Peter Greenaway today at CCM


Peter Greenaway was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales, and grew up in Essex, England. His family left South Wales when he was three years old. At an early age Greenaway decided on becoming a painter. He became interested in European cinema, focusing first on that of Bergman, and then on French Nouvelle Vague film-makers such as Godard, and most especially Resnais.

In 1962 he began studies at Walthamstow College of Art, where a fellow student was musician Ian Dury (later cast in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover). Greenaway trained as a muralist for three years; he made his first film, Death of Sentiment, a churchyard furniture essay filmed in four large London cemeteries. In 1965, he joined the Central Office of Information (COI), working there fifteen years as a film editor and director. In that time he created a filmography of experimental films, starting with Train (1966), footage of the last steam trains at Waterloo station, (situated behind the COI), edited to a musique concrete track. Tree (1966), is an homage to the embattled tree growing in concrete outside the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank in London. By the 1970s he was confident and ambitious and made Vertical Features Remake and A Walk Through H. The former is an examination of variations of arithmetical editing structure, and the latter is a journey through the maps of a fictitious country.

The visual hallmark of Greenaway's cinema is the heavy influence of Renaissance painting, and Flemish painting in particular, notably in scenic composition and illumination and the concomitant contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death. Greenaway's frequent musical collaborator composer is Michael Nyman, who has scored several of his films.

In 1980, Greenaway delivered The Falls (his first feature-length film) – a mammoth, fantastical, absurdist encyclopedia of flight-associated material all relating to ninety-two victims of what is referred to as the Violent Unknown Event (VUE). In the 1980s, Greenaway's cinema flowered in his best-known films, The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), The Belly of an Architect (1987), Drowning by Numbers (1988), and his most successful (and controversial) film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989).

In 1989, he collaborated with artist Tom Phillips on a television mini-series titled A TV Dante, dramatising the first few cantos of Dante's Inferno. In the 1990s, he presented the visually spectacular Prospero's Books (1991), the controversial The Baby of Mâcon (1993), The Pillow Book (1996), and 8½ Women (1999).

In the early 1990s, Greenaway wrote ten opera libretti known as the Death of a Composer series, dealing with the commonalities of the deaths of ten composers from Anton Webern to John Lennon, however, the other composers are fictitious, and one is a character from The Falls. In 1995, Louis Andriessen completed the sixth libretto, Rosa - A Horse Drama.

Greenaway has completed the artistically ambitious, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, a multimedia project with innovative film techniques that resulted in five films. He also contributed to Visions of Europe, a short film collection by different European Union directors; his British entry, is The European Showerbath. In early 2005, he announced Nightwatching, a film about the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn, slated for release in 2007.

On 17 June 2005, Peter Greenaway effected his first VJ performance during an art club evening in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, with music by DJ Serge Dodwell (aka Radar), as a backdrop, ‘VJ’ Greenaway used for his set a special system consisting of a large plasma screen with laser controlled touchscreen to project the ninety-two Tulse Luper stories on the twelve screens of "Club 11", mixing the images live.


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