Q&A with Peter Greenaway

CFF2015_EISEN1No one does an intro and Q and A quite like Peter Greenaway. The celebrated auteur is a gift for presenters, as he needs no wind up mechanism to unleash his considerable fountain of thoughts and filmic knowledge. He is the ultimate didact.

Greenaway was at Cambridge Film Festival to introduce his latest film, EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO. Without doubt an homage to the great Soviet director, we were told that this is a film that the maverick Brit has wanted to make for decades. In fact, so obsessed is he with Serge Eisenstein, that this is the last in a trilogy on the man’s life and work; although, in a typical upside down, out of frame Greenaway way, the first two haven’t yet been made.

The film is about the Ten Days that Shook not so much the World, but Eisenstein himself. A short sojourn in the Mexico of Freda Karloh and Diego Rivera ravished his senses and also his body. He found homosexual desire at last fulfilled, as Greenaway shows us in a series of often tender, sometimes typically manic scenes. Though inspired by the visual language of Eisenstein, we get almost nothing of his filmmaking – but an awful lot about his skittish personality and sexual awakening.

Greenaway told us that his next offering could be “Eisenstein in Hollywood”.

Asked to give the fairly full audience a short intro, the director launched into a lecture on the state of modern cinema – absolutely fascinating stuff, that was continued after the closing credits. One felt that a Day with Greenaway would be a wonderfully stimulating thing, though an exhausting one intellectually. He has a rich and fruity delivery, and a penchant for rather comical melodramatic delivery.

Greenaway made it clear that he thought cinema was dying, and that it had long passed its sell-by date. He asked the audience why they choose to sit in a darkened room, watching a parallelogram screen in which moving images are caught in a frame. This was very old technology, said Greenaway, who hinted at a new type of cinema freed from its celluloid ancestry and the unnatural boundaries of the frame. What always interested him as a painter (for that is how he started in life) was why that visual medium had no soundtrack. He berated our schools’ system for crushing childhood fascination with imagery in favour of the all-consuming god of text. He also condemned cinema for its reliance on narrative – “nature does not tell stories,” he argued.

All that was a bit strange for a film which essentially does tell a story: of Eisenstein’s sexual awakening. It draws on cinematic tropes that Greenaway admirers have seen in many of his earlier works: the split screens, the painterly compositions, the fluid camera work and the dramatic music scores (here drawing on wonderful works by Prokofiev).

Greenaway answered questions for over 30 minutes, warming to his task, challenging the audience to develop their visual language skills, checking that they spotted some of his hidden structures and repeated motifs. Greenaway told us that his next offering could be “Eisenstein in Hollywood”. If and when it comes to a future Cambridge Film Festival, make sure you catch a Q and A with the director. It will be like no other.


One Response to “Q&A with Peter Greenaway”

    Another take (ever timely !), on this account of the event, might be found on the pages of Unofficial Cambridge Film Festival…

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