In an industry where the term “idiosyncratic” is pasted on any director with even a slight edge, Britain’s Peter Greenaway deserves special status. His best-known films — “The Draughtsman’s Contract,” “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” — attest to a singular vision unlikely to spawn lookalikes. His lesser-known pictures often require a road map.
Beginning Friday and running three weekends, the American Cinematheque will be presenting a relatively exhaustive retro of the filmmaker under the banner “G is for Games, Gardens, Greenaway.” The program kicks off Friday evening with his latest film, “The Pillow Book,” followed by the L.A. premiere of his controversial 1993 production, “The Baby of Macon.” Greenaway will be present to discuss his work. “The Pillow Book” screening is sold out.
Trained as a painter, he entered the film industry in 1965 as a film editor and several years later alternated between work for hire and his own experimental shorts and documentaries. Saturday’s early evening program features a selection of his short works of the 1970s including the highly acclaimed “A Walk Through H.” One can see in his early fiction and mock docs an emerging sensibility in which inanimate objects appear to have a will of their own, and fate and luck conspire to undo premeditated plans. It’s his most darkly ironic period.
Following his first feature, “The Falls” — a chronicle of a plague that descends upon England — in 1980, Greenaway was able to secure financing for his ambitious period drama “The Draughtsman’s Contract.” Cloaked as a tale of infidelity and murder, it caught viewers off-guard as it spiced the narrative with sumptuous landscapes, a painterly eye, a penchant for non-sequiters and an inconclusive finale that spawned heated debates and myriad interpretations. It became a worldwide arthouse success and cemented the filmmaker’s critical reputation.
Subsequent features, including “A Zed and Two Noughts” (aka “ZOO”) and “The Belly of an Architect,” combined mesmerizing visuals and dream-like plots. Greenaway’s artistic sleight-of-hand remains an ability to combine story and images that are enthralling and daunting. But rather than thumb his nose at the audience and dare them to decipher his intent, he encourages them to participate in the experience and arrive at their own conclusions.
The Cinematheque series unreels Fridays and Saturdays at the Raleigh Studio. More information on the program and upcoming events is available by calling (213) 466-FILM.