Saturday, May 25, 2013

Every new technology is expensive, and sooner or later every new technology gets into bed with lechery.

The Seattle Independent Film Festival has landed, again. I don't have the time or money to attend this year, but just cannot stay away. And I started off my festival with a Peter Greenaway film, Goltzius and the Pelican Company

If I were forced to pick just one film as my favorite, it would be Peter Greenaway's 1996 motion picture, with the emphasis strongly on picture, The Pillow Book. After I assumed that his other works would similarly resonate, but was so very, very wrong. Since, I've developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with Greenaway's cinema having been completely confounded by a few, respecting others, completely disgusted and repulsed by one, occassionally bored, but then completely charmed and delighted by the previous film seen at SIFF in 2009, Rembrandt's J'Accuse. I wasn't sure I was up for the Greenaway gamble, but when a pair of free tickets landed in my lap, I couldn't stay away.

With Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Peter Greenaway has liberally embellished the story of Hendrick Goltzius's voyage to Italy in 1590. In this bit of revisionism, Goltzius and his entourage of artists, craftsmen, and players accompanied by their wives, pay a visit to the Margrave of Alsace. There a bargan is made. In exchange for entertaining the Margrave's court with a collection of bawdy Biblical stories, Goltzius would receive the funds for a printing press and be able to create an illustrated version of the Old Testament and the works of Ovid. What follows is the performance of a series of biblical tales that embody six sexual taboos: voyeurism, incest, adultery, corruption of youth, prostitution, and finally necrophilia. 

So much about Goltzius and the Pelican Company is familiar to Greenaway disciples. It has neo-classical sensibilities, but it is completely modern in message and execution. As with its predecessors, sets are elaborately constructed and carefully framed, with most shots perfectly symmetrical. This is layered with scrolling text, framed images, titles, creating a absorbing and often overwhelming amont of contectual information to digest. This constant barrage of imagery is so classically beautiful, that I tend to forgive it for not being completley digestible upon first viewing. I've grown to expect to only get an outline of the work in a first viewing, but find I am so taken by the sound and look of Greenaway's cinematic canvas, that I don't mind never feeling that I have delved much beyond the surface meanings of his texts. The surface is sure a lovely to gaze upon. 

But it is easy to descern that there is much below Goltzius's surface. As the players act out the biblical stories, the impact on the court and Margrave put into motion a series of events that equal the immorality and lack of decency.  By the end, Lott's seduction at the hands of his daughters is one of the least provocative theatrical presentations. Once the scholars and law makers start to collide in their interpretations and debates about the truths behind Goltzius and companies liberal interpretations of the biblical tales... well, things get really interesting.

One final note on this work. I've long appreciated the classical beauty of Peter Greenaway's compositions, but while the movies are often very erotic, I have never found the films to be. Something is different with Goltzius and the Pelican Company. There is something very erotic and seductive about this film. Maybe that says more about this viewer, than the film, but I'm suspicious that it might be due to the decision to include not just full frontal nudity and simulated sex, but nudity from actors with erections. For this reason, I do not expect this film to find distribution, so catch it at a festival before it is buried deep somewhere. 

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