's first full length feature film (and at three hours, it's way too full for some), The Falls
puts the audience on its mettle, never stating the exact nature of the catastrophic VUE ('Violent Unexplained Event') and leaving us to draw our own conclusions from hints in and between the 92 short films making up its bulk.
Greenaway explains in his book of the same name (published by Editions Dis-Voir, Paris) that the VUE "had randomly showered its victims with both benign and malign symptoms. The most identifiable characteristics include compound articulacy, immortality, and an identification with birds, with especial, though not exclusive, reference to a bird's enviable ability to fly."
The film is done in po-faced fashion, like a kind of postmodern ethnographic survey, but the inclusion of items like biography number 7 (Lacer Fallacet) in whom the VUE induced such a fascination with things aerial that she attempted to give flying lessons to her dogs, by throwing them out of aeroplanes - resulting in a nominal fine of "three cronen for exercising a dog in a public place witout a lead", and the missing biography number 35 (Cole Fallbird) where we are informed "Cole Fallbird's biography is sub judice pending trial for mis-conduct with a minah", work to undermine the apparent seriousness of the presentation.
The film also contains some references to arch-aesthete filmmaker "Tulse Luper" and includes a scene of people watching his (actually Greenaway's) study in pretentiousness Vertical Features Remake 2 - a 45 minute short consisting of 10 edits of a film of "vertical features" such as fenceposts and telegraph poles - as well as a few stories by the multi-talented auteur. Luper crops up somewhere or other in most of Greenaway's films.
When I sat through this film (about 15 years ago) I had never seen anything like it, and, really, I still haven't. The refusal to even resemble a conventional film, provide any narrative, or explicit continuity (apart from the bizarre structural device already outlined) has been too challenging for many.
One web reviewer (http://www.jpoc.net/dotorgsite/jpocorg/movies/art/TheFalls.html) wrote: "The best way to watch this film is with your tv turned off. A blank screen is no less interesting". But I found it an intriguing enough exercise in bafflement (and pretty amusing, in places, too, with some nice Michael Nyman music).
On reflection, the fascinating thing about it was that the rational faculties of the attentive viewer can be observed in action, scrabbling for dear life in a desperate attempt to make some kind of sense of the mysterious VUE from the 'data' that arrives higgledy-piggledy in the brief biographies. Over the three long hours, you can watch your own mind struggle to link up the various facts and references into some kind of coherent pattern.
and (extensive) further details are available from: