Mannered and Dull
This film, which I saw yesterday at a single, sparsely attended 4:00
p.m. show, part of an AFI European film festival, may thrill Greenaway
fans, but a broad cross-section of movie lovers will probably find it
mannered and dull. Shot Rembrandt-style, it apparently aspires to be an
homage to art, to the 17th century artist, and to his early-modern eye
for humanity -- the cinematographer keeps coming back to, and lingering
over, eye shots -- combined with a detective story, a psychodrama, a
domestic drama, a costume drama, a self-conscious allusion to the
director's earlier dramas, and a brawling, lusty slice of Low Country
life in the era when kings waged war with parliaments, city walls were
just starting to come down, and commerce was beginning to muscle aside
the gun as the engine of empires.
The film badly needs editing. Everything that happens when a camera is
turned on is not necessarily art or even interesting. The 144 minutes I
saw would have benefited had they been shrunk by nearly an hour. First
kill all of the improvised scenes. Then kill all of the gratuitous sex
scenes and needless expletives. Then kill all of the scenes in which an
actor talks directly to the audience. Then kill all of the precious,
mannered references to other Greenaway films -- statues played by
semi-nude actors, sides of beef hung out to dry, etc. etc. Tighten up
the detective story. Lighten up the art analysis. Minimize the posing
scenes. Voila. You'd be at 90 minutes without any problem.
Not for the uncommitted or the faint of heart..
The Inner Eye and the Lover's Lens
In a way, Greenaway is my touchstone for deep film experience. It was
with him that I first studied the things that have since become part of
every viewing experience, from "Godzilla versus the Sea Monster" to the
more homeopathically transcendent meditations of Medem and Ruiz.
Each film is its own adventure, and that's part of the joy. Each film
is similar in reaching for a context outside of the ordinary context of
other films, so it helps if you are knowledgeable about the dynamics of
those contexts. Which of those that are more natural to you will color
which of his films you prefer.
I like his "book" films the best because I had prewoven worlds that he
just happened to encircle. All of his looping narratives and playing
with discrete objects, events and relationships strung and structured
capture me when they are prominent. I'm not crazy about his projects
when he drifts toward conventional narrative as he does here and away
from engaging in conceptual play.
This is more like "Draughtsman's Contract" or even "Cook, Thief" than
his more complex films, so many people will like it. Its also his
prettiest film since he lost his long time cinematographer.
If you don't know this film, its a simple fold: its about Rembrandt
creating a painting with deep, Greenaway-like meaning. The filmmaker
goes to great lengths to visually make his relationship to the film be
similar to Rembrandt's with the painting, and thereby fold us into the
thing because we see and hear (in great detail) viewers of that
painting react. And they punish our painter much like the filmmaker has
Threaded throughout is a rather touching story not unique in
Greenaway of a man and passion, and the woman and then women he
loves. And how passion and love, and creativity encompass one another
and drive that energy of life that we count on artists to use to break
mountains ahead of us so we can pass.
Its the women here. It is always the lovers who allow creativity, who
grow it and channel it. There is no real penetration of life without
it, and the night it brings. Just on the straight narrative alone, its
powerful. It works. The whole thing works, and could be a theatrical
success for a wider audience than usual.
The three lovers are redheads, of course.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching..