9 February 2010 | oOgiandujaOo_and_Eddy_Merckx
My favourite Greenaway
It was a shock for me to discover having watched several of Peter Greenaway's films, and having loved many, that this for me, is easily his best from what I've seen. I will temper that by saying that I saw this in the cinema, and the cinema does wonders for many films. I find Greenaway's Baby of Macon, for example, has too much detail and visual complexity to be particularly accessible via home viewing. Greenaway has indeed been criticised for an overly painterly approach to detail in his films, which some deem not fit for a medium with a moving image. His long time collaborator cinematographer Sacha Vierny for example considered Prospero's Books a failure for the over-cluttering with visual detail that was cinematically indigestible.
The late Sacha Vierny doesn't get talked about nearly enough, other than Belly and most of the famous Greenaway films, he shot Last Year in Marienbad for Resnais, as well as the majority of the famous pre-80s Resnais movies; The Three Crowns of the Sailor, amongst others for Ruiz; Bof Anatomie d'un Livreur for Faraldo, a marvellous though little seen film; Belle de Jour for Bunuel; La Femme Publique and others for Zulawski; as well as collaborations with Chris Marker, Maguerite Duras, and Sally Potter. The critical part he played in these great movies is rarely sung. As Vierny was not interested in fame and rarely gave interviews, how much direction he took and how much of his own artistry he plyed will forever remain an enigma. As with most of this work, The Belly of An Architect is a really great looking film.
The story of this film is about an architect played by Brian Dennehy, called Stourley Kracklite, if you can believe such an indigestible name, hinting at gastric stagnancy and duodenal eructations. In consonancy with his name, he spends the movie plagued by sluggish prickly guts. Kracklite has always admired an obscure 18th century French architect called Étienne-Louis Boullée, a real-life architect who was famous more for his astonishing designs than for actual won commissions (this has often been a hazard for architects I believe). Make good use of the internet or your library and look up his magnificently insane design for Newton's tomb, which was never taken up, or his sprawling design for the Bibliothque Nationale. Due to his overreaching ambition he therefore ended up making mostly private homes, and there's only a handful of his built projects left in existence.
So Kracklite has finished with making his own buildings, and spent the last ten years of his life planning an exhibition on Boullée to be held in Rome. There are a lot of typical Greenaway features here, obsession with food, cuckoldry, a battle between an older and younger man. Somehow Greenaway managed here to take his usual stuff beyond an academic game to a place where there is mythos, and poesy. Greenaway for me is a director with a deep feeling for lifecycle, he doesn't present children as small adults, or middle aged men as ephebes with jowls and paunches.
For me it's a film about lifecycle and meaning, and homage to genius. I just adore it.