Adapting The Tempest

The Crimson recently spoke with Peter Greenaway, director of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover and the recently released Prospero's Books, a film adaptation of The Tempest. The following are excerpts from that conversation:

Q: Your movies emphasize the visual aspect of film heavily. Many of your scenes look painstakingly composed, like baroque painings.

A: Well, I started my career as a painter and an art historian. Painting is undersung-99% of all films have a literary base. Film should have more confidence in itself; it should rely on other art forms. All these art forms are related. What I would like to do is regard cinema as a visual meeting with the audience. In a way it isn't. It relies too much on soundtrack, dialogue, story. Continuity of painting through and into cinema is important. You need an attitude of composition, color coding, symbols and metaphors. Cinema is going to die.

Q: What do you mean, "Cinema is going to die"?

A: There is every evidence that celluloid cinema is going to die. The new technology is leading away from it. The Japanese are throwing away the screen and projector and replacing it with large television screens. Much more information is purveyed in television. But one could almost foretaste the end of television even. The relation to painting is still important.


Q: But painting and photography still exist, despite changes in technology.

A: Well, photography changed the world of painting. It led the way to film.

Q: But what is the difference between "celluloid cinema" and bigger television screens?

A: Audience appreciation. Television has only vowels-a simple approach. It's not very sensitive to extremes of light and dark. Cinema handles it better. TV prefers close-ups, movement. Cinema is social-the audience must move towards it. TV is passive-selection is not important. 90% of the audience's concentration is on cinema screen. It's not much more than 50% for TV. For my films, the audience needs to pay attention... We need to develop a visual language, a combination of song dances, calligraphy, all contemporary languages.

Q: The first [movie of yours] I saw was Cook, which was somewhat disturbing.

A: We must be adult. We have to take responsibility for violence. The people who walk out are the people I'm attacking. They want to ignore their responsibilities for violence and sexual attack.

Q: Do you see yourself as Prospero?

A: Prospero is a man at the end of his life. I'm still middle-aged. He is interested in reconciliation and rebirth. We are all little Prosperos. Without knowledge we can obliterate the world. But we cannot throw away our books.

Q: There is a reflective element in nearly all your movies-a character who could be called the director.

A: Who would you say is that character in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover?