Peter Greenaway: A Zed & Two Noughts, Darwin

Film evening in the frame of the exhibition Diana Thater. gorillagorillagorilla

28.04.2009 19:00


Price: Admission free

Kunsthaus Graz further unfolds the enigmas of human/animal relationships by screening two films by eccentric British filmmaker Peter Greenaway: A Zed & Two Noughts (a perverse fairy tale of the evolution and the decay of organic life) and Darwin (a series of 18 tableaux on the life and times of Sir Charles Darwin).

 

English with German subtitles

 

 

A Zed & Two Noughts

 

"Are animals like car-crashes - Acts of God or mere accidents - bizarre, tragic, farcical, plotted nowadays into a scenario by an ingenious storyteller, Mr. C. Darwin? Is classical Venus the biblical Eve? If the evolutionary span of life on Earth is represented by a year of 365 days, and man made his appearance at eight o'clock on 31 December, did woman arrive just after eight? Was Adam a twin, and if so, what happened to his brother? Is a zebra a white horse with black stripes, or a black horse with white stripes?",
Greenaway asks in his visual essay, A Zed & Two Noughts (1986). A car collides with a swan outside a zoo and two women passengers die, and the female driver, Alba Bewick, has to have her leg amputated. Obsessed with the accident, the zoologist twin husbands of the dead women - Oliver and Oswald - are fascinated by the processes of decay, and soon they start an affair with the amputee and liberate animals from a zoo. This provocative, funny and stylish film is a tribute to Vermeer and an exploration of the trauma of loss, man's relationship with animals and the attraction of lists.

 

Greenaway himself explains the concept of A Zed & Two Noughts as follows: "Although there are many visual sources for the origin of A Zed & Two Noughts, the three most conveniently recognizable ones can be accredited to a tape, an ape and a borrowed photograph. The tape was a three-minute time-lapse film of the decay of a common mouse first shown on a BBC Horizon programme in 1981. Thanks to the speeding up of the time-lapse material, it was seen that maggots acted in unison on a corpse, devouring it systematically in a pack. It was the camera-operator's ambitious hope one day to film the decay of an elephant. The ape lived in Rotterdam Zoo and had only one leg. The animal had been chained in a backyard. The chain had bitten into the leg and the spread of infection was only to be prevented by amputation. When the animal climbed and swung about in its cage there were times when it seemed that the missing leg was no impediment at all. Its incapacity had, it seemed, been victoriously overcome. The photograph had been a generous loan to me in 1978 for an encyclopaedic film called The Falls. It showed a confidently smiling woman standing between the elegant, enigmatic, identically-twinned Quay Brothers, puppeteers and filmmakers whose methods of film-animation were not so very different from the concepts of squeezing time that had made it possible to see how the maggots had devoured the mouse carcass."

 

Darwin

 

Darwin (1992), which follows the life and times of Sir Charles Darwin via a series of 18 tableaux, from his journey around the world, his marriage, the publication of The Origin of Species, to his burial at Westminster Abbey is yet another excellent example of Peter Greenaway's cinematic mastery and his further investigation into the world of science and the history of mankind. Each tableau is perfectly staged as one long take, complemented by the narrator's voice which revisits the biography and theories of the revolutionary thinker. Here too, Greenaway's entire universe receives its precise and careful elaboration in a visual extravagance of boundless imagination and scientific detail which provides the viewer with an evidence of Darwin's groundbreaking legacy: "Darwin has given man such a short communicable history and such a long uncommunicable prologue that looking back is no comfort. Looking forward is no comfort either, because evolution appears so directionless, and so apparently purposeless. Darwin has finally put man irredeemably out on his own... Darwin has given us a freedom that no social or religious programme has ever given us, for, if man is on his own, then all the checks we relied on to excuse or explain our own shortcomings and mediocrities have been removed. We are, at least, now free for what we want to be." (Tableau 17)

 

Peter Greenaway

 

Born 1942 in Wales and educated in London, Peter Greenaway trained as a painter for four years, and started making his own films in 1966. He has continued to make cinema in a great variety of ways, which has also informed his curatorial work and the making of exhibitions and installations in Europe from the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice and the Joan Miró Gallery in Barcelona to the Boymans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam and the Louvre in Paris. He has made 12 feature films and some 50 short-films and documentaries, e.g. The Draughtsman's Contract, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife & her Lover, The Pillow-book, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, and Nightwatching. He has been nominated for the Film Festival Competitions of Cannes, Venice and Berlin, published books, written opera librettos, and collaborated with numerous composers, Michael Nyman among others.

 

 

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