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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When I saw this back in the eighties one member of the sparse audience
(not comprising of clever - clever critics,rather mystified filmgoers
who had actually paid good money)shouted "What b*ll*cks!"at the screen
and stumped out with his equally outraged companion who obliged with a
loud raspberry. They had lasted a bum - numbing 40 minutes,enduring the
arty - farty posing as art that Mr Greenaway had forced upon them,no
doubt hoping to "improve" their narrow,blinkered,provincial middle -
class lives by showing the narrow,blinkered,provincial lives of the
18th century English aristocracy as he conceived them. I know we Brits
are to supposed to love this sort of arrant nonsense because,after
all,we virtually invented intellectual snobbery,and nothing pleases the
chattering classes more than that feeling of superiority that ensues
from their declared enjoyment of something so clearly b*ll*cks that the
lumpen proletariat reject it out of hand.
I've now endured this tiresome film three times hoping to "unlock its mystery"as one of my more intellectually - gifted chums puts it. But it still goes way above my head. It's tedious and phoney and,frankly,up its own bottom. In my opinion,that disgruntled moviegoer thirty - odd years ago hit the nail on the head.
Hugely enjoyable, if somewhat a tad too clever for its own good. A very
good English director's attempt to be more continental, by being
deliberately obscure, and throwing in large dollops of raunchy
eroticism. Imagine if you will an episode of PBS's Mystery set during
the Restoration, with a script by Einstein, and direction by Frederico
Two excellent stage actors - Anthony Higgins and Janet Suzman - in combination with the very sultry and seldom seen Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert, act their sexy sox off in this delightful delicate pastry of a movie. In the year 1694 an artist is commissioned to create a series of precise drawings of an enormous country house. The twist is that his agreed form of payment is most unusual.
Michael Nyman's score is a careful, yet loud, modern arrangement with contemporary wind and string instruments. The photography by Curtis Clark is incredible, and these two creative artists convince you, you are in the 17th Century. The interior scenes are lit only by candlelight - as was also the case in Kubrick's superb historical masterpiece Barry Lyndon. This movie somehow combines elements of sophisticated themes of woman's self-empowerment, the inhumanity of the aristocracy, mathematics, and Benny Hill eroticism. Really rather wonderful and unique, but also in-retrospect, less than the sum of its parts. For a superior Peter Greenaway picture, try Drowning By Numbers, A Zed and Two Naughts, and The Cook, the Wife, etc..
This film should really be a 4 star triumph. Almost the entire film is
constituted of still-framed shots on location, optimising and
occasionally irrespective of the weather conditions. The acting is
brilliant; stylised, sure, but always engaging and intriguing. The
script is an object lesson in exposition and narrative through
convincing dialogue. Crucially the whole thing is endlessly amusing,
witty, startling, suggestive and naughty.
