Peter Greenaway and Cinema as a Musicalized Painting
The work of this Welsh director makes painting converge with music, using film as a vehicle.
Creation, to me, is to try to orchestrate the universe to understand what surrounds us.
He was trained as a painter and in 1966 began making short films. In 1980 he debuted The Falls in the United Kingdom, and from then on his film career was unstoppable: The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & her Lover (1989), Prospero’s Books (1991), The Pillow Book (1996) and 60 more films.
Peter Greenaway has a cult following. If the audience is not ready for a high dose of creative stimulation, they are hardly ready to complete a communion with the work. In Prospero’s Books, for example, right from the credits, a monotonous system of symbols unfolds, a carnival of restrained manias with characters immersed in an always–orchestrated rhythm.
“Prioritize the image, the image, the image,” Greenaway said in an interview with Kirsty Wark for the BBC. The Welsh director is in a constant pursuit of stimuli to manifest his vision and he does so through a countless number of pictorial images in movement, set to music. But in his universe, the image is never alone — rather, it is permanently tied to the sound. When Wark asked him why he didn’t want to be a painter, he replied: “because paintings do not have soundtracks”.
Without exception, his works conjure an artistic exhibition in movement ––A visual language that goes from the post-modern Baroque to humor, irony and the carnavalesque. Like in The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & her Lover, where a series of shots reveals there is a painter who follows a painting, and another, and so on—all linked together with a meticulously selected musical score.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015), his most recent film, relates the romance he had with the Russian filmmaker in 1930 while he was filming in Mexico. “Film has to be thought of a contemporary stage of painting,” Eisenstein would say, and Greenaway agrees––On more than one occasion, the director assured that cinema began at the end of the 16th Century with the works of Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Rubens and Velázquez, where all the elements of film (movement, sound…) were already present.
“A little while ago, you said that when you reach the age of 80, you were going to kill yourself,”Wark asked as she finished the interview.
I live in Holland where euthanasia is not a dirty word. I cannot think of anybody who has done anything really valuable after 80. There are 7 billion people in the world. I think the old should move aside and allow the really inquisitive, curious, enterprising young to step forward. I have four children. I have passed on the genetic material. I cannot think there is anything more important than to procreate. I am engaged in filmmaking which is very enterprising and exciting, but it’s only filling the time between now and death.
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