Peter Greenaway speaks
October 30, 2006 7:59 PM   Subscribe

Peter Greenaway speaks (what follows are short Youtube excerpts of a lecture by Greenaway): on the tyranny of celebrities; on Martin Scorcese; on airport bookshops and culture; on notions of media; on his belief that Bill Viola is worth ten Scorceses; on why he goes on making films; on the notion of the frame in theater and cinema; on Dutch producer Kees Kasander; on why we have to get rid of the camera: "There's a way in which a camera is essentially a mimetic tool which tells us how the world exists, and what it tells us is always going to be less interesting than what's really happening out there. Also: interview about 8 1/2 Women.
posted by jayder (48 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Don't miss the eight pages of Greenaway quotes (first link). They're interesting.
posted by jayder at 8:03 PM on October 30, 2006

As a film professor once pointed out to me, Greenaway is perhaps the best filmmaker out there at articulating the diverse themes, intersections and meanings of his own films. Great post, I'm gonna go watch The Falls.
posted by jrb223 at 8:44 PM on October 30, 2006

Fascinating filmmaker, but what a pompous ass. Of COURSE the books in an airport bookshop are mostly mindless entertainments. WTF does that have to do with the preservation of global culture and art history? Shoppers there are just looking for some diversion.
posted by twsf at 8:54 PM on October 30, 2006

Great stuff. Not at all pompous. Nice to hear articulate opinions expressed with respect to those who wish to hear/read them.
posted by juiceCake at 9:00 PM on October 30, 2006

okay, I am having trouble with youtube. Too slow/won't load... Anyone else, help?!

I love, love Greenaway. In fact recently I searched imdb for what he is up to and apparently next year he will grace theatres with Nightwatching. I cannot wait. I seem to have missed his last one, A life in suitcases, I just wonder if it ever made it in NY.

Thank you for these links, I hope they will work for me later.
posted by carmina at 9:02 PM on October 30, 2006

Give the Youtube videos a minute to load. I found they took fifteen or twenty seconds to start; I'd think they weren't working, then they'd play.
posted by jayder at 9:10 PM on October 30, 2006

I dislike this format of breaking the lecture in short clips. I would rather listen to the lecture in one complete audio track, since there is no visual support.

Where and when did this lecture took place?
posted by jchgf at 9:25 PM on October 30, 2006

jchgf: I have no idea. I just ran across these excerpts.
posted by jayder at 9:30 PM on October 30, 2006

woo! The cookie jar has just cracked open!

From the same gembox too: drowning by numbers.

Visual poetry...
posted by carmina at 9:42 PM on October 30, 2006

Thanks Jayder. I am emailing the poster on Youtube to find out.

Based on the little I saw from Greenaway's output, it seems to me he might be a more interesting film theorist than filmmaker. What films of his should I seek out?
posted by jchgf at 9:44 PM on October 30, 2006

Well, it's nice to know that he likes Buñuel as he says in this quote, "My heroes among filmmakers would be people like Buñuel and Pasolini, who were of very high cinematic intelligence, but tread on a lot of toes." from this page - I'd hoped that he would. I'm quite sure that Greenaway agrees with Buñuel's view of the cinema - as the latter says in this quote,

"Writers, directors, producers take good care in avoiding any thing that may upset us. The keep the marvelous window on the liberating world of poetry shut. They prefer the stories which seem to continue our ordinary lives. All this, of course carefully watched over by traditional morals, government and international censorship, religion, good taste, white humour and other flat dicta of reality.

The screen is a dangerous and wonderful instrument, if a free spirit uses it. It is a superior way of expressing the world of dreams, emotions and instinct. The camera seems to have been invented for the expression of the subconcious, so profoundly is it rooted in poetry. Nevertheless, it almost never pursues these ends.

We rarely see good cinema in the mammoth productions or in the works that have received the praise of critics and audiences. They leave me completely indifferent.

