Sunday, March 17, 2013

Peter Greenaway asks is cinema dead? (A nightcap work in progress)

Peter Greenaway
 This is a piece I've been sitting on for a while. It's not a fully formed piece rather its a series of comments made in reaction to a recorded lecture by Peter Greenaway. I've been trying to bang it into a proper essay but I can't get it to work. I'm tired of looking at it so I'm now going to turn it loose and let you ponder it. I may revisit it since I was recently given another Greenaway lecture given  about the same time but twice as long and it may inspire me to run by this material again.

The photos are courtesy of Lou Macaluso and were taken at the Park Avenue Armory when Greenaway's Last Supper was there in December 2010.

In a speech given in Australia not long before the release of Nightwatching Peter Greenaway rails on about the death of cinema. It’s a claim, that he himself will freely admit is a contradiction since he himself is , amongst other things, a filmmaker. The lecture, given at the Perth Documentary Film Conference, was given to me as a bonus disc with a new copy of the Tulse Luper Suitcase films. It’s one of the earliest statements I’ve seen on video of Greenaway’s battle cry of cinema being dead.

I’m not so sure that cinema is dead. To be certain the way we see film is changing. We are going to fewer movies, we are watching more at home, but don’t think anything is dead.

I think Greenaway’s problem is a matter of semantics.

What exactly does he think cinema is? Is he talking about the typical film simple narrative projected on a wall?

As a narrative form it’s something that is constantly evolving. How we see films is forever changing and evolving. We have trans-media which Lincoln Center is constantly exploring with its multi-platform conferences and screenings.

Is the projection of images dead? No.

Greenaway complains how we see a film must change. Change the screen, change the venue, change way the image is delivered. Having seen what he has done to change this I agree. He makes some truly spectacular presentations, but they are highly impractical for anything but a communal or experience outside of the home.

I think Greenaway is arguing that how we experience film outside of the home has to change. However at the same time he has to realize that what he is doing in the museums and armories and other locations will never ever translate except to those singular spaces.


Greenaway talks of the Luper films being cut up and jumbled and all projected at the same time as a sort of VJ experience. Strip away the soundtrack and just use music. While I like the idea of image and music what then becomes the purpose of a narrative film?

His cries of doing away with text are contradiction since any sort of film – short of just shooting random images –are tied to text. Greenaway’s own work are filled with text not only in the dialog and script but within the images which brims with words over images.

Cries of doing away with text are the cries of a painter (Greenaway was trained as one) since painting like most art form as are the creative representation of emotion and ideas.

Yours  truly (left) watches the Last Supper come to life ala Greenaway

Cinema dead?

Not really.

The narrative form is despite Greenaway’s dislike of it is thriving.

His arguments that the screen as we know it is dead may very well be- but the real problem is that the in order to tell stories visually to the masses you have to have some standardizations. Yes you can blow it apart but mostly you need something standard so that the stories and experiences can travel as they must- you want to reach as many people as possible and not just a chosen few.

The ability to display images in a variety of different manner has been around as long as films. Yes with the increase of TV and technology the size and shapes have changed, but Greenaway has to face the same problems that avante garde and art filmmakers have faced over the last 100 or so years- the shifting image sizes and shapes will limit what you are doing- making things too radical will kill the art form not  faster than the limitations of standardization ever will...
Peter Greenaway meets his public (That's my balding head center)

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