“Cinema is brain-dead” – Peter Greenaway

Peter GreenawaySpeaking at the Pusan International Film Festival, controversial director Peter Greenaway has declared the death of cinema. According to Variety, he calls the time of death 1983, the year television remote controls became popular in homes. He went on to say that video artist Bill Viola was “worth 10 Martin Scorseses” calling his fellow director old-fashioned and accusing him of “making the same films that D.W. Griffith was making early last century.”

“We’re still illustrating Jane Austen novels — there are 41 films of Jane Austen novels in the world — what a waste of time.”

That’s pretty strong stuff, and funny, and probably true from a revolutionary’s perspective, but when it comes to telling a story how much has really changed ever? As long as Greenaway is wanting to tell stories, and he says he does, how much is he really breaking the mold? You can dress a story up in different ways, but it’s still a story and it still serves the same function. Doesn’t it?

And spare me the “interactive forms of filmmaking” chestnut. It’s B.S.  I don’t want to interact with my movies, I just want to be told a good goddamn story.

Feel free to continue pushing the envelope Mr. Greenaway and I’ll be in line to see your next movie, but you’ll have to pry  Taxi Driver from my cold, dead fingers.

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14 thoughts on ““Cinema is brain-dead” – Peter Greenaway

  1. Well, the remote control is a more interesting thing to blame for the death of cinema than Star Wars, but my childhood babysitter had a remote control for their TV back in the mid-1970’s so I think Greenaway’s math might be a little faulty here. Sure, it only changed the channels sequentially up and down but when you only had like 8 channels it didn’t matter a whole hell of a lot.

    I don’t see much logic in the comment and I don’t think it’s necessary to really take Greenaway too seriously here. He sounds like he’s trying to get some good publicity while simply thinking out loud to a bunch of journalists.

    The irony is he will get more press for these comments than he has cumulatively for all his films since The Cook, the Thief….I’m getting tired just typing the name of the movie.

  2. I’m more inclined to view Greenaway’s comments with tolerance (as represented here, I’ve not read the full article). No one else has made films like him. He really has tried to push the envelope. Even if he doesn’t have the answers for finding new ways to make cinema work I’ve always admired his ambition, and see value in artists asking the question of their medium. That said, so harshly dismissing the value of traditional film story-telling and singling out Scorsese for particular criticism seemed mean-spirited and added nothing to his key argument. Perhaps he’s turning into a grumpy old man.

  3. Sometimes when you’re an envelope pusher, you’ve got to go all the way. It’s like a crusade. Of course he knows he’s exaggerating, but you’ve always got to push to get things moving along.

    I love Greenaway and actually some of the stuff he said was pretty funny.

  4. Wells, maybe Greenaway’s just a bit pissed off that Scorsese (the former firebrand outsider) has had mainstream successes and relatively more ease attracting financing than he has.

    That’s enough to make any director envious if not grumpy no matter how much he values his art.

  5. Even though Greenaway has always been something of a pretentious snob, he has a little bit of a point. The novelistic way of making films does get old after a while, and films that are more ‘pure cinema’ like, say, Assassination of Jesse James, are too rare. But Scorsese is the wrong guy to pick on because he has a much richer cinematic vocabulary than Greenaway is giving him credit for.

    It’s funny when cinema titans snipe at each other, it reminds me of Godard going after Spielberg, Tarantino, and Michael Moore as he has in the last few years.

  6. Well, I agree that there may in fact be too many movies devoted to slavish period-piece retellings of Jane Austen novels, but does that mean we should have stopped reinventing Shakespeare a hundred years ago too?

    And yeah, the narrative style of film has become a convention in and of itself, with three acts and all the contrivances of cinematic storytelling that that entails. I’m quite certain some inventive young exec in Hollywood is currently brainstorming a way to patent the actual process of narrative fiction in film because the royalties alone could keep a studio in the black for decades.

    But does this mean that Greenaway also no longer reads narrative print fiction? Why, how could he? Or poetry? Forget plays…good god, those even have a standard *format* they’re written in. And painting? Well, there’s a pretty tired artform. Not much new in that medium since Jackson Pollack literally threw paint on canvas.

