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An eye for optical theory

Legendary film director Peter Greenaway spoke to The St. Petersburg Times during his visit to the city.

Published: June 21, 2012 (Issue # 1713)



  • Peter Greenaway shown during the filming of his documentary Rembrandts JAccuse (2008).
    Photo:

Handsome, dapper, erudite and charming, you would never know to look at him that Peter Greenaway is one of the most polarizing figures in world cinema.

Mischievous? Yes. Affected? Sometimes. But at 70 years old, the great British director is nothing if not a supreme gentleman.

Watch the films, however, and you might be forgiven for thinking him a nasty piece of work all gnashing teeth and flying fur with a nose for the louche. But that would be missing the point slightly. A master of the dramatic moment, he is naturally drawn to extremes.

Greenaway is constantly engaged in a diversity of simultaneous undertakings: Writing, directing, VJ-ing, painting, creating multimedia installations and conducting research into arcane bits of knowledge, his hyperactive intellect synthesizing the varied strands into a cohesive constellation that is as fascinating as it is complex.

This week and last, the director was in St. Petersburg to attend a retrospective of his film work, while also participating in a charity auction of his paintings at the Kempinski Hotel Moika 22 to benefit the Pantelemonovsky Medical Foundation. As if that werent plenty, he was also here looking for an actor to play the lead role in a project about the Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisensteins time in Mexico, Eisensteinin Guanajuato.

Greenaway, who considers Eisenstein the supreme filmmaker, found it difficult to identify a Russian actor able to play the part.

Although our film is about a Russian subject, we might very well in the end choose a character who is not Russian at all. But I think the great problem is, the character has a huge demand because the dialogue that I write is hardly, Pass me the salt, darling. Its full of English wordplay, alliteration, punning and complications of understanding, which I think only prime English speakers would completely understand.

Curious words for an extremely vocal critic of films that sacrifice visual acuity to the service of text a practice he disparagingly calls bookshop cinema. His films nonetheless fetishize the written word to the point that some might question the sincerity of his pronouncements on the vices of text.

Its an ironic contradiction. I thoroughly enjoy text, and I write novels, and Im reasonably well published. So Im all for text. But in context, if you like. And I think that there are so many ways in which text can hand down its meaning, not only contemporary forms, but ancient forms of lyric poetry, etc. Why cant we allow cinema to get on with its own business? Which I think is really about imagery and not about text.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Friday, Oct. 24


SPIBAs ongoing Breakfast with the Director series continues today, featuring Tomas Hajek, Managing Director of the Northwest Division at Danone Russia. Hajek will be discussing collaborations between businesses from different cultures. The meeting is at 9 a.m. at the Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel and all who wish to attend must confirm their participation by Oct. 23.


Get your gong on at Sounds of the Universe, a concert at the city planetarium this evening incorporating six different gongs to create relaxing songs that will transport you upwards into the stratosphere. Tickets are 700 rubles ($17).



Saturday, Oct. 25


AVA Expo, the eighth edition of the event revolving around all things pop culture, returns to Lenexpo this weekend. Geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks will have their chance to talk science fiction and explore a variety of international pop culture. Tickets for the event can be purchased on their website at avaexpo.ru.



Sunday, Oct. 26


Zenit St. Petersburg returns home for the first time in nearly a month as they host Mordovia Saransk in a Russian Premier League game. Currently at the top of the league thanks to their undefeated start to the season, the northern club hopes to extend the gap between them and second-place CSKA Moscow and win the title for the first time in three years. Tickets are available at the stadium box office or on the clubs website.



Monday, Oct. 27


Today marks the end of the art exhibit Neophobia at the Erarta Museum. Artists Alexey Semichov and Andrei Kuzmin took a neo-modernist approach to represent the array of fears that are ever-present throughout our lives. Tickets are 200 rubles ($4.90).



Tuesday, Oct. 28


The Domina Prestige St. Petersburg hotel plays host to SPIBAs Marketing and Communications Committees round table discussion on Government Relations Practices in Russia this morning. The discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. and participation must be confirmed by Oct. 24.



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