Peter Greenaway is wrong

Peter Greenaway lecture: “New Possibilities: Cinema is Dead, Long Live Cinema”

Is Peter Greenaway correct in both his assessment and prescription for cinema? No. His call for a new cinema is like saying we need a new kind of painting, one that does away with brushes, with the canvass and its tyrannically limiting edges, with paint, with the subject, with even the typical displaying of paintings. We did that, remember? It didn’t work that well; what we generally got was academic, “meaningful” meaninglessness. I understand each of the four cinematic tyrannies Greenaway decries (people have been decrying them for decades), but I think Greenaway is wrong, not in his observations per se, but in his approach. Greenaway’s approach is very much within a Cartesian/Enlightenment Project vein. He is mired in the analytical, in particulars, in a world without ultimate, normative positions. In fact, one can easily say his entire talk, though fascinating and entertaining, is a kind of extended opinion piece delivered with pomposity and dry humor, but no more.

This is not to say that his ideas are not insightful or helpful. They are, and he certainly is a filmmaker who is exploring cinema and its possibilities more than some filmmakers today. However, the real need, the real requirement regarding cinema (and any artform), is not to begin with an examination of the particulars and the technologies of the form, or even the history or the form, but with the question: What is Man? This is the great lost question of our age. Instead, what we get with Greenaway, as evidenced in his various examples of his own work, are ever more complicated, lengthy, and virtually un-watchable mashups of techno-cinema musings (no matter how philosophical they may appear) providing ever more information, ever more detail, ever more cinema-of-attractions juxtapositionings, but less and less essential humanity. In short, Peter Greenaway’s message is ontologically and teleologically dead; an empty and vain promise. Greenaway’s position is, before he even begins, one of hopelessness–and he revels in being the ring master.

Still, and from an entirely different direction, I will proclaim: Long live cinema!

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