Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Draughtsman's Contract

I am often too quick to forget the films, the art, of Peter Greenaway. Although I tend to list Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover amongst one of my favorite films, I do not always look over his entire career. Having recently worked my way through the remaining Lars von Trier films I had not seen, I decided it was time to return to Greenaway. I was sad to discover half of his films are only on VHS (this resulted in a pained attempt and eventual success of hooking my VHS player up to the television). And, more sad to discover one of his films never released as Region 1 DVD or VHS in the States.

I am starting at Greenaway's first feature film, The Draughtsman's Contract. (The Falls is his first full length film, but more mockumentary than feature film. This will be viewed in the upcoming weeks). From the films start one is presented with the classic Greenaway elements- symmetry, Renaissance painting, lush costumes, and the upper class.

As a catalogue film, Greenaway presents us with a list. A purpose for the film: to create twelves sketches of a country home in the absence of the owner. In Greenaway's world, this is the film's purpose. We are to end as soon as the draughtsman has created his twelfth work. Greenaway is less focused on the typical narrative. Greenaway is playful and abstract. Greenaway is skilled and detailed. Greenaway is tricky and tough.

The film follows the draughtsman as he sketches the country home. His day to day experience of painting what "one sees, not what one knows." In doing this, a murder mystery slowly unravels. Items not at the scene previously are suddenly starting to appear (a ladder under a window, a ripped garment, the master's horse abandoned, etc). And, to add to this, the contract itself. The draughtsman is to have his way with the landowner's wife twelve times- a sexual act for every painting.

Throughout the film, the audience is privy to a Shakespearean-esque character. A narrator, the fool of sorts. A man who wanders in and out of the background. He is nude and painted. He seems to represent the green world. A figure to remind us of how stiff the main characters' lives have become. He prances, dances, sticks out his tongue, and laughs widely. But, he is always around. He witnesses the violence. He is aware of the darker sides of those who reside within the manor.

Greenaway's film is beautiful. A real piece of art from start to finish. The story is not the most important piece of a Greenaway film. But, it makes for a lovely addition.


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