Scorning cinema as being mere 'illustrated text', Greenaway brings his artistic values, intellectual esoterica, visual richness and documentary
approach to movies. They often result in intellectually stimulating, obscure, pretentious, bizarre and beautiful visual feasts with themes, metaphors,
clues, cerebral puzzles, symmetries, lists, numbers, puns, obsessions and nudity galore. His movies are usually layered, self-referential, and revolve
around multiple abstract themes, and therefore cannot be fully enjoyed as simple narratives. He likes to explore abstract concepts comprehensively,
dissecting all of their facets and extremes in a detached way. Another of his passions is exploring new ways to deconstruct a narrative and tell a story,
using multi-layered multimedia to obsessively explore the details of an event, fact or scene. Even his lesser movies have striking visuals, beautiful
painting-like photography, and intriguing, precise strangeness. Not included here is his somewhat ordinary drama 'Belly of an Architect', the
pedantic speculative back-story and analysis of a painting in 'Nightwatching', and numerous shorts and artistic documentaries, many of which are
esoteric, over-obsessive works that are the equivalent of reading imaginary but artistic mathematical formulas with impenetrable intellectual humor.
A fascinating and unique film-maker.
Greenaway's most popular movie with an accessible plot about a crude, loud thief, a restaurant he terrorizes, and his
cheating wife. But digging into the movie behind its notorious shock values comes up with a fascinating theme: Food, sex,
good and bad taste, body orifices and body functions and how pleasures and disgust derived from them are so closely connected.
Even speech, silence and singing are explored, demonstrating how the mouth can be crude, loud, gentle or restrained. Gourmet
food, rotten food, sex, toilet habits, oral sex, scatology, vomit, cannibalism and other extremes are explored to comprehensively
cover all aspects of this theme. The cinematography is nothing short of stunning with an amazing use of colors and composition,
and fine tastes are mixed with digusting visuals, making this one very hard to watch, but intellectually rewarding.
Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, The
A brilliant exploration of the theme of art and reality, the relationship between the artist and his subject matter,
and the subjectivity of truth. The actual story is about an arrogant draughtsman hired by a Renaissance lady to
draw her house in return for sexual favors. The rich folk play their games with him and the plot keeps thickening.
Variations on the theme include living statues, ambiguous clues that mean different things for different people,
and all kinds of subject matter that refuses to stay objective and static. Self-referential with a vengeance.
Draughtman's Contract, The
A cerebral joy of a puzzle about games and life and the blending of the two. Trigenerational women drown their
three husbands and get the coroner to cover up for them. The coroner loves weird games, his son is obsessed with
playing them and counting everything in sight (mostly dead things), everything has rules, and the son has a
crush for a girl who skips rope and counts stars. Everything gets interconnected, life, death and its rules
turn into games and counting exercises, and vice versa. The movie itself is a game - see if you can spot all
the clues and numbers.
Drowning by Numbers
The themes here are birth, the symmetry of life, death, and the anti-symmetry of decay. The story is about two
brothers that lose their wives and become obsessed over these ideas while developing a strange relationship with the
woman who drove their wives to their deaths and thereby lost a leg. Siamese twins, symmetrical amputees, black
and white animals both dead and alive, bestiality, sex, birth, death, evolution, rot and Vermeer paintings are
explored. A lot of decay in all its reeking, wormy glory is shown. A very memorable, strange, intellectual and
elegantly humorous visual essay.
Zed & Two Noughts
The central theme revolves around fantasy vs. reality. Religion is the main target here, portraying the belief in miracles, and a
child icon being used for advertising, religion, power, money, and other not so idealistic purposes. Fantasy and ideals are forced
onto reality, twisting it into blind depravity. This is also explored using a play within the play, acted out for a childish, rich
Renaissance man in his home amidst extravagant sets, while the eclectic audience heckle and interact with the actors. Fantasy and
real-life bleed from the set to the back-stage and to the audience (and vice-versa) while actors are abused and the audience participates
in decadence and very twisted religiosity. Features a notorious, extremely disturbing rape scene which shocks you for hours afterwards
even though it doesn't show the details. That and some child dismemberment helped it get quickly banned in the US. Amazing photography,
overwhelming details, complex long tracking shots, and visually breathtaking, but a very slow story with too much emphasis on attacking
dark and depressing religion, and in the end, too disturbing.
Baby of Macon, The
Sexual fantasy and female archetypes, Peter Greenaway style. A rich man's wife dies and is inconsolable. His son suggests
sexual exploration. Lots of taboos are broken (incest, bestiality), amusing, almost surreal dialog is spoken, various forms
of sex and sexual functions are explored in analytical ways, and 8 1/2 exotic sensual female characters form their harem
until everything falls apart. Light-hearted and amusing, but nothing as brilliant, dense and cohesive as his other features.
8 1/2 Women
The ultimate Greenaway 'documentary' which alludes to elements in previous shorts as well as future full-length films
and involves everything that is pure Greenaway: Dry puns, endless facts and figures, obscure intellectual clues,
extremely abstract subject matter, etc. Clocking at 3 hours, this extremely challenging feature explores 92 out of
19 million people whose names begin with 'Falls..' and who were affected by a 'Violent Unknown Event'. These people
attempt to describe the event and its consequences and are explored biographically so that pieces and clues slowly
fall into place. Extremely challenging and boring, but fascinating as an exercise in ultimately abstract film-making.
A semi-documentary visual feast exploring a Japanese lady and her obsession with calligraphy. The beauty and eroticism
of nudity and writing blend in various ways and provide a somewhat erotic, striking visual experience. Skin is
explored as paper, messages are sent using various body shapes, and words are exquisitely painted on specific body parts
to convey ideas. The story of her father, her bisexual lover and her vengeance against a publisher is secondary.
Pillow Book, The
One of Greenaway's most challenging and esoteric multimedia-documentary-style creations that discards narrative
for a more multi-faceted experience. Nudity, pieces of Shakespeare's 'The Tempest', nudity, lots of bizarre surreal
images, Prospero's magic and power is depicted throughout the movie as nude human forms, more nudity, his favorite
books with lush details of their contents are listed, amazing visual feasts and gorgeous photography, and finally, more
nudity. Did I mention that this movie contains a lot of nudity?
In some ways, this is the culmination of Greenaway's art, career and ideas so far. The biography of the fictional Tulse Luper is explored via a massive multi-media
project involving 3 feature films, a condensed feature film, an IMAX experience, some interactive multimedia websites with images, flash movies, documents, and
blogs, DVD extras, books, CD-ROMs, and the (so far) missing TV series and 92 DVDs. The story is also called a personal history of Uranium (number 92), Tulse's
story told via multiple 'prisons' he finds himself in, 92 suitcases filled with different objects, 92 characters, and 92 objects that represent the world. Each episode
is a mini-story in different parts of the world and in different periods of time with the usual Greenaway dry humor, extremes, visual richness, and strange
characters. It also has elements of auto-biography and numerous references to Greenaway's other works. The features feel like The Falls by way of the visual
documentary-style of Prospero's Books and Pillow Book, but this is Greenaway's most ambitious work so far, attempting to take cinema to the next level. Dense
movie scenes are delivered with the help of overlapping narrators, images, pictures, extra information, repetition, multiple takes and even multiple actors
in the same role delivering the same information but with different meanings. Obviously not for everyone, and it benefits from increased involvement of
audiences who pay attention to details, but what I miss the most here is Greenaway's completeness, most of this creation wandering about from episodic story
to detail to object, lost in its own overwhelming obsessions.