Peter Greenaway

born 5 April 1942 is a British filmmaker and painter and a genius. I haven't seen much of his work, I saw The Falls which is one of my favorite films, and half of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, I started watching about a year ago with my brother and his girlfreind and it's not that it wasn't good but we were all feeling a little tired so we switched it off half way through. The reason I'm writing this how ever is that recently I was in London where I went to see him speak at the British Film Institute (BFI) and afterwards perform The Tulse Luper Suitcases alongside a DJ.


Over career that spans more than forty years he's made independent, or let's say alternative films. Peter is a trained painter but soon became more interested in film making. In 1962 he started his studies at the rather unknown Walthamstow College of Art, there he made his first film Death of Sentiment. In 1965 he started working as an editor and director at the rather bureaucratic sounding British government institution the Central Office of Information. There he started collecting archive footage of various things which are kind of descriptive of his work, his self admitted admiration of encyclopedic knowledge, enumeration, classification, categorisation, ad nauseam.In an interview he mentions James Joyce and Georges Perec, who wrote Life A User's Manual, as influential on his work.1 Originally being a painter, Peter thinks modern movies are too text-based, of contemporary cinema he says "I don't go to the cinema very much, because I find it boring and uninteresting. When I do go and see something which is amazing, then I'm filled with a great sense of envy and jealousy. So my cinematic viewing experiences are always very negative."1 which also serves to point out his self-admitted arrogance.


Cut to the talk he gave on 17th of March 2007 at the BFI. - Peter is an angry old man2, he feels that the potential of cinema hasn't been realised. How so? Well let's make one thing crystal clear, if you haven't understood it yet, Peter's movies are what most people would call arty in a condescending tone. In any case, if you truly appriciated American Pie or Black Hawk Down, in all likelyhood, you won't like his films. Greenaway laments how visual education, as he puts it, is lacking. He counted three venues where they are taught: art & design schools and architecture schools. According to him most people are visually illiterate. Partly to blame here is the tradition of films being text based i.e. scripted.

Greenaway, who lives in Holland, wondered why there was such a long tradition of amazing painters there but writers in England and respectively few writers and few painter. How come? Is it something cultural?... He also stated that, although it is a bit of a simplification, cinema was invented in 1895 by the Lumière brothers => Eisenstein made the first masterpice, Strike in 1925 => Welles perfected the art form (probably with his Citizen Kane) => Godard threw it all into a trashbin (my favorite being Weekend). And so, since Godard and R.W. Fassbinder cinema has been stagnant. Greenaway actually provides us with a date of death, 31st September 1983 when the zapper or remote control was introduced to households. What Greenaway is saying is that cinema is a passive medium but come the remote control and cable access a certain level of interactivity becomes possible. Passive interactivity (an oxymoron, I know), but now the viewer is able to choose at any given time what to watch. With the advent of the VCR, when to watch it.

Greenaway's concern is that cinema is lagging behind and he desperately wants it to catch up. So his newest project, which I saw at the London IMAX, is an attempt to bridge the gap between modern technology (interactivity and multimedia being keywords) and the cinema. The London IMAX has a big screen and a massive sound system. The show featured Greenaway's 93 suitcases belonging to his alter ego Tulse Luper, each containing "an object that represents life" (such as uranium or a baby). Peter worked on 30 inch touch-screen on a small platform, selecting which scenes to roll and a DJ played alongside (I recognised one song from Rossz csillag alatt született). It was fun but rather chaotic (which I usually like).


In the talk he gave before the show he let us in on his latest project. Nighwatcher3 is a 1642 Dutch painting by Rembrandt. He borrowed it from it's host museum and, if I understand correctly, devised precision lighting equipment (the painting measures 363 × 437 cm or 142.9 × 172.0 inches) used to the effect to highlight certain areas of the painting or create the effect of rain or lightning. In addition he made sound effects; dogs barking, drums beaten, people talking in dutch and environemnt noises. The overall effect being quite breathtaking, the painting became alive. (He told us that more masterpiece paintings will get the same treatment (in production?))

Films in chronological order:


1 -
2 - - On his Myspace page he says "Film is dead, I tried to save it, didn't work out...enjoy your pyscho-dramatic linear narrative you bloody philistines."
3 -