    I respect Greenaway’s work but if he wants to whine about the death of filmmaking, I’ll see his whine and raise him an Inland Empire and tell him to shut the f*ck up. Otherwise, there are more inventive and interesting ways to rile up stupid journalists and get some cheap publicity than making tired blanket statements like this one.

    See, I’ve now devoted far more energy to this than it deserved.

  7. “I’ll see his whine and raise him an Inland Empire”
    Right the fuck on!

    Jeff’s right though, he does have a point and we should always be fighting against stagnation. If he’d picked on Tom Shadyac or Nancy Meyers or Ed Zwick or even Ron Howard, no one would’ve blinked an eye. But that’s why he didn’t pick on those people.

  8. Perspicacious last thought CJ. Strong arguments Joel (your brother’s name isn’t Ethan by any chance?), I understand your irritation but there is clearly value in someone provoking such thoughtful responses as can be found here. Well done CJ for choosing the post.

    I love the term pure cinema. Thanks Jeff McM for raising it. When I try to identify what this label means to me I think of films that tell the story with less reliance on dialogue or narration. And do so through what we see in individual images (and how they’re filmed) and more particularly through their sequencing (supplemented by sound effects and score). This seems more specific to cinema. One of the joys of film festivals is being able to see more attempts at pure cinema than we typically find in mainstream films.

    Is this what others understand pure cinema to mean?

  9. If you haven’t already Sartre, head over to Jeff’s blog and see what he has to say about Jesse James, there’s more on the notion of pure cinema and also a comparison to 3:10 to Yuma.

    I think of pure cinema as taking advantage of sounds and images to explore something that can’t be easily verbalized. It’s a higher form of the art because it is doing things that only cinema can do in a way that only cinema can do it. I’ll watch an illustrated Jane Austen novel any day of the week, but to that diet I’d also like to add something like The New World which is what I think of when I think of pure cinema.

    Not sure if that’s what Jeff was getting at precisely, but those are my 2 cents.

    Glad this post stirred something up for you. It did me too, but I must admit it was also a way of delaying my Michael Clayton review a few more hours.

  10. i think the good think about his naming scorsese is that evetone know a bit about scorsese and we can judge his comments from there.

    if he picked on ron howard craig mentioned the words wouldn’t have had the same effect…

    if he ref’ ed guy maddin (just trying to name someone trying to do something sort of different)

    and on the raise him and inland emoire think. cool but you’re playing into his hand right. films like inland empire are pretty rare. and ypu had to go to an old master to ‘raise’ him.

    his question maybe where are the young guns ?? or are we going to get ‘gangster film #3000 of 2007.

    yep we’re more likely to get ganster film #3000.yep…

    hey i’m not saying in scorsese deserves to get called out like that but if your going to do a call out why not ‘pick on’ one of the best ???

    that makes better press/gets more attenton amd maybe takes a little more of what do the guys call it …balls…….

  11. “Scorsese is old-fashioned and is making the same films that D.W. Griffith was making early last century.”

    what is that the quote ?? hmmm i think you guys fell for it.

    that quote (even with the bill viola thing before it.sorry i have no idea who he is..) i think has more do how he percives scorsese’s type of films/method of storytelling….he said nothing about the *quality* of the films.or makes any personal digs at scorsese….

    if he wanted to kick scorsese in the balls we sure could have tried harder that. since we all agree greenaway is smart guy…

    and i to see this even less as a cheap shot(well yopu know what i mean) since even during glowing reviews/heaps of praise from fans/critics.it was pretty much admitted the ‘the departed’ was traditional.better ‘traditinal’ or not. no one said ‘the depatrted’ was future of cinema thing or was trying to do something ultra new(plus it was a remake too..)

    now if greenaway started giving example in scorsese filmsor things he specifically thought he did wrong in whatever films. yeah id’ say your reactions were more in line. but hey that’s just my opinion ok….

    and ‘cinema is brain dead’ surely encompass alot in his view.maybe he dislikes almost everything and that’s cool too right???

    but back to the scorsese thing.hey an artist can’t have an unpopular opinion??? they can never say it ???

    hell i wish more artist would speak their mind….

    but ok all forget the cook/thief/wife/lover… forget inland empire/forget the scorsese empire…..

    i’ll raise you a britney spears(early 2000’s) look like version of a real doll. that is all…. 😉

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