I could say, "But that the white eyelid of the screen reflect the proper light, the Universe would go up in flames." But for the moment we can sleep in peace. The light of the cinema is conveniently shackled."

I was going to edit some of the above, but thought it germane to the topic, especially in light of Greenaway's views on taking the apparatus that we have made and using it in different ways other than what we're used to - to tell stories and portray ideas in a different way, rather than a series of linear stories, or literal moving pictures. Not that I'm saying that telling a story using the picture frame as a literal one - there are many shots from Greenaways films that can be portrayed that way, and they work when used like that. It's been done, and perhaps now different things must be done to pull the truth from fiction, or vice versa.
I, too, wish that I could see the whole speech (lecture?) that he gives as I find him quite engaging, but I'm thankful for this, as I'd never have thought to look for it.
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:53 PM on October 30, 2006

belly of an architect, drowning by numbers, the cook the thief his wife and her lover, the pillow book, prosero's books

I vow by those, jchgf.
posted by carmina at 9:53 PM on October 30, 2006

I really liked A Zed and Two Noughts. Since seeing it, I have never looked at scientific/nature documentaries in quite the same way.

I thought Belly of An Architect was great, also. It was an unusual role for Brian Dennehy.

The plot of Belly of An Architect revolves around the portly figure of the architect protagonist (Dennehy) and the movie depicts him in various stages of undress. In doing so, Belly of an Architect seems to represent Greenaway's attempt to remedy the following problem he has identified in cinema (clipped from one of the quote pages I linked in the main post):

"I suppose on another level, I'm often irritated that, basically, certainly should we say Hollywood orthodox cinema deals in nudity primarily from the point of the view of the female body and she has to be aged between 16 and 30. What happens to the rest of us? What happens to the whole mass of man/female, masculine/feminine kind who do not get represented in this context? We ought to be there along with everybody else."
posted by jayder at 10:05 PM on October 30, 2006

That's one of the reasons why I liked Cook/Thief/Wife/Lover. The scene in which Helen Mirren and Alan Howard are in the library after their ride in the meat truck and they're both naked and dripping wet I had noticed because they're not the really good looking people that are (usually) portrayed naked in most films - they're middle-aged and a bit saggy and totally realistic. I thought "well good for them for doing that, and good for the director for actually showing them, warts and all, like actual people."
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:21 PM on October 30, 2006

Oh, and I'd like to mention The Draughtman's Contract. (short overview, Roger Ebert's review, IMDb entry **note that the Wiki entry has a spoiler in it that isn't contained in their Spoilers section. I'd avoid it until you've seen the movie.) I particularly like the use of objects in the gardens that point obliquely to the goings-on in the house, and how the draughtsman is drawn into it perhaps by those objects that appear in the sketches that he is trying to draw, aside from the machinations of the residents.
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:35 PM on October 30, 2006

I half expected Greenaway to mention something about Sontag's On Photography in his, "get rid of the camera" clip, but he went somewhere else. He mentioned Eisenstein, of course, but when it comes to poetry in cinema, Dziga Vertov is always up there for me. Dziga never gets enough mention or praise in my opinion. But then again, Greenaway is still alive and filming, thank (insert your deity of choice, or not).
posted by Sir BoBoMonkey Pooflinger Esquire III at 10:48 PM on October 30, 2006

What an excellent post.
posted by squidfartz at 10:58 PM on October 30, 2006

I think one of the ways Greenaway irritates people is that he is using a model which selfconsciously differentiates itself from conventional narrative — which I would say is pretty much the way most people process their worlds, it's an efficient encoder, if you will — and bases his films on, say, the alphabet, the integers from 1 to 100, objects with names starting with the letter t, and so forth. Pure lists versus the usual model of situation --> unstable element introduced --> world rocks about axis --> resolution.

