many theatrical critics was the 20th century’s quintessential interpreter of the Bard, eighty-four year old John Gielgud. Sir John had always wanted to play the former Duke of Milan banished by a scheming brother to a small island to live with his daughter Miranda (Isabelle Pasco) and rule the locals by sorcery.

Narrated by the sonorous Gielgud the opulent production unfolds as a dreamy procession. The camera follows Prospero, his court, and a band of hair-whipping dancers through his waterlogged environs. The betrothal of Miranda and Ferdinand (Mark Rylance) is carried out with painterly aplomb and we empathize with Prospero while he drowns his books of magick.

Ripe with Rubenesque nudity, brown interiors bred of the Dutch Masters School, and shocking graphic visuals made popular by the likes of Damien Hirst, Prospero’s Books is a masterful, transitional work of multi-media. This new techie genre guided Greenaway’s hand through a decade which would grow increasingly unsympathetic to ambitious filmmakers with quixotic artistic pursuits.

Greenaway’s next feature took a more traditional, theatrical approach in telling its macabre tale. Set in a French Burgundy town during the 17th century The Baby of Macon is a sinister play within a play (with narration and chorus) which opens in a high-comic mode when a ghastly old woman (Diana Van Kolck) gives birth to a near perfect specimen of humanity. The woman’s eighteen year-old virgin daughter (Julia Ormond) claims the boy (Nils Dorando) as her own, the product of an immaculate conception.

The young woman shamelessly promotes the boy’s beauty and alleged prophetical powers prompting believers to flock from near and far to get the baby’s blessing. But such blind faith plays into the hands of boy’s bitter sister who demands a high price be paid for rare glimpses into the future.

The Roman Catholic clergy (Philip Stone & Ralph Fiennes) arrives in town and declare the conception to be a fraud prompting the daughter to seduce the Bishop’s son which in turn sets off the fury of The Baby of Macon who condemns his sister to the ghastly fate of mass rape and a gruesome death.

At turns sumptuous and hideous, Macon is a chilling, metaphorical masterpiece about working-class greed and the hypocrisies of the Church. Greenaway’s most controversial film takes place on dark, claustrophobic soundstages where many unspeakable horrors take place in the name of God and his hardened minions. Critical and public reaction was swift and hostile, relegating The Baby of Macon to an undeserved oblivion where it remains to this day.

Cinema doesn’t connect with the body.

Based Sei Shonagon’s witty tales about her life at court in 11th century Japan, The Pillow Book often resembles its western cousin Prospero’s Books, another literary odyssey about a rootless individual who meets resistance when she tries to implement her culture on unsuspecting lovers and the public. Drawing inspiration from medieval Far East paintings, Greenaway and cinematographer Sacha Vierney mount a seamless and dreamy postmodern spin on this diary of rules, anecdotes, and lists for ladies’ proper etiquette in public and private affairs.

Where is a book before it is born?

This adaptation follows the adventures of Nagiko (Vivian Wu), a young girl dually influenced by her aunt’s reading of The Pillow Book and beloved father (Ken Ogata) who inscribed beautiful calligraphy on her body. As an adult, Nagiko sets out to carry on the family tradition but her attempt at calligraphy is rejected by his publisher (Yoshi Oida) who we learn carried on a homosexual affair with her father.

How can I get pleasure writing on you?

Nagiko enters into a love relationship with Jerome (Ewan McGregor) in the hopes the British writer can duplicate her father’s body art but when she finds him lacking she recruits a series of fleshy and immaculate human canvases to create her own Pillow Book and get revenge on the publisher.

Although nudity is abound in nearly every Greenaway feature, The Pillow Book is likely his most tender and erotic film in a large part due to the suggestion of incest between the compassionate artist and his awestruck daughter. Later, when Nagiko is unable to find a suitable replacement daddy, she becomes the aggressor in her relationships. The stories she tells on the bodies of her mediocre lovers are her sexual conquests. Since her triumphs are bitter breaches against humanity suggesting Nagiko’s brilliant future as an artist will be shrouded in loneliness.

Use my body like the pages of a book.

