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13 December 2004

The art of living up your own arse

Welcome to the world of Peter Greenaway, a man so pretentious he makes Jacques Derrida look like Russell Coight.

Greenaway is, quite simply, one of the the world's worst filmmakers, a cinematic equivalent of Jean Baudrillard: a man who's shallow pseudo-intellectual works people pretend to understand and enjoy in order to prove how clever they are.

Give the man credit, his films are visually beautiful (watching Prospero's Books with the sound off is a feast for lovers of cinematography and production design). They are also pointless, stupid and mind-bogglingly boring.

I dare any sane adult to sit through The Pillow Book without the aid of hard alcohol: An Asian woman likes her lovers to write calligraphy on her body. There's apparently some really important point being made about identity and textuality. And there's lots of fancy overlapping film frames and on-screen cursive text. I was so stimulated I switched over to the Home Shopping channel.

Worse than the man's films though, is the experience of watching him talk about himself, an activity he uses to inform the ignorant savages out there just how clever and innovative his films are, and how he is taking cinema beyond the boring, mundane stuff like telling stories and entertaining people.

I would say there has been no cinema yet. Nobody has yet made a film. I think the best we can manage is a version of illustrated literature or recorded theatre. Alain Resnais [the French filmmaker, creator of Hiroshima, mon amour and L'annee derniere a Marienbad], for me, has probably come the closest of any filmmaker to make a film which canot be manifested in any other art form. I also think that the dominant commercial cinema is extremely conventional, very orthodox, very non-investigative; Scorsese, basically, is still making the same movies as Griffith. But I'm not down-hearted about this, because just around the corner, after a hundred years of this prologue to cinema which we've had, is the possibility of at last being able to make pure cinema, with all the new technologies. Virtual reality, the IMAX screen, the whole digital revolution is going to allow us to make actual cinema. You might recall that occasion when Eisenstein, of all people, said to Walt Disney that Disney was the only man that really made films, because the entire filmic universe was created completely within his imagination, and not with reference to the real world.

Most of my cinema, I suppose, has been, again, agonizing about this difference that's existed in the West--this division between text and image, and the hopeful ability of cinema to unite them. Again, I don't think it ever has successfully. As an addendum to that, the next product which I hope will filmically extend this idea is a movie that we're about to make in Japan, which is essentially about calligraphy: how calligraphy, an Oriental tradition--possibly an Islamic tradition--has been able to avoid the divorce between text and image, and in a very unified way. Little essays in this direction were already made in Prospero's Books, with its concern for the art of calligraphy, for what it meant and stood for. Sadly, calligraphy no longer exists in the Western world, not to any appreciable extent, anyway.


"We have to move away from the concept of screening in cinemas. This can be achieved with the new technologies. I enjoy my films and the fact that I can include you in them as well. Cinema is only a small part of a much greater phenomenon. We transcend the barriers of culture. DVDs’ image quality and longevity provide us with new prospects. They are a powerful medium. I think they were invented especially for me."

Oooh, I'm getting a mental stiffy here.

Still, the literate posturing of Greenaway and his ilk can't hide the fact that no amount of new technologies will make up for a movie that is little more than fraud-art.

Scorcese is just "re-making Griffith movies"? Scorcese has more talent in his faecal matter than this self-absorbed windbag will have in his entire miserable career. Greenaway does the intellectual pose of "well, I could make regular great movies if I wanted to, but I choose not to". Bullshit. I challenge Greenaway's fans to cite one scene - one - of his that can match the Travis Bickle "you talking to me?" scene in Taxi Driver. Just a stationary camera and a guy talking to himself in the mirror made one of the most riveting movie moments of all time. For all his wannabe intellectualism and art-house wank, Greenaway can only dream of movie-making of that calibre.

Greenaway is no more an artist than Zsa Zsa Gabor. He and his tiresome supporters suffer from archetypal wank-art disease: that something has artistic merit purely by virtue of being different, or shocking, or disgusting. Why are Greenaway's movies any more artistic than a performance artist shitting on stage and eating it, or a comedian walking offstage and kicking an audience member in the balls?

He has no narrative skills, no ability to make us feel for a character, no ability to make us feel excitement, or laughter. These things require a skilled director. Showing an endless sequence of pretty pictures and letting us know how many obscure books you've read doesn't count.

This isn't art, it's masturbation.


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