Why championing Peter Greenaway is a pain in the ass.

9 April, 2009

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(Although this kick-ass picture making him look like a Doctor Who contender makes up for the struggle.)

News has come out that Greenaway is making another film despite his constant insistence that cinema is dead and more to the point an inferior art form. The key passage of this story is the following:

Dutch actresses are auditioning for [Greenaway] and being asked two questions: 1) “Would you be willing to have unsimulated intercourse on screen?” 2) “Would you be willing to appear in a shot in which semen leaks out of your vagina?”

Upon reading this, a number of thoughts began floating through my head. Firstly, the only surprise is that Greenaway hasn’t made a film featuring explicit sex already. Those who have seen The Pillow Book, for instance, should understand why. He is one of the only directors who has no reservations about sex or nudity no matter how cold and distant his sex scenes tend to be, which is one of many reasons why I respect him so much.

But the rest of my thoughts expressed nothing but reservations about the project. On the one hand, every time Greenaway makes another film, I cross my fingers in the hopes that he’ll return to the halcyon days of A Zed & Two Noughts and The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover. On the other hand, it’s probably never going to happen, especially if the hugely disappointing Nightwatching is anything to go by, and this is where the sex comes in. Making a film with explicit sex scenes is meaningless unless the film is any good. Otherwise, who gives a damn? And just as Nightwatching was clearly meant to attract mainstream audiences to his more complex work after the disastrous Tulse Luper Suitcases project, this new movie sounds like nothing more than a last-ditch effort to get the arthouse community to care about the idea of a Peter Greenaway film.

Finally, it’s not as though making an artsy film with real sex is a bold idea anymore. We’ve already had 9 Songs and Shortbus in the last five years as every article breaking this story has leapt at the opportunity to mention. So unless Greenaway can get his act together and try to tell us something interesting like he used to, why should anybody care if his latest opus will feature “hardcore super-sex” as Alan Partridge would say?

And this is why it’s a pain in the ass to be a Peter Greenaway fan. For somebody whose output used to be consistently brilliant, he has let himself deteriorate into an annoying art historian who thinks all contemporary works are rubbish unless they follow his insane rules, which would be absolutely fine if his recent output wasn’t all full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Oh well. At least the alleged Criterion release of The Cook The Thief His Wife & Her Lover will hopefully remind people why anyone bothered with Greenaway in the first place.

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3 Responses to “Why championing Peter Greenaway is a pain in the ass.”

  1. Mark L said

    I’m interested in the Tulse Luper Suitcases thing, because I loved The Falls and it’s apparently a continuation of that? But now I guess I shouldn’t be? I was going to get the Australian DVD import of it and everything.

  2. Noah said

    You know when an imperfect low-budget cult film emerges and then the same filmmakers remake it but with more money and less heart? That’s what The Tulse Luper Suitcases is like. While The Falls had a brilliant premise done in an almost Pythonesque documentary style, TLS tries to wrap it up in an adventure story that no one could possibly care about because the characters are so badly developed. It’s a regurgitation of The Falls but with less invention and more bad special effects.

    That being said, his latest film Rembrandt’s J’Accuse, is terrific. Definitely look out for that one. It’s a lot like his early documentaries.

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