Having spent a quarter of a century busily building a deep and varied body of work, the middle-aged Greenaway finally took time off to contemplate his next move. It would be three years before another Greenaway feature would grace the screens.

8 1/2 Women found the director with one foot still in Japan and the other in old money Continental Europe following the exploits of a conservative father and fashionably-hip son who try to fill the gap left by the death of a loved one by becoming involved with an array of strange and beautiful women.

Led by Fellini’s hedonist example, Philip & Storey Emmenthal (John Standing and Matthew Delamere) carefully recruit several young and middle-aged women from the land of the rising son and Europe to move into their Swiss Chalet and cater to their every kinky and chaste fantasy. The two capitalists form a bond through the mourning of the woman who was Philip’s reserved wife and Storey’s exemplary mother and their real and imagined exploitation of the curiously beguiling women who have moved into the estate.

It isn’t true that a woman can change a man.

With the men growing increasingly absorbed with self-loathing and existential whimsy, the bored women make leave in their own idiosyncratic ways. At turns melancholic and satirical this light, misogynist romp turned out to be one of Greenaway’s warmest and most personal films.

All this narcissism is rather boring, isn’t it?

The new millennium saw Greenaway turn back to the past in resurrecting one of his many recurring fictional characters in the three part Tulse Luper Suitcases.

Born in Wales at the end of the First World War, young Luper (JJ Feild) hopes to escape his gloomy father (Winston Evans) and dreary surroundings by striking out to the sun-drenched American West in search of uranium. In Utah, he encounters Mormons and a well-to-do family of German-Americans who take great delight in tormenting the young Brit with sadistic sexual games.

Luper packs one of the ninety-two suitcases which accompany him on his journeys and returns to Europe where as a writer in Belgium he is imprisoned by the Fascists and, later, slips past enemy lines where as a confidence man he rubs shoulders with the Nazis.

This loopy history is diverted by many real and imagined events such as Tulse’s countless interments in prisons around the globe, a racy Victorian vignette, true confessions by women pining away in a cloister, a hilarious war-time romp in a bawdy British whorehouse, the middle-aged Tulse (Roger Rees) divining the secrets of the suitcases and, finally, a sketchy summary of the “lost Luper films” from Vertical Features Remake and culminating in the better-known masterworks penned by his alter ego (Greenaway).

At the age of seventy shady Luper is alleged to have disappeared from the face of the earth but the film’s real auteur disembowels the murky legend by revealing his doppelganger actually died in a childhood incident and the whole saga is the product of the imagination of the boy’s best friend.

Even as Greenaway seems to delight in taking the piss out of his seminal films of the 1980s, his most ambitious project remains a colorful kaleidoscope of privileged anecdotes, black humor, multi-media revelations and revealing self-portraiture worthy of this most original artist in the autumn of his years.

Region 2 PAL DVD

Following the encyclopedic blueprint of Darwin, Nightwatching tells the story of Rembrandt Von Rijn’s rise and fall as a successful court painter in 17th century Amsterdam; a hotbed of political and business intrigue. The 30something Rembrandt (Martin Freeman) is a plump, salt of the earth-type fellow, replete with lovely wife Saskia (Eva Birthistle) and influential friends who pull strings to get him important painting gigs.

When he is assigned to take on a project (The Night Watch) which is intended to present some of the city’s more dubious figures in a heroic light, the tetchy Rembrandt irritates his subjects by taking several months to complete the painting and depicting the men in a buffoonish, unsympathetic light. Along the way Saskia dies and he takes up with an earthier woman who brings out many of his long-suppressed demons.

Ugly confrontations with the vain and deceitful subjects of The Night Watch lead to threats which the arrogant artist blows off, doing untold damage to his future. The general dissatisfaction with the strange, artificial-looking painting leads to Rembrandt becoming a persona non-grata at court but conversely frees him to become a greater artist in his impoverished old age.

Works of art are never finished, just stopped.

