Brit maverick makes case for reinvention

UTRECHT, The Netherlands — Attention, film fans: Brit director Peter Greenaway thinks you’ve been looking at a dead medium for at least 20 years.

At the annual Variety Cinema Militans lecture at the Utrecht Film Fest last week, he spent an hour explaining his provocative logic.

“Cinema died,” Greenaway gleefully informed the crowd, “on the 31st September, 1983, when the zapper, the remote control, was introduced into the living rooms of the world.”

With a wry smile that is half wanton schoolboy, half evil professor, the 60ish director of such provocations as “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” and “The Belly of an Architect” proceeded to demolish everything from Hollywood pictures to the current methods of production and distribution and even filmdom’s most cherished auteurs.

“We need to reinvent cinema,” Greenaway says, noting, “In the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, the average European family saw two films at the cinema every week. “You would be hard pressed to find a European family now in cinemas twice a year.”

Whether or not you’re a fan of arthouse cinema and/or Greenaway’s oeuvre, his challenge is worth a listen.

Some attendees were still boiling after Greenaway’s presentation.

It may have been his contention that “you have never seen any cinema — all you have witnessed is 108 years of illustrated text” that set them on edge.

His argument that “one Bill Viola is worth 10 Martin Scorseses” sent more than one listener to the Biographical Dictionary of Film.

And in case Hollywood types may be inclined to dismiss Greenaway as another effete Euro snob dissing their successful films, it should be noted that Greenaway’s jeremiad was an equal-opportunity assault. In a punch at Denmark’s Dogma films, Europe’s most vaunted cinema movement of recent times, Greenaway snarled, “The supermarket of visual and dramatic possibilities is huge. … An anti-Dogma film exuberates and celebrates new cinema language.”

Greenaway comes armed with encylopedic knowledge of every other creative medium in the book and a few outside it. And he puts his money where his mouth is, positing that his own current film project, “The Tulse Luper Suitcases,” is his answer to the problem and that he’ll stand or fall by what he’s doing creatively.

And what he’s doing, he proudly points out, “is manufactured for exploitation in the cinema, on television, on Web sites, as a collection of DVDs and in association with a library of books, with links to the making of theater and opera, exhibitions and installations in museums and galleries.”

Contrary to popular belief, he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

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