Nothing really unusual there, if you look at poetry or, say, OuLiPo, but rare enough in film and a cogent enough body of work to warrant a decent amount of attention, in my view. His attention to the equal importance of sound and image in film is also exemplary.
posted by Wolof at 11:24 PM on October 30, 2006

His (excellent) short film "Dear Phone" (part 1 and part 2) is a pretty good introduction to his work.

My favorite film has to be "A Zed and Two Noughts". The best concept would be "The Falls", but I can't make it all the way through that one without going a little crazy.
posted by scodger at 12:34 AM on October 31, 2006

Africious (Youtube poster) replied:


It took place somewhere in Germany. It's available in Germany on CD-ROM. You can read the complete transcript of the lecture here:



posted by jchgf at 12:45 AM on October 31, 2006

If 99% of books in airport bookshops are crap and will disappear as soon as the book is closed than how can they inform our cultural history? Tit.
posted by biffa at 12:48 AM on October 31, 2006

M is for Man, Music, Mozart, and Many Thanks for the Many Links.
posted by oog at 1:06 AM on October 31, 2006

Brilliant post. I think Greenaway's terribly, terribly, terribly overrated, but this is a great post.
posted by bunglin jones at 1:08 AM on October 31, 2006

Oh, and thanks for the links, and also thanks to jchgf for the link to the pdf of the transcript.
posted by scodger at 1:10 AM on October 31, 2006

Good post, and I agree with the above that he's a very interesting and rebellious filmmaker, but what pomposity.
posted by zardoz at 1:25 AM on October 31, 2006

Wow, in those clips he says things I largely agree with yet expresses himself in a way that makes me want to slap my monitor.

For some strange reason I never got along with Greenaway's work, and now I realise it must be because some of that smugness/pomposity works it way onto the film.
posted by malevolent at 2:08 AM on October 31, 2006

he's not nearly as pretentious as his movies are
posted by matteo at 2:35 AM on October 31, 2006

What are they pretending to be?
posted by Grangousier at 2:57 AM on October 31, 2006

he's not nearly as pretentious as his movies are

Pretty much exactly my (personal) experience of him.
posted by Wolof at 3:39 AM on October 31, 2006

Breaking news! Airport bookstores don't sell lasting works of art! Also, much of the food sold in airports is not nutritious. More at 11.
posted by mattholomew at 4:18 AM on October 31, 2006

I imagine if you bought a Joan Collins book at an airport, were reading it on the plane, had catastrophic engine failure and went down, you would indeed retain some of that Joan Collins for the rest of your life, Greenaway. Does that make it art?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 5:00 AM on October 31, 2006

I've recently seen The Children of Uranium (some photos and a description) in the PAN museum in Naples: it's a strange performance between art and theatre, about atoms, war and death. Weird and confusing, but with an impressive atmosphere.
posted by darkripper at 5:02 AM on October 31, 2006

Crap. Jackie Collins, right? I need to learn this kind of stuff.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 5:02 AM on October 31, 2006

Mefi's really good lately. I can't keep up. Thanks jayder.
posted by bardic at 5:26 AM on October 31, 2006

Actually, they both write books, kingfisher.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:23 AM on October 31, 2006

Yes, Greenaway is a little pompous. And indeed, not all of his films are readily accessible. But he makes no secret of his view that cinema ought not be consumed like fast food. So when you check out one of his films -- even the less-than-successful ones -- you know you're in for a thought-provoking treat.

It's posts like this one that make Mefi the great place that it is. Thanks for this, jayder.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 6:40 AM on October 31, 2006

I really thoroughly enjoyed The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover and The Pillow Book, with the latter a truely great big screen experience. Yet, I sort of forgot I liked him and this post has reminded me of that. I am off to find some more and watch. I go through phases of total junk and then need something more "interesting" to break it up. In between those extremes lies hollywood hell....
posted by Bovine Love at 6:55 AM on October 31, 2006

I like his movies, but that lecture makes me think that he hates me.
posted by OmieWise at 7:13 AM on October 31, 2006

You know what I hate most about Peter Greenaway? Of all the great filmmakers who participated in Lumière et compagnie only he broke the rules (by adding an edit).