Greenway’s second installment in his tribute to Dutch Art, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, is a lusty return to form. Set in the late 1500s, the Dutch printmaker Goltzius (Ramsay Nasr) obtains an audience with the Malgrave of Alsace (F. Murray Abraham) to whom he pitches the idea of a building a local printing press.

To tempt the Malgrave Goltzius promises to create for him a first edition illustrated Old Testament Bible full of tantalizing engravings. The hedging Malgrave accepts Goltzius’ invitation to watch his company re-enactment of some of the more graphic scenes from the Bible, including Eve’s seduction of Adam, lusty Lot and his daughters in a randy bacchanal, and Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils.

As is his wont, Greenaway takes a no-holds barred approach in this exploration of the artistic temperament and human sexuality in his most exciting and ravishing film since The Baby of Macon. As the droll narrator Goltzius and the eager Pelican players give Malgrave and his outraged court a debauched take on the holiest of stories, all the while poking fun at their prejudices and pre-conceived notions.

Screamingly funny and less didactic than many of its predecessors, Goltzius and the Pelican Company offers hope Greenaway can re-establish some sort of rapport with the film-going public while remaining at the height of his powers.

Like Rossellini, a similarly cranky filmmaker suspicious of the esthetic value of his chosen craft, Greenaway has spent much time trying to re-educate the public about the meanings and subtexts of the written word and visual arts. Though his recent historical films lack the ballsy audaciousness of the great features of the 1980s and ‘90s, Greenway’s willingness to embrace new technology and change with the times has helped him to continue making provocative works of art into his eighth decade on this increasingly inhospitable planet.


Books on Greenaway:

Peter Greenaway: Interviews – Vernon & Marguerite Gras (ed) **** A compact collection, spanning just 20 years, in which the unabashedly Euro-centric Greenaway comes off erudite, arrogant, fascinating, pompous, and more often than not, a mad genius. Great stuff!

Being Naked–Playing Dead: The Art of Peter Greenaway – Alan Woods **** Woods’ thematic take on his notoriously difficult subject succeeds admirably in putting a fresh and intelligent spin on many of Greenaway’s pet obsessions (repetition, evolution, books, maps, opera, voyeurism, etc.) without losing his audience. The two expanded interviews with Greenaway find him in a reflective mood full of pithy revelations about the stagnating state of art and film.


Feature Films by Greenaway:

1982  The Draughtsman’s Contract ****
1985  A Zed and Two Naughts ****
1986  The Belly of an Architect ***1/2
1988  Drowning by Numbers *****
1989  The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover *****
1991  Prospero’s Books ****1/2
1993  The Baby of Macon ****1/2
1997  The Pillow Book ***1/2
1999  8 ½ Women ***1/2
2003  The Tulse Luper Suitcases Pt. 1 (The Moab Story) ****
2004  The Tulse Luper Suitcases Pt. 2 (Vaux to the Sea) ****
2004  The Tulse Luper Suitcases Pt. 3 (From Sark to the Finish) ****
2007  Nightwatching ***1/2
2012  Goltzius and the Pelican Players ****1/2

Shorts & Documentary Films by Greenaway

1969  Intervals ***1/2
1973  H Is for House ***1/2
1975  Windows ***1/2
1975  Water Wrackets ***½
1976  Dear Phone ***1/2
1978  Vertical Features Remake ****
1980  Act of God ***1/2
1980  The Falls ****
1981  Terence Conran ***1/2
1981  Zandra Rhodes ***1/2
1983  The Coastline ***1/2
1983  Four American Composers ****
1984  Making a Splash ***1/2
1985  Inside Rooms: 26 Bathrooms ***1/2
1988  Fear of Drowning ***1/2
1989  Hubert Bals Handshake ***1/2
1990  A TV Dante (w/Tom Phillips) ****
1991  Death in the Seine ****
1991  M Is for Man, Music and Mozart ***1/2
1993  Darwin ****
1995  Lumiere and Company ***1/2 (compilation film)
2004  Visions of Europe ***1/2 (European Showerbath)
2005  Writing on Water ***1/2 (short)
2008  Cinema Is Dead, Long Live the Screen *** (lecture essay)
2008  Rembrandt’s J’accuse ****

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