The Draughtsman's Contract
Reviewed in February 2012 / Click Here to Comment
Written on the occasion of Janet Suzman's 73rd birthday.
Director: Peter Greenaway. Cast: Anthony Higgins, Janet Suzman, Anne-Louise Lambert, Hugh Fraser, Neil Cunningham, David Gant, Dave Hill, Steve Ubels, Michael Feast, David Meyer, Tony Meyer. Screenplay: Peter Greenaway.
Twitter Capsule: Greenaway's rectilinear perversity and mathematical malice, played closer to comedy than became his wont

Photo © 1982 British Film Institute/Channel Four Films;
© 1983 United Artists Classics
Peter Greenaway's movies obsess themselves with outsized practitioners of esoteric crafts in distant eras. Maybe he always knew how quickly he would join their number. I didn't see it coming, or at least not so quickly. Greenaway was one of those prodigious figures of 1980s and early 1990s cinema that I already wonder if newer moviegoers even recognize. Few directors have ever made films that stood so fully apart from what anyone else was doing, even when Greenaway's fetishistic relations to painting, architecture, lithography, calligraphy, castrati, orchestral scores, period costume, period foppery, period nudity, and numbered sequences meant that he sorely needed the assistance of thousands in order to make these films that so loudly expressed his individual voice. I can only imagine the travails of his longtime producer Kees Kasander. The sheer monumentality of the films' vision and the fact that they looked like a million bucks covered the obvious sustainability problems innate to such an expensive and defiant aesthetic. If you weren't thinking about money, which surely spelled his doom, it looked from the outside as though the disastrous reception of 8½ Women in 1999 almost single-handedly wiped this major artist off the books, as sudden and strange a fate as if Lars von Trier was never heard from again after Manderlay. From there, Greenaway seemed to bank a lot on the "future of cinema" as a hybrid operation among big-screen images, CD-ROMs, web components, and interactive, multi-part installations, and though audiences have quickly enough learned to consume movies and track their promotions across these converged media, it turns out they still like to see an encapsulated movie somewhere in the mix, or at least to know that it's out there. Greenaway, that purveyor of weighty monoliths, seemed to dissipate in a spray of 0s, 1s, and freestanding modules that you're more likely to find in a museum than a movie theater. Now he's the Ozymandias of the arthouse, a cruel and pageant-favoring leader, half-forgotten, buried with his heavy and humorless artifacts. There are things I don't miss about this torture artist, this glacial scold, but there are things I miss dearly about him—his rude, extravagant individuality more than anything—and when I think we've somehow been forced to trade Greenaway's alien, elaborate manses for Wes Anderson's puny shoebox dioramas, it makes me want to smack someone 2 x 2 x 2 x 8 times.

Cronenberg's actors < Greenaway's (used their fame to take a paleography course at the British Library and are in the Patron's Circle of the Symphony of Ghent) No one flapping his wig back like that could possibly be in a completely serious situation Husband like the boss's new client in Psycho Suzman : Manville in TT Surprisingly, if you dig back to the beginnings of PG - or, if not quite begi, earliest features - not always humorless. The glacial scold and torture artist who put casts and audiences through coprophagy and cannibalism and numerological trauma (mathematical rapes) (Saw?), was once a kind of puzzle-box artist, TDC not totally given over to comedy, but it's got one foot planted there --> comic situation through a severe grid, or else the other way around --> a bleak drama of no-limit rivals seen through a lens of foppish irreverence and idiosyncrasy so marked and imperious as to be almost charming - more Joseph Cornell than Jacobean bloodlust - Blowup in an age of hand-drawing, when indiv perspective is itself still a warmish idea - the censorship flap over The Baby of Mâcon in 1993 Not yet reviewed in full. Grade: B

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