There's a problem. Mindful of its aesthetic, it's static and relies on the highly wrought script too much. The vernacular (another seamlessly incorporated feature of the writing) intensifies its density... consequently I found it difficult to follow in the detail it probably deserved. Not as tense, nor as sexy a piece as The Cook etc. but funnier. 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the directorial debut of Peter Greenaway (Drowning by Numbers; The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, The Pillow Book), and I found it listed in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I hoped it would deserve five stars out of five as critics rated it. Basically set in rural Wiltshire, England in 1694, young and arrogant artist Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), also something of a romantic hero, is contracted by Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Janet Suzman) to produce 12 landscape drawings of the estate of her absent and estranged husband Mr. Herbert (Dave Hill). Part of the contract agreement is to meet with Mr. Neville in private, and to comply with his requests for the purposes of drawing, such as when servants and residents will not be present and obstructions will be removed during his sketching. Also Mr. Neville's contract agreement includes his pleasure, several sexual encounters follow between him and Mrs. Herbert, emphasising reluctance or distress for Mrs. Herbert, and showing the sexual aggression or insensitivity of Mr. Neville, while living on the estate he also gains a reputation with its dwellers, especially with Mr. Talmann (Hugh Fraser), Mrs. Herbert's son-in-law. Mrs. Herbert exhausted by meeting Mr. Neville to give him pleasure tries to terminate the contract before all drawings are completed, but the draughtsman refuses to stop and void the contract, he continues as before. Then Mr. Neville seems to be blackmailed into making a second contract by Mrs. Herbert's married but as yet childless daughter Mrs. Talmann (Anne-Louise Lambert), she has become attracted to him and he agrees to satisfy her pleasure, as opposed to his own. A number of curious objects appear in Mr. Neville's drawings, ultimately pointing to the murder of Mr. Herbert, who is found dead in the moat, the twelve drawings are completed, but Mr. Neville returns for an unlucky thirteenth drawing. While apparently completing the final drawing, Mr. Neville is approached by a masked stranger, obviously Mr. Talmann in disguise, he is joined by Mr. Thomas Noyes (Neil Cunningham), Mr. Seymour (David Gant) and eccentric landowner twins the Poulencs (Octopussy's David and Tony Meyer). The company accuses Mr. Neville of the murder of Mr. Herbert, as the drawings can be interpreted as evidence seeing more than one illegal act, he defensively denies these accusations, he is asked to remove his hat, which he does so mockingly, that is when they hit him on the head, burn out his eyes, club him to death, and throw his body into the moat where Mr. Herbert's body was found. Also starring Lynda La Plante as Mrs. Clement and Michael Feast as The Statue. Higgins gives a great performance as the arrogant artist paid in sexual favours, the aristocratic 17th century world looks authentic with great costumes and the beautiful estate, the drawing scenes are interesting, the sexual scenes are good, and the murder plot towards, with the drawings becoming witness evidence, is intriguing, also with great use of minimalist music by Michael Nyman that fit the remarkable visuals, and a witty script, it is a fantastic period drama. Very good!
A bizarre, quite unique period film, it is full of odd occurrences and it is technically quite well made, however the product is less than satisfying overall. Some of the dialogue is just rambling, and towards the end I really felt that this bogged down the production, despite some funny lines in the mix. The characters come off as rather cold, and some sequences in the film are not really explained properly. But is this confused and unwelcoming atmosphere what Greenaway intended? It might well be, even if knowing that does not help fix the uneasiness that one might feel when watching it. But enough of the 'bad', for the film has some great aspects too. Michael Nyman composes some wonderful music to fit alongside the action, the sets and costumes are flashy and eye-catching, and Greenaway particularly pays attention to giving the material a unique feel with the lighting design. It is an unusual film, and that makes it fascinating. Not the best out there, and from its director I prefer 'A Zed and Two Noughts', however this one is still worth a look.
Guess I really like this sort of period movies, about the British
upper-class in the 17th century. The movies have an own unique kind of
style and atmosphere over them. This especially really goes for this
unique little film.
it's a very witty movie and halve way through it also becomes obvious exactly how intelligently the movie is written and constructed. At first it doesn't look like the movie is heading anywhere and it's merely a good and enjoyable movie filled with some slightly subtle eccentric and quirky characters. But about halve way through it becomes clear that the intentions within the story and the intentions of the characters have way more in to them, when the movie becomes more of a murder-mystery and layered and the character's motivations all start to take form and become clear. It makes the movie surprisingly and delightful. It's a really well constructed and visually crafted movie from Peter Greenaway.
The movie doesn't have the Jane Austen kind of story and approach but more like "Barry Lyndon" with the same certain quirkiness in it, if I need to compare it to anything else. The movie has a sort of a surreal kind of atmosphere over it, which gets strengthened all the more by the outrageous costumes and wigs, thick accents and extremely difficult but beautiful to listen to- dialog and of course the special kind of characters that are in the movie. It's also a very sexy and sort of erotic movie to watch at, with almost always a sort of sexual tension in the atmosphere during the entire movie, despite not having any real nudity or explicit nude scene's in it.
