16 August 02003

The Draughtsman's Contract

Peter Greenaway's The Draughtsman's Contract is re-released at the ICA this month. As a big fan at the time, I was curious to see how this standard-bearer for British art cinema in the '80s (and for FilmFour) looks in hindsight. In short, it's easier to see why people loved it — in particular the bravura confidence of the compositions — and why people hated it. I find myself less impressed now than I was: hindsight robs the obsessive schemes of their promise of enlightenment. We know it all goes round and round in post-structuralist circles, leading nowhere much, which was the intended 'lesson' all along. And without the tease of that promise, why bother even to try to unravel the clues?

At the time, there were reports of scholarly efforts (on the continent, of course) to piece all the clues together. You'd expect these treatises to have been among the first geek-self-published articles on the web, but a Google search reveals disappointingly few of them (though there are quite a few film school MAs that mention the film in their syllabuses). Among the most interesting and balanced I found was James Mackenzie's. Readers of Fortean Times and other arcana may be more intrigued by these notes from a religious studies course that read the film as a Nietzschean parable about the Death of God.

The presumably official site leads with a pompous quote about other film-makers not exploiting their medium effectively but is itself one of the most constipated uses of the web medium I've seen since 'old media' types first stumbled on the web in about 1996. [Update, 02005: I've since discovered that the above link is one of several unofficial sites; a first official Greenaway site was launched this year.]

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Cinema, Cultural Calendar, Reviews on 16 August 02003 | TrackBack
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