Thursday 28 November 2013

A Zed and Two Noughts (1985)

Do excuse my wonky screen-caps - I'm photographing my TV again
We're nearing the end of the Penciltonian now, so as well as watching films from those last few years, I'm tidying up a number of loose ends.  I was keen to watch a film for every letter of the alphabet, and found that I had, quite appropriately, left Z for last.  Since I didn't have the time to watch 'Die Zweite Heimat' (1993) before the end of the year, I turned to 'A Zed and Two Noughts', a pleasingly literal choice for the letter.

Like most Peter Greenaway films, this is full of wit, conspiracies, nudity and astoundingly attractive cinematography.  So much symmetry, such colour.  Greenaway's introduction to the film points out the myriad myriads of light-sources used, from sunlight and starlight to different kinds of bulbs, flames, sparks and rainbows, and with this in mind the uses of light and colour in the film are really quite remarkable.  Some images anticipate my favourite Greenaway film, 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover' (1989): a woman in flamboyant, ancient reds in a pink-lit lavatory, or the fascinating or horrible treatment of food that is no longer food.

Venus de Milo (Frances Barber) and a zebra.
"The wives of two zoologists die in a car driven by a woman called Bewick who's attacked by a swan on Swan's Way".  The zoologists, identical twins, obsess over decomposition, grow more identical, and begin to liberate zoo animals for Alba Bewick, who loses a leg but grows more symmetrical.  Though the film is enjoyable and engrossing, you must never watch it it while eating your dinner: it's a beautiful picture, studded with time-lapse footage of decay - apples, prawns or zebras, passing from near life to maggots to brown mush.

The cast includes credible actor Geoffrey Palmer, arrestable comedian Jim Davidson, David Attenborough as narrator of a nature documentary, and a piquant part for Frances Barber, who I know better as Doctor Who's intensely villainous Madame Kovarian, here playing Venus de Milo, a writer of erotic animal stories.  It's a curious and exciting cast, and a film that lingers long in the memory.

I haven't found a film that looks and sounds better.  Magnificent light, colour and framing, and a pulsing, obsessive, urgent score by Michael Nyman.  This was the first film I looked at on blu-ray, and is the only film I would recommend to you in that handsome, unnecessary format.

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