October 2004 - Online Q&A with director Peter Greenaway

While visiting Israel in October 2004 to present his Tulse Luper Suitcases trilogy at the Haifa 20th International Film Festival and at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, director Peter Greenaway gave a 2-hours online Q&A on Ynet (the extremely popular official site of one of Israel's biggest newspapers).

All the questions and answers appear on the Ynet site, partially in Hebrew.

Here are the questions and answers, put in a more convenient way and the Hebrew questions that I translated into English. Enjoy.

Questions Index
  1. Freedom in making movies
  2. Style vs Content & The Belly of an Architect
  3. Concerning cinema and Internet
  4. shocking the audience
  5. Elements in "Tulse Luper Suitcases"
  6. Movies from the last years
  7. Complicated articles
  8. Favorite movie
  9. Israeli movies
  10. What is "Tulse Luper Suitcases" about
  11. Commercial movies
  12. What is needed to be a director
  13. Greenaway's painting
  14. Opinion about director David Lynch
  15. Opinion about director David Croenenberg
  16. American Cinema
  17. Film making
  18. File sharing on the Internet
  19. Culture stations
  20. Video art
  21. Godard
  22. Female liberation
  23. The draughtman's contract
  24. Motive in the films

Freedom in making movies
Question - Hadas:

[translated] Are you nowadays in a position which allows you to make any movie you want?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i have to say unfortunately not.
we have many films planned that are funded or parially funded but i have a feeling that even spielberg has a trouble finding money.

Style vs Content & The Belly of an Architect
Question - storyx:

Dear Peter,
How do you see The Belly of an Architect, in perspective of your later work?
For me, this film was extraordinary. Nothing less than amazing.
The form of the film - including simple, illogical yet coherent scenes like his photocpying his belly - was a perfect vehicle for the content.

I've loved some of your other works, but many of your films are too much like a glorious celebration of techniques

You work with your mind more than with your emotions perhaps?
Do you sometimes miss creating emotional shapes using your techniques and aesthetics?

I'm very keen on hearing your response!

Thank You and thanks for visiting our country!..

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

the belly of an architect nearly 20 years after making it is still full of surprises for me because i see things in that film i never realized at the time, which are related to the personal dilemmas of a film maker which can perhaps be best exemplified by the phrase "private vs. publc".

the movie while still sensibly associated with late 20th century responsibilites of architecture was also a domestic drama about a man making decisions between his private and public life. and to weigh the balance of responsibilites between the two.

i am delighted you think that the film was a satisfactory balance between content and media. but i cannot spend the rest of my film career remaking the same film. i have to investigate new subject matters, new content and continue the investigation of film language.

i would like to think that my films all fit into one general cinematic perspective, but i need to travel forward if only like a sailng ship by going forward by attacking left and right against the wind.

Concerning cinema and Internet
Question - Nili:

[translated] Can they coexist? How much do you think has the Internet changed the cinema?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i am a great user of the internet, and all the associated technological advantages and certainly i can make correspondences which i've never been able to make before but i cannot agree with those people who say if only we had had the internet at the time of the holocaust it would not have happened. after all we have had the internet throughout the long grueling wars in the balcans and we've certainly had the internet in association with america's involvement in the middle east in the last two years.

we have made a project which is being showcased in the haifa film festival which is not just a product for the cinema but is intended to be desciminated by all forms of the new post digital set of languages . i the old days you saw the film and then you bought the t-shirt. now the t-shirt is more important than the film. altough it might seem blasphemous to purist cinema goers the cinema version of the Tulse Luper suitcase project can be seen to be an advertisement for the Tulse Lupe suitcases project as an internet phenomenon.

shocking the audience
Question - Shlomit:

dear sir.
first i want to say that i am a great admirer of your work, and i had the pleasure of seeing you last time you were in haifa.
my question is: in many of your movies i feel your effort to shock the audience, maybe trying to show them something they can not see in any other place. is that so and if not, what is the purpose of the difficult materials in your films?
thank you and please continue making fabulous movies, shlomit.

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i think that it could be considered that included in the reponsiblities of any primary creator must be the obligation to be provocative, to offer new points of view, new ideas, seen in new perspectives. i myself would not wish to see cinema as a medium of consellation or catharsis, but to consider in an adult way means to disturb the prejudices and beliefs and tradions of an audience.
i set out with no wish to be merely sensational because that would only create a short term effect, and ultimately be counterproductive. you must know that our ability to assimilate and attack on sensitive or taboo subject matters is very short-lived. to look at the history of cinema there have been many key movies that had been thought to be sensational when they first arrived but now have settled down into normal film appreciation. you can make your own list but i'm sure in the last 30 years it would have to contain a clockwork orange, last tango in paris and blue velvet. three films which are now regarded as exemplary and classic examples of important contemporary cinema.

