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Peter Greenaway

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Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway
Peter Greenaway in August 2007
Born (1942-04-05) 5 April 1942
Newport, Wales
Occupation Film director, writer, painter

Peter Greenaway, CBE (born 5 April 1942) is a British film director. His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Flemish painting in particular. Common traits in his film are the scenic composition and illumination and the contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death.

Early life

Greenaway was born in Newport, Monmouthshire, Wales,[1] to a teacher mother and a builder's merchant father.[2] Greenaway's family left South Wales when he was three years old (they had moved there originally to avoid the Blitz) and settled in Chingford, Essex, England. He attended Forest School in North-East London. At an early age Greenaway decided on becoming a painter. He became interested in European cinema, focusing first on the films of Ingmar Bergman, and then on the French nouvelle vague filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and, most especially, Alain Resnais.



In 1962, Greenaway began studies at Walthamstow College of Art, where a fellow student was musician Ian Dury (later cast in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover). Greenaway trained as a muralist for three years; he made his first film, Death of Sentiment, a churchyard furniture essay filmed in four large London cemeteries. In 1965, he joined the Central Office of Information (COI), working there fifteen years as a film editor and director. In that time he created a filmography of experimental films, starting with Train (1966), footage of the last steam trains at Waterloo station, (situated behind the COI), edited to a musique concrète composition. Tree (1966), is a homage to the embattled tree growing in concrete outside the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank in London. By the 1970s he was confident and ambitious and made Vertical Features Remake and A Walk Through H. The former is an examination of various arithmetical editing structures, and the latter is a journey through the maps of a fictitious country.

In 1980, Greenaway delivered The Falls (his first feature-length film) – a mammoth, fantastical, absurdist encyclopaedia of flight-associated material all relating to ninety-two victims of what is referred to as the Violent Unknown Event (VUE).

Greenaway at the 44th Venice Film Festival (1987)

In the 1980s, Greenaway's cinema flowered in his best-known films, The Draughtsman's Contract (1982), A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), The Belly of an Architect (1987), Drowning by Numbers (1988), and his most successful (and controversial) film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). Greenaway's most familiar musical collaborator during this period is composer Michael Nyman, who has scored several films.

In 1989, he collaborated with artist Tom Phillips on a television serial A TV Dante, dramatising the first few cantos of Dante's Inferno. In the 1990s, he presented Prospero's Books (1991), the controversial The Baby of Mâcon (1993), The Pillow Book (1996), and 8½ Women (1999).

In the early 1990s, Greenaway wrote ten opera libretti known as the Death of a Composer series, dealing with the commonalities of the deaths of ten composers from Anton Webern to John Lennon, however, the other composers are fictitious, and one is a character from The Falls. In 1995, Louis Andriessen completed the sixth libretto, Rosa – A Horse Drama. He is currently professor of cinema studies at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.


Greenaway completed the artistically ambitious The Tulse Luper Suitcases, a multimedia project with innovative film techniques that resulted in three films. Later there were releases of two shorter features which rework the material of the first three films.

He also contributed to Visions of Europe, a short film collection by different European Union directors; his British entry is The European Showerbath. Nightwatching and Rembrandt's J'Accuse two films on Rembrandt which were released in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Nightwatching is the first feature in the series "Dutch Masters", with the next project titled as Goltzius and the Pelican Company.[3]

On 17 June 2005, Greenaway appeared for his first VJ performance during an art club evening in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with music by DJ Serge Dodwell (aka Radar), as a backdrop, 'VJ' Greenaway used for his set a special system consisting of a large plasma screen with laser controlled touchscreen to project the ninety-two Tulse Luper stories on the twelve screens of "Club 11", mixing the images live. This was later reprised at the Optronica festival, London.