The whole movie is almost entire filmed in a stage-play kind of approach, with no moving camera's and long sequences filled with dialog. Really the sort of stuff you normally experience during a stage-play. It all adds up to the reasons why this movie is a quite unique and delightful little movie to watch.
This movie is a great watch, as long as you're capable of handling the long and difficult dialog and the more stage-play kind of storytelling.
UK maverick filmmaker Peter Greenaway's Venice main competition entry
in 1982, arguably his feature debut, a period picture steeped in
highbrow phraseology, sumptuous baroque costumes and elusive intrigues.
In 1694, rural Wiltshire, Mr. Neville (Higgins), an eloquent, stuck-up draughtsman strikes a contact with Mrs. Virginia Herbert (Suzman), to complete 12 landscape drawings of her estate during the absence of her husband Mr. Herbert (Hill), with a proviso that Mrs. Herbert must meet him in private and consent to actions gratifying his pleasure, which Mrs. Herbert condones. Later, Sarah Talmann (Lambert), Mr. Herbert's sole daughter approaches to Mr. Neville with a new proposal, but this time, she should be the recipient of their carnal knowledge, moreover, maybe there is also a hidden agenda behind it, as we apprehend that Sarah is married to Mr. Talmann (Fraser), yet they have no heir to inherit the Herberts' fortune. A sinister turning point hits when Mr. Herbert's body is found in the moat around the estate, soon the presumption that clues of the said murder can be unobtrusively garnered from Mr. Neville's 12 drawings, unfortunately puts the latter in a perilous situation. In the final deciding crunch, Mr. Neville seems to be designated as the fall guy by a clique lead by the jealous Mr. Talmann, but nothing substantial of the conspiracy theory comes to full disclosure at last. The only unbidden witness of the appalling denouement is the camouflage man, a full-frontal figure at times inexplicably skulks out on the roof when the residents are dining al fresco, hides invisibly among the creepers, or straddles the bronze horse as a medieval knight, and finally gobbles up the pineapple.
Greenaway contrives at great length to frame the 12 drawings with his principally stationary camera angle and a vaguely anachronistic apparatus, an expedient stems from his artist upbringing and magnificently instils each and every scene with painting-like allure and precision, which balances out the elocutionary hyperbole in a positive way.
A core cast marshaled by Higgins, who triumphantly struts his haughtiness in an unstinting mode, precisely up to his last breath, whereas Janet Suzman puts on an imperial air spiked with a tense impression of self-inflicted dejection, she might be as clueless as the scapegoat, but is certainly swell in her cogent diction about pomegranate and deities. Anne-Louise Lambert, the ethereal Australian beauty from Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975), is quite unrecognizable (much as everybody else) under the elaborate garments, but pulls off a brilliant equivocation in contrast to Hugh Fraser's competently rebarbative impersonation of upper-crust impotence.
Predominantly, composer Michael Nyman's Purcell-inflected accompanying score hones perfectly the Baroque decadence and essentially Greenaway's inimitable work remains as aloof, indecipherable and tongue-in-cheek as it aims to be.
Mr. Neville is a young arrogant artist full of himself. He is
contracted to make landscape estate drawings by Mrs. Virginia Herbert.
She has a bitter relationship with her wealthy landowning husband who
leaves on a trip. She submits to Neville sexually as part of the
contract. There is also her daughter Mrs. Talmann and her husband Mr.
Talmann. The couple is childless taking care of his nephew. Mrs.
Herbert tries to revoke the contract but Neville refuses. Mrs. Talmann
blackmails Neville into entering a similar contract pointing out items
in his drawings which indicate "misadventure". When Mr. Herbert is
found dead in the moat, Neville is horrified to discover that he's the
This is an unusual film. It's a Shakespearian sex romp with a murder mystery. The style has long takes and mid to long distance visuals. The movie lost me the first time around. It can meander and the story can be mercurial. It would help a lot if the murder is shown even if the perpetrators are not. The individual clues need accompanying flashbacks to show that part of the crime. This has a certain amount of beauty and weird originality but it's not easy for everyone.