Elements in "Tulse Luper Suitcases"
Question - Agira:

After seeing the first two parts of the "Tulse Luper Suitcases" I'd like you to comment on the relationship that you try to establish between the four elements that the films seem to be revolving around (through their analogical resemblance and difference): the human body, the Suitcases, the prisons and the texts that are created by your hero.

I got a strong impression that the complex connections between those elements posits the reflections that were made during the films on your whole artistic career, which puts you in the position of the artist who is (always) trying to escape the prisons of cinematic conventions.

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

it is certainly true that i would believe that to stay healthy cinema needs all the time to investigate itself and continue to reinvent iteself. we should not be satisfied with the characteristics and boundaries that cinema has tradionally organized for itself. the new post digital revolution and the ideas of the informaiton age have given us new tools and new horizons. any selfrespecting primary creator of cinema should acknowledge this fact and at the best of his and her ability act accordingly. so the T.L.S project is keen to use every new tools available in accordance with all the new post digital revolution audience expectations. i would like also to make certain that the cinema version of this project is only one part of the whole phenomenon because i'm sure most of us would now agree that the great days of what i would call the casablanca syndrum are passed. newly informed imaginations need new products. we must put new wine in new bottles. not new wine in old bottles.

Movies from the last years

what movies from the last years did u like?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i'm going to disappoint the questioner by saying i hardly ever go to the cinema. i'm deeply fascinated by making movies but i'm a poor cinema spectator. when i go to the movies now it probably has very little to do with the film .for example i have no doubt like everyone else seeing the complete version of the film lord of the rings, but i did that because the trlogy was a social event and i have great devotion to the original literary origin. if i see films at all its probably also from a very practical consideration that i need to make myself familiar with the capablities of actors and actresses i might one day wish to collaborate with and because of this i do spend quite a bit of time watching sections of movies on video or dvd in an office capacity., i'm sure you would agree this is really not the same as watching cinema. i beleive for my purposes that contemporary cinema is very predictible mundane and tedious. i would rather take my inspiration and fascination from other media like the photograph the video arts and primarily for me from painting.,which are far more vigorous, searching, radical and inventive.

Complicated articles
Question - Dadi:

[translated] Why are your articles so complicated?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

maybe your question says more about you than about me, one man's fish is another man's poison. there are also of course might be language or contextual reasons why you might have anxieties about complexity. i truly regard myself as a rational coherent apolonian filmmaker. i suggest maybe with all sympathy, that you tackle the material again with a view to greater comprehension.

Favorite movie

what do u think is your best movie and why?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

there is a journalistic game which says that every film director is allowed three good films. either like antonioi you make them all together or like huston you make them 30 years apart. if i would to fall over mount carmel tonight, i would have to say that three chosen movies would be the droughtman's contract, the cook the thief his wife and her lover, and the pillow book. but my best answer to your question is to say i haven't made my best three movies yet.

Israeli movies

have u seen any israeli movies?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

unfortunately cinema generaly around the world has a very bad distribution cycle. curiously in this highly reproducable 20th century medium, the products make themselves almost unreviewable. its far easier for me to see an obscure painting like caravagio in a small umbrian town than it is for me to see cubric 2001 in any cinema in the world and certainly not in my loca highstreet. though happily things could get a lot better, because of the marketing of the dvd. all of which is to say the products of the israeli film industry are not so easy to see in northwestern europe. and the problems of israeli hebrew language movies is not helped by the linguistic negativism of most european television networks. considering also my lack of intense interest in cinema the chances of me seeing israeli cinematic product is not very optimistic.

What is "Tulse Luper Suitcases" about
Question - Omer12:

So what is the movie about?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

the meaning of life!

Commercial movies

[translated] Don't you feel like doing a commercial movie (maybe with a more commercial script) and make a blockbuster like someone at your statue can do?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

all my movies are commercial movies. its just that i believe there are more important currences than money. i do indeed make films for paid audiences and paid audiences respond. for example, if we are to believe miramax's budgetary accounts for the income earned for the cook, the thief, the wife and her lover, over twenty million people saw that film in the united states alone.
if i am to believe my moscow friends, every third taxi driver could also tell you about the life and times of albert spica who is the thief of the same movie.

