Walker Art Center

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Filmmakers G is for Greenaway

Dialogue: Peter Greenaway with Peter Wollen

  • Retrospective: April 4–30, 1997
  • Regional Premiere: The Pillow Book

A is for Avant-Garde, where Greenaway undoubtedly belongs. A is for Alice in Wonderland and the Lobster Quadrille. A is for Acrimboldo (just a guess). A is for Anthropometry and Anthropolphagy and Anthroposophy.

B is for Boullée, the recipient of an architect’s postcards. Boullée, to my ears, sounds almost a homonym for Belly, the protuberant dome of the very same architect’s physique.

C is for Cage and Chance and Counting. And Cartography. (And Catalogue).

D is for Drowning leading to Death and then, of course, to Decay and Decomposition. (A droll footnote: Boudu was saved from Drowning in the Seine).

E is for Encyclopaedia and Encyclopaediomania, if the word exists. E is for England and Englishness and English gardens and English murder stories and English games. E is for Eno.

F is for the Food Chain. Who eats whom, when, where and why. F is for John Ford. (‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore - not The Searchers).

G is for Games. G is for Grisly Games, such as Hangman’s Cricket. G is for Grids. G is for Gaultier and Gielgud.

H is for House. H is for Walking Through. H is for Harlot.

I is for Icarus and death by flying. I is for Innuendo (sexual). I is for Installations and live human bodies as Installation Pieces.

J is for Jokes and Japes and Jests and Juvenilia. Thinking laterally or paradoxically or jokingly, J is for Jarman?

K is for Kitaj and Kneller. K is for KATE Greenaway. And Kees Kasander (without whom…).

L is for Lightning, an infrequent, but exquisite, cause of death. L is for the Light Fantastic.

M is for Man, Music, Mozart, and Meredith Monk.

N is for Nabokov. N is for Nudity. N is for Nursery.

O is for Omphalos and Omphalectomy. O is for Opera, especially The Sisters of Strasbourg (and The Death of Webern and Others).

P is for Palimpsest (another name for CD-Rom). P is for Procyon, my personal favourite.

Q is for Queneau. Q is for Quarrel (see Nyman, now missing).

R is for Renior and Rules of the Game.

S is for Structural Film (without which…). S is for Stairs and Sei Shonagon and Skipping.

T is for Tulse Luper. Tulse Luper was a literary device. Tulse Luper was a licensed alter ego. Tulse Luper manufactured a collage book where biography was reduced to diagrams examined under topographical headings. Tulse Luper combined John Cage and Buckminster Fuller and Marcel Duchamp. Tulse Luper secretly made many, if not quite all, of Peter Greenaway’s films. Tulse Luper’s suitcase contains Vatican pornography, dead gloves, maps of Herculaneum, cork frogs, Nazi gold, harmless gossip, magic numbers, Peace in our Time, Cézanne apples, the bones of a dead dog called Rita? The search for the hypothetical contents continues. At least, so some say.

U is for Underwater. See Drowning. See Waterpapers.

V is for Vierny. V is for Video. V is for Vesalius. V is for Van Meegeren. V is for Vaults.

W is for Wigs and Windmills and Walthamstow and Waterpapers and Water Wrackets and Watertowers and Whodunnit?

X is for the Violent Unknown Event. (Re-thinking palindromically, X is for seX).

Y is for Yarborough, a hand at bridge in which there is no card higher than nine. So-called because the Second Lord Yarborough (*early 19th century) used to lay 1,000 to 1 against such an occurrence in any named hand. The actual mathematical odds are 1,827 to 1 against. For some incomprehensible reason, there are no Yarboroughs in the Greenaway corpus. As yet.

Z is for Zoo and Zorn and Zandra.

─Peter Wollen, March 1997

Author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, Peter Wollen has maintained a multiple presence in the medium as screenwriter (Antonioni’s The Passenger), independent filmmaker (Friendship’s Death), and scholar (currently a Professor in the Department of Film and Television at UCLA).

Peter Greenaway