On 12 October 2007, he created the multimedia installation Peopling the Palaces at Venaria Reale at the Royal Palace of Venaria that animates the Palace with 100 videoprojectors.[4]

Nine Classical Paintings Revisited

In 2006, Greenaway began an ambitious series of digital video installations, Nine Classical Paintings Revisited, with his exploration of Rembrandt's Night Watch in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. On 30 June 2008, after much negotiation, Greenaway staged a one-night performance 'remixing' da Vinci's The Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie[5] in Milan to a select audience of dignitaries. The performance consisted of superimposing digital imagery and projections onto the painting with music from the composer Marco Robino.

Greenaway exhibited his digital exploration of Seurat's Grande Jatte, works by Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet, Velázquez's Las Meninas and Michelangelo's The Last Judgment are possible series subjects.[6]


  • Death of Sentiment (1962, 8 min)
  • Tree (1966, 16 min)
  • Train (1966, 5 min)
  • Revolution (1967, 8 min)
  • 5 Postcards from Capital Cities (1967, 35 min)
  • Intervals (1969, 7 min)
  • Erosion (1971, 27 min)
  • H Is for House (1973, 10 min)
  • Windows (1975, 4 min)
  • Water Wrackets (1975, 12 min)
  • Water (1975, 5 min)
  • Goole by Numbers (1976, 40 min)
  • Dear Phone (1978, 17 min)
  • Vertical Features Remake (1978, 45 min)
  • A Walk Through H: The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist (1978, 41 min)
  • 1–100 (1978, 4 min)
  • Making a Splash (1984, 25 min)
  • Inside Rooms: 26 Bathrooms, London & Oxfordshire (1985, 26 min)
  • Hubert Bals Handshake (1989, 5 min)
  • Rosa (1992, 15 min)
  • Peter Greenaway (1995, 55 sec) - segment of Lumière and Company
  • The Bridge (1997, 12 min)
  • The Man in the Bath (2001, 7 min)
  • European Showerbath (2004, 5 min) - segment of Visions of Europe
  • Castle Amerongen (2011, 37 min)
Documentaries and mockumentaries
  • Eddie Kid (1978, 5 min)
  • Cut Above the Rest (1978, 5 min)
  • Zandra Rhodes (1979, 13 min)
  • Women Artists (1979, 5 min)
  • Leeds Castle (1979, 5 min)
  • Lacock Village (1980, 5 min)
  • Country Diary (1980, 5 min)
  • Terence Conran (1981, 15 min)
  • Four American Composers (1983, 220 min)
  • The Coastline (1983, 26 min)
  • Fear of Drowning (1988)
  • Rembrandt's J'Accuse (2008, 86min)
  • Act of God (1980)
  • Death in the Seine (French TV, 1988)
  • A TV Dante (mini-series, 1989)
  • M Is for Man, Music, Mozart (1991)
  • A Walk Through Prospero's Library (1992)
  • Darwin (French TV, 1993)
  • The Death of a Composer: Rosa, a Horse Drama (1999, 90 mins)



  1. ^ Abbott, Spencer H. (6 June 1997). "Interview with Peter Greenaway". Retrieved 15 February 2008. 
  2. ^ "Peter Greenaway Biography (1942–)". Filmreference.Com. 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2011. 
  3. ^ Morgan, Nesta. "nightwatching".  
  4. ^ "Peopling The Palaces at Venaria Reale – Enciclopedia del cinema in Piemonte". Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  5. ^ "Leonardo's Last Supper", Peter Greenaway's official site.
  6. ^ Roberta Smith, "In Venice, Peter Greenaway Takes Veronese's Figures Out to Play," New York Times 21 June 2009 online.

External links

  • Official website
  • Peter Greenaway. Faculty website at European Graduate School (Biography, filmography, articles and photos)
  • British Film Institute. Early Films
  • Peter Greenaway biography and credits at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
  • Interview on Leonardo's Last Supper
  • Peter Greenaway at the Internet Movie Database
  • Manu Luksch. Interview – The Medium is the Message. Telepolis. 13 February 1997
  • Dana Linssen. Video interview May 2006. 39min.
  • Peter Greenaway at the National Portrait Gallery, London
  • Chris Gordon. Interview – An eye for optical theory, The St. Petersburg Times, Russia. 21 June 2012
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