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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, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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