Thursday, November 4, 2010

Drowning By Numbers

The whole gang has returned (Greenaway, Nyman, and Vierny). After a break with The Belly of an Architect, all the wonderful traits of a Greenaway film have returned. But, the attempt to make films slightly more available to audiences is definitely at its height with this film. In The Belly of an Architect, one could tell Greenaway was attempting something slightly more viewer friendly. This is not to say the film will ever be viewed by a large audience or that it has hit potential. All those efforts and elements are going quite strong in Drowning By Numbers. This is most certainly the most viewer friendly film in all the Greenaway oeuvre.

Drowning By Numbers is, in every sense of the word, a British comedy. The humor is dark and dry. The pacing is sharp, but slow (in a good way). The characters are very much English (in fashion, speech, and manners). A review referred to this film as "Agatha Christie on acid." This isn't entirely accurate, as there isn't too much mystery. But, it is fair to say the film does have a bit of that touch.

The music (by Nyman) is quite beautiful this time around. In many of Greenaway's films, the music is used in a very powerful way. At times, the music is the entire scene. Often times louder than the characters speaking. In Drowning By Numbers, Nyman's music is used much more as soundtrack. Also, the Flemish painting effect of many of Greenaway's films is still present. Although quite muted and toned down this time around. And, finally, the cataloguing has returned. The film begins with a young girl jumping rope and counting the stars. This in itself opens up both forms of catalogue throughout the film: numbers and games. Most of the cast, at one or many points, is seen counting. And, throughout the entire movie, one is presented with a series of unique games (are these games real or make believe?). By the films end, we understand their importance: life is a series of games and we count down to our deaths.

Throughout the film there are numbers. Sometimes the numbers are spoken. But, most times the numbers are written on objects (the side of a barn, a tub, a bathing suit). The first number, 1, is spotted at the films start and by the films end we see the final number, 100. It sounds as though it may be distracting to watch for these numbers. But, it isn't. I found myself forgetting from time to time. It seems too much? Too "artsy?" Not quite. After watching this film, driving to the gym, I noticed numbers everywhere. A number 7 on a curb side, a 17 on the back of a semi-truck, a 9 and a 14 spray painted on a wall. Greenaway wants us to pay closer attention. To the details of our lives.

The film must have been inspiration for Rushmore. In fact, Wes Anderson may be very inspired by Greenaway's film. The way Anderson crams his shots with so much stuff. One really comes to learn a lot about a character based on the objects found in their space. This is used a lot in Drowning By Numbers. And, the young boy of this film (named Smut) is very similar to Max Fischer (in Rushmore). Also, it is time I point out the similarity of Greenaway and Almodovar. Both use the masculine and feminine in very similar ways. Both use the feminine as the strength of a character and the film. The masculine always viewed as difficult, sloppy, or trouble.

Drowning By Numbers is definitely number five in Greenaway's top five films. A lovely game with a lot of mystery and enough playfulness to request your return.


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