What is needed to be a director
Question - Lidor (ICQ 331637195):

[translated] I'm 18 and until recently I was a high-school pupil that studied in cinematic communication.
I wanted to ask your professional opinion, what do you think are the main characteristics that someone who wants to direct should have.
In addition - I wanted to know how exactly you prepare the movie in your head so that it would come out in a high intellectual level in the eyes of the viewer and do you think that sometimes these movies are not suitable for today's public viewer, who consumes mainly the pop-culture cinema, or in other words, garbage cinema.

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i would like to think as well as aspects of high cultural refernces and cultural concern, that there was a great awareness of popular culture and i certainly try to make movies which would appeal to all sorts of different sensibilites in many different kinds of audiences. it is true that i would have to listen to the german playwright brecht, who says that most people go to the theater for which we can also read cinema and leave their brains with the hat check girl. i believe cinema should be the fully sophisticated adult medium that engages all of our intelectual capacities and multiple senses.
as to the other parts of your question, i suspect we would need 200 or more website pages to answer the inquiry in any full way but i would suggest as you would probably expect, that the priorities for wishing to be involved in filmmaking must surely be an overriding passion, and an unlimited capacitiy for hard work.

Greenaway's painting
Question - Ronit:

[translated] In my opinion, your cinematic creations are (also) paintings that turned into movies. (for example, "The Draughtsman's Contract", "The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover", "The Pillow Book", etc.) As a painter - do you originate in some way from an esthetic concept? Do you think that painting affected (for good) your freedom as a cinema person?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

yes. with a background of being trained as a painter, and with a wish to apply the aesthethics of painting to cinema, it is no surprise that there have to be huge connections between these two activities. i would certainly like to apply the huge responsible disciplines of painting aesthetics to cinema, though i'm well aware that most new directors probably know little about pre-tarantino cinema, and might very well wonder who remberandt, vermir and mondriand were. everything that a film maker attempts to present, you may be sure has taxed the imagination of at least a thousand painters before him. i believe cinema should take those under consideration.


Also, do you still paint in addition to your movie making?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

yes indeed. i still paint, and consider it very important that i should continue this parallell activity. here whilst i attend the haifa film festival, i have in my hotel room painting materials, in which to continue that self-same activity.

Opinion about director David Lynch
Question - storyx:

You mentioned Lynch's Blue Velvet..

1. Did you watch his film "Lost Highway"
What did you think of it?

2. Have you ever considered making a 'cover version' of a film?
A re-interpretation, a focussing on some aspects, etc.

3. Can you imagine a collaboration between you and another filmmaker?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

Probably the collaboration with another filmmaker is very unlikely, if only to solve the problem of finding another filmmaker who would work with me. and as much as i might respect a movie like Lynch's "Blue Velvet", and as much as I would wish that gentleman to continue making movies, I have a feeling that he's not really offering us anything really new after that extraordinary masterpiece. But to have made "Blue velvet" was such an achievement that i'm very very happy that his reputation should be associated with it.

Although life is short to want to remake any of your past movies, I have a particular affection for "a Z and two noughts", because it was so ambitious, and maybe because the acting was not up to the high standards demanded by the script. and also because i have learned so much since it might well be one of my own movies, that might stand remaking. As to other people's movies, i cannot honestly say that i have a burning desire to offer my interpratation of their subject matter, though curiously i have often written script which have very close bearing on other people's cinema,. for example more recently i have written a script about the last days of christ which a certain australian film maker has beaten me to.

Opinion about director David Croenenberg
Question - DonkeyKong:

Hi Peter,

Thank you for your work.

My favorite movie of yours is "Zed & Two Noughts". I've seen it many times and also saw you referred to it in "The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story".

I'm a big David Cronenberg admirer (and running the most active fan site on the net - it's called "The Plasma Pool", and I'll be happy if you could pay it a visit). In addition to some mutual themes and interests, I'd be happy to know your opinion about his work.


Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i was certainly at one time interested in the david cronnenberg films and you might be amused by an anecdote that after i showed "a Z and two noughts", at the toronto film, festival David sat me down in a hamburger bar and questioned me for two hours about that film. and 8 months later he made a film called "dead ringers" which is about twinship, mutilated females and human mutation . if you've seen both films, you'll understand the purpose of my anecdote.

i admired Cronnenberg for the risky subject matter he entertained, based for the most part on his own ideas but laterally i have not been so interested because he seems now to be in the business of simply illustrating sensational novels.

American Cinema
Question - Meni:

[translated] The American moral is the absolutely antithesis of your movies. Is there anything you like about the American cinema?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

two things - wether i like it or not, in a curious way american cinema subisidises my own, because there's no way in the world a greenaway film could keep a cinema open. and secondly, i suspect in every single two hour feature film you've ever seen, hollywood or otherwise there's probably at least one nano-second of cinema excitement.

