Sketchbook notes from the drifting spaces

Some films by Peter Greenaway

After watching his most famous movie a good while ago ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’ (1989) I was interested to see what his other films were like, having been inspired by the painterly suffused lighting and grotesquely captivating situations and relationships. First I watched his early film from 1982 ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’ set in 1694 which depicts the fall of a rising English artist famed for his architectural drawings. Mr. Neville’s contract for twelve drawings of a country estate in return for money and his pleasure leads to all sorts of events as an intriguing form of murder mystery ensues, deepened by the content of his perfectly executed drawings aligned with the baroque oil paintings of the country house itself. His energetic over confidence and sardonic wit, with his lower background, is at odds with his upper class clients… and the film indeed oozes a critique of capitalism set at the time the Bank of England was formed.

The way Greenaway visually tackles the setting, the landscaped gardens and wonderfully over the top costumes are really striking – particularly for me, the bold and classical use of perspective shooting into the vanishing point with several varied compositions – no special effects needed here – such as close ups of easel and drawing tools. The visuals tie in perfectly with the strong period influenced score of Michael Nyman. A very enjoyable film without being too commercial, great acting from the cast, and good to see Hugh Fraser (Captain Hastings in Poirot) as Mr. Talmann.

‘The Belly of an Architect’ (1987) was next and didn’t disappoint although it was maybe a bit long – but well worth watching for the intense portrayal by Brian Dennehy of architect Kracklite’s obsession with 18th C architect Boullee as he sets up an exhibition of his work in Rome, yet becomes plagued by paranoia, thinking his wife is poisoning him. This leads to a fascination with his belly, which he duly gets to a photocopying – memorable flashes of unnatural greens from the machine here. Greenaway finds numerous exploratory ways to visually and artistically stimulate the audience, using strong sets and lighting in a way that he would build upon in ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover’.

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