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The Falls (1980)

The planet has been affected by a mysterious occurrence known as the Violent Unknown Event, or V.U.E. It has caused immortality and disability. Victims have learned new and peculiar ... See full summary »




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Cast overview, first billed only:
Peter Westley
Aad Wirtz
Michael Murray
Lorna Poulter
Patricia Carr
Adam Leys ...
Mary Howard
Sheila Canfield ...
Evelyn Owen
Narrator (as Hilary Thompson)
Carole Meyer
Monica Hyde
Colleen Thomas
Neil Hopkins
Dewi Thomas


The planet has been affected by a mysterious occurrence known as the Violent Unknown Event, or V.U.E. It has caused immortality and disability. Victims have learned new and peculiar languages. Some firmly believe in the responsibility of birds. In this three-hour film, ninety-two biographies are presented of victims whose surnames begin with the letters F A L L. Presented in the mock documentary style of 'Water Wrackets' and 'Dear Phone', this is the culmination of the first period of Greenaway's work. It refers to shorts such as 'A Walk Through H' and 'Vertical Features Remake', and forwards to the likes of 'Drowning by Numbers' (there is reference to the three generations of Cissie Colpitts). Michael Nyman's sound-track is memorable; he later remade the 'Bird List Song' (which features in a variety of forms), as 'Hands 2 Take' with arty British band the Flying Lizards (best known for their minimal version of 'Money (that's what I want)'. Written by D.Giddings <darren.giddings@newcastle.ac.uk>

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Release Date:

24 July 1996 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Balesetek krónikája  »

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Did You Know?


Fragments of director Peter Greenaway's short films A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist (1979) and Vertical Features Remake (1978) appear in the film. See more »


References Wings (1927) See more »

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User Reviews

One of a kind avant-garde epic
14 May 2015 | by (Edinburgh, Scotland, UK) – See all my reviews

I reckon that The Falls has to go down as the best thing that director Peter Greenaway has ever did. It marks the end of his early years when his work mainly took the format of short films. In a way The Falls takes this form too, in that it is essentially made up of a multitude of self-contained short films, albeit ones with an overall theme and connection. More specifically, it takes the format of a mockumentary, one that mimics the dry BBC style. Set in the near future, it centres on the fallout of an unexplained occurrence known as the Violent Unknown Event, in which a large number of people experience certain changes, including physical mutations and the ability to speak a variety of new hitherto unknown languages. The cause of this phenomenon remains oblique but it is suggested that it may be in some way related to ornithology. The film is made up of a selection of 92 mini biographies of victims taken from an official catalogue, detailing only individuals whose names begin with the letters F-A-L-L.

The first thing that is apparent about this one is that it is considerably more light-hearted that Greenaway's later feature films. It's full to the brim with absurd humour and the tone remains quite playful much of the time. It really has more in common with his earlier shorts that his later feature films. For one thing, it feels more like an underground movie with much less of a budget. The later films had the cinematography of Sacha Vierney to make them look visually immaculate, yet the more lo-fi approach here kind of feels somewhat more interesting for me. The format overall makes much better use of Greenaway's talents in that it allows for him to try many different things. Each mini-bio allows for a different approach and for a highly experimental film-maker such as Greenaway this lets him flex his avant-garde muscles quite freely. Of course, some parts are more interesting than others and there are some sections that are somewhat tedious. But pleasingly often he hits home with some genuinely fascinating left-field oddity and, in any case, if one part isn't grabbing your attention it will soon be followed by something else. There are many moments of visual invention of various kinds; Greenaway is able to dabble in differing types of avant-garde film-making. Helping matters considerably at times is the score from Michael Nyman, which is often very good; in particular the title theme 'Bird List' is especially wonderful.

Many of Greenaway's peculiarities can be seen here such as the creation of an almost fantasy world of sorts, replete with characters with names so bizarre as to have no connection with our world. Characters do things that go well beyond realism and the tone in general is one of absurdity throughout. There are also characters and events that both refer back to his earlier shorts and which will be used later in his subsequent features. It very much feels like this, along with many of his other films exist within their own little fantasy universe. And of course, his obsessions with list making, numerology, fine art and birds

  • amongst other things – are consistently adhered to. It is admittedly

of an epic length but Greenaway himself has actively encouraged people to watch it in stages or in any order they wish. It's less cold and unpleasant than much of his more famous works and this makes for quite a refreshing change. For me, while it is challenging in many ways, it is the most interesting and enjoyable film he has ever directed and remains one of the best avant-garde films out there.

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