Peter Greenaway

Excerpt from “Peter Greenaway: Interviews” by Vernon Gras

“The films of Peter Greenaway run unmistakably against the main current of present cinematic practice. They have done so from their very beginning. He is quite dismissive of the psychologically motivated plots that provide the standard fare of what he calls Hollywood cinema. Hollywood films tell stories: they translate literature with its linear narrative onto a medium that should be preeminently visual, claims Greenaway. Instead of foregrounding the image and the composition of visual elements such as we see in the long history of painting, Hollywood-style directors seem mesmerized by the “and then and then.” They are masters of building up suspense, subordinating the physical background, the site, and human forms to the need of finding out what happens next. Images function as ephemeral background to action. Visuals are subordinated to storyline. If you wish to find out what happens in a story, says Greenaway, read a book. In terms of using the potential cinema as an image based medium, he asserts most film directors seem maimed or semi-blind. They do very little with the potentialities of the visual medium and produce uninteresting, even boring films. Greenaway wishes above all to bring the aesthetics of painting to filmmaking and to diminish the influence of narrative. Cinema has its own vocabulary and syntax just as literature has its language. Why not display its idiosyncratic systems just as contemporary writers display those of literature?”

Recently, I haven’t been able to stop watching Peter Greenaway films. “A Zed & Two Noughts” and “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” will both probably be on my Top 10 list for years to come. Most all of his films are bizarre, hilarious, and mildly erotic, not to mention they are all a cinematographer’s wet dream. Greenaway still makes films, but he’s also a professor of film in Switzerland, a painter, and multimedia extraordinaire. And for the past 3 years he has been working on “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited“, which is a series of video installations that are projected over classical paintings involving state of the art interplay of images, lighting, music, voices and sounds. Who says getting old is whack.

And for some snippets of his films….


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