If David Lynch is going to play fair, who the f*ck do you think you are to cheat?
posted by nathancaswell at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2006

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover made me throw up. Seriously. It was visually enthralling. But sick.

I liked The Pillow Book mostly because now I know Ewan McGregor is hung like a fifty dollar mule and it got my wife all excited.

I agree Greenaway is a pompous snob. His basic argument is "if you like ME then you're authentic and can grasp the profound."

His other films I have seen but have no recall... that tells me it's mostly candy and not as deep and "profound" as he wants them to be.

His problems with Scroceses I don't get. It's true. Scroceses tells the same story and has run his course to a certain degree. Except for "Last Temptation." Funny Greeaway didn't mention that. But there are only so many stories to tell. Every artist compulsively latches on to one or two stories and finds ways tell them again and again. Even Shakespeare.

It's amazing Greenaway gets to make ANY movies. And it's got to be a good thing that crazy ideas like his can still get made into movies and seen. Everybody I know has seen his movies. Even my parents. Which contradicts much of his criticism of the industry.

After these interviews I like him less than I did before.
posted by tkchrist at 9:30 AM on October 31, 2006

In my opinion, limiting the length of the film to 55 seconds implied that it should consist of one continuous shot, which everyone else seemed to do.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:31 AM on October 31, 2006

52. I'm going to stop now. This guy really just rubs me the wrong way and I want him to suffer.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:33 AM on October 31, 2006

you know you're in for a thought-provoking treat.

Greenaway has about three ideas per film and takes three hours to convey them. I wouldn't mind, but, as ideas, they're not that interesting.

His two creditable points are that a) if you take someone out on a date to one of his movies, they have a highbrow reputation so you appear erudite and b) they are so boring you'll end up cuddling because there's nothing better to do.

Prospero's Books so got me laid.
posted by Sparx at 12:19 PM on October 31, 2006

Greenaway has about three ideas per film and takes three hours to convey them. I wouldn't mind, but, as ideas, they're not that interesting.

Prospero's books has more than three ideas. Interest is, of course, relative. I found that film loaded from start to end. I've never seen a better Shake movie.
posted by juiceCake at 4:52 PM on October 31, 2006

Drowning by Numbers is in my top 5 fav films evah. Yet it still can't be found on DVD. Sad, that.
posted by moonbird at 6:07 PM on October 31, 2006


Thanks for the links. Still waiting for proper DVD releases of "Baby of Macon" and anything from the "Tulse Luper Suitcases" project.

That being said, Greenaway has also recently been doing amazing work as a VJ.

(Apologies if link is redundant)

posted by objet at 9:03 PM on October 31, 2006

The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover made me throw up. Seriously. It was visually enthralling. But sick.

You may have meant that figuratively, but that really happened to me, as in, the physical act, literally. Luckily, not in a cinema!

I'm sorry, Mr Greenaway. I'm not worthy of your art. And I hate you.

That said, erm, even on a more figurative level, I also felt it was just too rich, too much to take. It put me off from seeing more of his films.

I did enjoy the 'eye candy' of Prospero's Books though. I watched that in bits at an exhibition, on a loop, on different screens, so it was just pure visuals. I'm still not too keen on such a 'baroque' style but that was a nicer experience.
posted by pleeker at 1:27 AM on November 1, 2006

Late to this even though I apparently favorited it way back. Funny thing about the falls is that I remember reading a quote from him saying he didn't recommend/expect anyone to go through it in one sitting. I love that film. Riddled with secret messages: the first letter of each birdname in the song which consists of nothing but birdnames spells out something, stuff like that. Gimmicky, but I'm all for gimmicky. Ditto the pillow book: split screen, swapping from black and white to color. Sure he's not the first guy to do it, but he loads up on it, revels in it.
posted by juv3nal at 5:24 PM on November 7, 2006

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