Friday 21 December 2012

Short films of Peter Greenaway (1974, 1976)

Windows (1974)

This was one of the first films I watched in my 'hundred films from hundred years' experiment, so it's one I've had a lot of cause to mention in lists.  I wish it had a longer or slightly more substantial title, as even I keep expecting an operating-system related adventure, rather than a catalogue of the fallen.

When I was writing up 'Lieutenant Kijé' it struck me that almost all of the films I'd been watching featured battles, murders or other forms of violent death.  'Ah,' I thought, 'but the Peter Greenaway shorts surely don't have any homicides in them, as they aren't character-based narratives'.  A moment's research revealed to me that, despite its three-and-a-half minute duration, 'Windows' has a higher body-count than 'Terminator 2' (1991) - albeit deaths described rather than shown.  As the opening sentence puts it, 'In 1973, in the parish of W, thirty-seven people were killed as a result of falling out of windows'.

The film goes on to enumerate and categorise the generalised circumstances, professions and ages of the nameless people.  During this collated data, set to persistent harpsichord music, we're treated to some 16mm footage of a house's windows, and the sights beyond.

'...the remaining adults were all under 71,
save for a man believed by some to be 103.'

I know how tempting it is, given a house, a camcorder and almost nothing else, to make zero-budget thrillers and intense five-minute dramas about two characters and a puppet - so it shows commendable restraint on Greenaway's part, or perhaps a sign that the stories he wants to tell are far more different, more like art - that he can take the time and the film and make something almost devoid of humans interacting with one another.  Aside from a few brief shots of his wife in the garden, this is a film without people in the pictures.  Window frames and ledges, vertical features, distant plants and trees.

I've long delighted in Peter Greenaways films and often wish I could tell stories the way he does in his later career - but our beginnings and our urges when given film-making tools seem here so radically different that the workings of his mind must be somehow artistically opposite to mine.  I watch these films and try to work him out.

H is for House (1976)

'H is hemiptera, homoptera and hymenoptera'

Peter Greenaway is a director unusually concerned with visuals.  Unusually because, having trained as a painter, and counting film as a visual medium first and foremost, he doesn't match pictures to a plot or dialogue, preferring to work the other way around.  The pictures, the light and shade, composition and colour come first.  Why make the film follow its characters' stories?  Why not arrange the film alphabetically (as he did in his 1980 directory epic 'The Falls').  'H is for House' also muses on the alphabet as a tool of categorisation.

Interspersed with lists of words beginning with H ('H is for Home-movie and Hollywood and R is for Russets') we hear dry but hugely improbable stories about unnamed characters, deliberately-dull fairy tales about town-planning and satirical opticians, boiled down to the most concise of tellings.

'H is for cigar.  Havana cigar'

Perhaps by merit of using the same house and camera, this feels like a sequel to 'Windows'.  It has the same aggressive music driving the film - but rather than harpsichord, this time it's a loud recording of The Four Seasons that keeps the viewer going.  Like 'Windows', this might be a comedy, if it's anything, and I'm glad to take it as one.  It has a curious wit, and what it could possibly mean, if it's not some kind of satire, I cannot say.

P. S. These films are so very short ('Windows' would fit eighty-two times into 'Die Nibelungen') that I'll very probably be watching some more sensibly-lengthed films for 1974 and 1976.  Any suggestions?

P. P. S. The next review will be the most Christmassy 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947), and the next film I'll watch will be 'Finding Neverland' (2004).

P. P. P. S. The 'P.S.' above stands for 'Pencilton Says'.  Pencilton is a small, fluffy owl puppet, and while owls are often wise, Pencilton is not.  He is, however, correct on this issue.  'P.P.S.' stands for 'Pencilton Probably Says', probably.  The extra 'P' in this entry stands for Peter Greenaway.

Oh, treat yourself with a copy of 'The Early Films of Peter Greenaway volume 1', why doncha?  These are merely the shortest two items, and you'd also be able to discover 'A Walk Through H' in all its cartographical beauty, and a couple of other snippets.

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