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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

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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