Archive for Peter Greenaway

Being Obstructive

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 8, 2016 by dcairns

Five-Obstructions-01.jpg.as

Apart from his TV show The Kingdom, which delighted me, the only Lars Von Trier joint I have any time for is THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS. It’s a great teaching tool — Von Trier and his collaborator, Jorgen Leth, show how an artist can triumph over all sorts of arbitrary, seemingly impossible handicaps. It’s a very hopeful film, in that sense, which cannot really be said of DANCER IN THE DARK or NYMPHOMANIAC.

Von Trier, knowing Leth quite well, can pick obstacles he knows will truly vex his old friend, and I thought it might be amusing to invent obstructions for other filmmakers, based on their particular ways of working.

For Quentin Tarantino, you might pick almost any of Trier’s Dogme 95 rules, especially —

  1. Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.
  2. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden.
  3. Genre movies are not acceptable.
  4. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.

Tarantino is practically the only filmmaker in the world who might be forced to raise his game by these rules. Since he already obeys rule 9 by not listing himself as director, a useful fifth rule for him might be

5. Samuel L. Jackson may not appear.

Peter Greenaway should be disbarred from symmetry. In fact, he should be forced to work with asymmetrical actors — Ian Dury’s appearance in THE COOK THE THIEF was a god step in this direction. And he should be prevented from hiring actors who speak in arch, mannered tones, or flat, boring tones. No Michael Nyman. Instead, the Yakkety Sax chase music from The Benny Hill Show should be played every ten minutes, no matter what is happening. Oh, and his tripod should have one leg shorter than the others.

Michael Bay shouldn’t be allowed special effects. Or music. Or sound. Or a camera. And he has to direct it while gagged, blindfolded and wearing a straitjacket, locked in a cupboard in a coal cellar in a country at least five hundred miles away from where the shoot is taking place.

Of course, Lars himself needs to fall victim to his own foul scheme. No suffering women. No miserable ending. Shoot it on film. Shoot it in Danish, for God’s sake, your English dialogue is terrible. In fact, get someone who can write to write it.

Actually, none of Lars’ obstructions are really obstructions. He doesn’t need obstructions, he needs help.

Who would you obstruct, and how?

The Sunday Intertitle: The Greenaway Way

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2010 by dcairns

(More of a subtitle, really, from 26 BATHROOMS.)

Peter Greenaway stared at the multiplex with his perpetual air of being offended by a smell. “Of course, in ten years, this will all be gone,” he mused.

The above scene, described to me four or five years ago by a member of staff from Edinburgh Film Festival, hints that perhaps Greenaway is not the world’s greatest prophet, although only time will tell. I guess only time will tell if he’s going to kill himself at aged 80, like Ruth Gordon in HAROLD AND MAUDE, as he promised to do in the Guardian this week. But the quote that really excited my interest comes from his piece in Saturday’s Independent, talking about his new film, NIGHTWATCHING, which deals with Rembrandt’s painting The Night Watch.

“In the film we very deliberately skirted the trap of showing Rembrandt paint the masterpiece; no one would believe us – any possible suspension of disbelief would entirely collapse. Martin Freeman was not bad at handling a brush with some conviction, but nobody would ever believe he could paint a Rembrandt.”

What throws me for a loop here is the suggestion that Greenaway is remotely interested in suspending our disbelief, something that never even occurred to me before. It seems flatly contradicted by his statements that “the only thing we never believe in films is sex and death” and that sex and death are the only subjects worth talking about in films. I remember being impressed by his statement that he generally avoided camera movement because it increased audience involvement, and thinking that I would bloody well move the camera in order to involve the audience. The reality is a bit more complex than Greenaway’s statement, but then it always is. “He’s a man of bold, spurious statements,” my friend at the Film Fest said.

I don’t have much time for the man, I must admit, though I wouldn’t go so far as Mr. Alan Parker, who once threatened (or offered?) to take his children to be educated in America if Peter Greenaway made another film here. Those two chumps deserve each other.

(I can, in fact, see a case for both filmmakers, but I’m equally out of sympathy with both also. Greenaway started his feature career with a genuinely unusual work, THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, unlike anything else in British cinema and made on a near-shoestring. Unfortunately, he has followed it with more of the same, until the eye aches at the repetition. A similar repetition mars Parker’s altogether different cinema. The Greenaway I like best is the above-illustrated 26 BATHROOMS, a little documentary on an alphabetical theme. Because each bathroom corresponds to a letter, it’s very easy to tell how far along we are in the film, which is only half an hour long anyway. Also, filming in confined spaces prevents Greenaway from making every shot flat and symmetrical, and using real people speaking their own words rather than actors speaking Greenaways results in a welcome change from the glib marionettes he usually dangles before us.)

The one Greenaway film I’d like to see doesn’t exist. It was suggested by Greenaway’s evocation the TV show CSI to describe his forensic approach to Rembrandt’s work. His admiration for the series put me in mind of JG Ballard, who likewise expressed his pleasure at the show’s complete lack of human emotion, which echoed that of many of his own novels. Greenaway filming a Ballardian apocalypse might be quite nice, and his interest in digital technology, expressed back when Roland Emmerich was still blowing up dollhouses with firecrackers, would stand him in good stead filming the likes of The Crystal World.

Although THE MONOLITH MONSTERS is already a pretty good version of that, with its B-movie cast and Z-movie dialogue providing a more tolerable version of Greenaway’s arch alienation.

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