Welsh-born British screenwriter, painter and director Peter Greenaway's
second feature film which he wrote, is a British production which was
shot on various locations at the Groombridge Place in Kent, England and
produced by David Payne. It tells the story about Mr. Neville, a
contemptuous young artist who comes to a mansion in the English
countryside owned by Mr. Herbert who lives there with his wife Mrs.
Virginia Herbert, her daughter Mr. Talmann and the daughter's husband
Mr. Talmann. Mr. Neville has been hired by Mrs. Herbert to produce a
series of twelve landscape drawings for her estranged husband, but in
one part of their contract Mr. Neville has made a demand that Mrs.
Herbert meets him in private whenever he wants to and fulfils his
requests. Mr. Neville is granted his wishes by Mrs. Herbert after
having started on the drawings, but as time goes by he gains a bad
reputation amongst the residents and becomes such a burden to Mrs.
Herbert that she decides to put an end to the contract. When Mr.
Neville makes it clear that he is not willing to annul the agreement,
Mrs. Herbert's daughter tries to blackmail him into signing a new
contract where he is the one that has to abide her requests.
Acutely and precisely directed by experimental filmmaker Peter Greenaway, this surreal and unconventional period piece which is set in England in 1694 during the coregency of the Kingdoms of Ireland, England and Scotland, draws a variegated portrayal of an unorthodox contract that gradually instigates a deceitful game driven by power, sex, and gender issues. While notable for it's colorful milieu depictions, fine art direction by English costume designer Bob Ringwood, cinematography by American cinematographer Curtis Clark and costume design by English costume designer Sue Blane, this dialog-driven and plot-driven fictional tale contains a remarkable score by the director's frequent collaborator, British pianist and composer Michael Nyman which emphasizes it's mystifying atmosphere.
This rhythmic, sarcastically humorous, erotic, somewhat overstated and inventive 17th century social-satire is impelled and reinforced by it's quick-witted dialog, cogent narrative structure and the splendid acting performances by English actor Anthony Higgins, South African-born British actress and director Janet Suzman and Australian actress Anne Louise Lambert. A detailed, picturesque and intriguing mystery which gained a nomination for the International Fantasy Film Award for Best Film at the 4th Fantasport International Film Festival in 1984.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is like a chestbox full of fantastical treasures, most of them
pertaining to image and meaning. An amazingly rich film upon which to
ponder cinematically on the hidden realities of the frame.
We have the sketch artist at the centre of this, the man commissioned to represent reality. By this whim, he has the ability to empty the landscape of people or place them within it as he sees fit, which is to say the world he sketches is a replica born in the mind. What starts by this process as representation inadvertently becomes creation.
But there is more to it. Within his image and unbeknownst to him, find their way various shadowy allegories which may be simple pictorial conceits or keys to a sinister plot involving murder and worse. By having sketched these anomalies of perception, the things that shouldn't be where they are, he becomes complicit in their implied meaning.
The most fascinating thing about all of this, is that the film is perfectly aware of everything that transpires in it. It knows and points out that it does as meant to entangle itself in the folds of this so that it can be disentagled again.
Tantalizing double entendres (some of the best in film) among politely aggressive dinner companies, an animate statue who unsuccessfully tries to mingle with the routine, sexual inappropriateness as contractual obligation, all these humorous or deviant stratagems mirror the effects of duplicitous meanings.
Each of these elements merits a film of its own, Greenaway however weaves them together in a ribald pastiche. Of the pastiche itself I'm not too sure, whether the whole adds or subtracts upon the individual meanings, but it's an enjoyable one.
All you need to make cinema in my opinion is not story or characters but a point of view (and of course the view to which it points). Two forms of consciousness, one which is the cinematic representation and the other the navigation within it. This one has several, each working upon the others to make them equally possible or equally moot.
By the end of this, Greenaway rather fatalistically shows us the destruction of both creator and creation. At the hands of a spoiled plutocracy no less.
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