Film making
Question - amazingwolf:

I read that you are desperate from the films made today, and that you hope that in the next decade things will change. You also said something about the role of the story and texts in the films that the role of the visual characteristic seems less important than the text, and that you are sorry about that.
Are you making your movies as visual exhibitions, filled with metaphors and symbols, or do you try to tell a story (not pieces of images from life) through the frames in your special way? To me, a good movie is something I can enjoy without the need to run to my books at the end of it, trying to figure out what the hell I have seen. I love a movie when it drugs me into it and talks to me in a way I can understand and reflect to (BTW I do study philosophy. I don't hate to think, I hate it when thinking is forced on me when I try to become the hero in the movie).

Have a great visit in Israel,

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

maybe your question tells us more about you than it does about me. and i'm sure you agree that philosophy is not there to teach us how to boil eggs. why would you expect cinema to do the same ?

File sharing on the Internet
Question - nir10:

[translated] What do you think about file sharing on the Internet (emule, bittorent...)

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

whatever the disadvantages to me, i don't think i have any ground to complain. i steal as much from the internet as the internet steals from me. if we're worried about getting some commercial feedback, then we truly have to find other methods.
and as if to underline this i would like to imagine that the 92 dvds we are preparing for this movie should be available for free, though i don't think this would please my producer.

Culture stations
Question - Sivan:

[translated] Which creations - whether cinema, literature or art affected you and gave you inspiration?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

your question begs several hours to give you a really fullsome answer. but if you were curious about the intial inspiriation from cinema, it would have to have started with bergman's seventh seal and being consolidated with renee's last year in marienbad and i suppose i would have to include all those films i saw in my formative years between 1960 and 1978, which is about a stretch from goddard's breathless to any movie by fasbidner.
in literature, the field is huge, but i suppose a very short list would certainly include lawrence stern "christian shandy" anything by borges and as a particular curiousity, thornton wilder's the bridge of the saint louis rey which is a short novel that is even more borgesian than borges. reading and re-reading that extraordinary work would provide you with a clue of why the movies i make are like the movies they are.

Video art
Question - Dalia:

[translated] Are your creations cinema? Video art? How would you define the difference between these two mediums?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

i think we would have to discover what your idea of cinema is to give you an answer that would satisfy you. in this short space, suffice it to say that cinema has to keep reinventing itself and there is more energy excitemnt and radical language in the whole post television world of the internet and the interactive languages than there would seem to be in any contemporary cinema. Bill Viola is worth ten Scoreseses

Question - quantum spiralus:

what do u think about j.l.godard?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

the most important cinema maker of the mid-twentieth century

Female liberation

Having watched several of your movies with great enjoyment, I got the general feeling of a common female liberation theme, not so much from the perspective of women overpowering men (even though this is often the what happens in the films) but rather women taking control of their destiny.
I would be happy if you could comment on that.

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

it doesn't take anybody with any imagination to realize that cinema like all the other media have a responsiblity to posit the female firmly on the agenda and it is true that i have created a number of projects where the prime movers are female. fifty one percent of the world's population is female. they at least deserve half of the world's attention.

The draughtman's contract
Question - daniel barak (medusa@inter.net.il):

which has not lost it's quality through the years, and drowning by numbers: would it be possible to attain the same qualities of script and narrative at an age governed mostly by the technological aspects of film-making? these are truely excellent works of yours.
thank you.

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

it is true that if some of these movies made before 1995 should be made again they would certainly look different. but i think the relationship of the state of our current technology should sincerely be used as reference to the uses for which it is put. and life is too short to wish to remake old subject matter. i would like to imagine that i could entertain you with new products made with new languages. and could hope that they could be as valuable to you as those old movies were.

Motive in the films
Question - ariel:

good afternoon,
i was cought by surprise and discovered these Q&A by chance, therefore i was not really prepared with a question...
first i'd like to mention that the cook, the thief, his wife and her lover left me stunned, i felt i saw this amazing rich picture turn into life. as you might guesse it is my favourite

i would like to ask about what seems to me a motive in your films - the untimely death of the male hero. did this idea evolve during the years? did you plan your scripts in advance or did it just appear to be the best ending to the hero?

Answer - Peter Greenaway:

although i would not avoid the political intentions and the gender politics that you intimate, i would not be telling the truth to say that i originate the movies, because of this sort of stimulation. the cook... engendered its own circumstances because of the ideas i wanted to discuss about canibalism, philistinism and mrs. thatcher's britain. and even in discussing these subject matters, the variations of argument about gender politics would inevitably arise. but i hear in your question a simpathetic voice and i can assure you that my movies will continue to discuss patriarchy, matriarchy and mesoginism.