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Peter Greenaway
Greenaway in 2007
Born (1942-04-05) 5 April 1942 (age 82)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter, visual artist
Years active1962–present
Notable workThe Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989)

Peter Greenaway, CBE (born 5 April 1942) is a British film director, screenwriter and artist. His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Mannerism painting in particular. Common traits in his films 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 had relocated to Wales prior to his birth to escape the Nazi bombings of London. They returned to the London area at the end of World War II and settled in Woodford, then part of Essex. He attended Churchfields Junior School[citation needed] and later Forest School in nearby Walthamstow.[3]

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. Greenaway has said that Resnais's Last Year in Marienbad (1961) had been the most important influence upon his own filmmaking (and he himself established a close working relationship with that film's cinematographer Sacha Vierny).[4] He now lives in Amsterdam.[5]



Greenaway at the 44th Venice Film Festival (1987)

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), where he went on to work for fifteen years as a film editor and director. In that time he made a series 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. In the late 1970s, he made Vertical Features Remake and A Walk Through H.[6] The former is an examination of various arithmetical editing structures, and the latter is a journey through the maps of a fictitious country.[citation needed]

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). In the 1980s his 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 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.[7]

In 1989, Greenaway 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).[citation needed]

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.[8]


Greenaway presented the ambitious The Tulse Luper Suitcases, a multimedia project that resulted in three films, a website, two books, a touring exhibition, and a shorter feature which reworked the material of the first three films.[citation needed]

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 are two films on Rembrandt, released respectively in 2007 and 2008. Nightwatching is the first feature in the series "Dutch Masters", with the second project titled as Goltzius and the Pelican Company.[9]

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.[citation needed]

On 12 October 2007, he created the multimedia installation Peopling the Palaces at Venaria Reale at the Royal Palace of Venaria, which animated the Palace with 100 videoprojectors.[10]

Greenaway was interviewed for Clive Meyer's Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice (2011), and voiced strong criticisms of film theory as distinct from discussions of other media: "Are you sufficiently happy with cinema as a thinking medium if you are only talking to one person?"[11]

On 3 May 2016, he received a Honoris Causa doctorate from the University of San Martín, Argentina.[12]

Nine Classical Paintings Revisited

In 2006, Greenaway began a 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[13] 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.[citation needed]

Greenaway exhibited his digital exploration of The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese as part of the 2009 Venice Biennial. An arts writer for The New York Times called it "possibly the best unmanned art history lecture you'll ever experience," while acknowledging that some viewers might respond to it as "mediocre art, Disneyfied kitsch or a flamboyant denigration of site-specific video installation." The 50-minute presentation, set to a soundtrack, incorporates closeup images of faces from the painting along with animated diagrams revealing compositional relations among the figures. These images are projected onto and around the replica of the painting that now stands at the original site, within the Palladian architecture of the Benedictine refectory on San Giorgio Maggiore. The soundtrack features music and imagined dialogue scripted by Greenaway for the 126 "wedding guests, servants, onlookers and wedding crashers" depicted in the painting, consisting of small talk and banal chatter that culminates in reaction to the miraculous transformation of water to wine, according to the Gospels the first miracle performed by Jesus. Picasso's Guernica, 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.[14]



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Documentaries and mockumentaries




  1. ^ Abbott, Spencer H. (6 June 1997). "Interview with Peter Greenaway". Archived from the original on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 15 February 2008.
  2. ^ "Peter Greenaway Biography (1942–)". Filmreference.Com. 2011. Retrieved 12 January 2011.
  3. ^ BAFTA A Life in Pictures: Peter Greenaway: an interview with Ian Haydn Smith for the British Academy Film Awards, 16 April 2014. [Retrieved 20 May 2024]
  4. ^ Film-makers on film: Peter Greenaway: an interview with John Whitley in The Daily Telegraph, 14 June 2004. [Retrieved 27 February 2022]
  5. ^ In the beginning was the image: an interview with Peter Greenaway: an interview with Lillian Crawford for the British Film Institute, 17 November 2022. [Retrieved 20 May 2024]
  6. ^ Walk Through H, A (1978) BFI Screenonline
  7. ^ Close your eyes and listen: Michael Nyman has a problem, and it's nothing to do with turning 50. It's Peter Greenaway and all those movies.: interview with Michael Nyman by Mark Pappenheim The Independent, 1 December 1993.
  8. ^ Peter Greenaway: Professor of Film at The European Graduate School . Retrieved 20 May 2024.
  9. ^ Morgan, Nesta. "nightwatching". Film&festivals. 2 (2). United Kingdom: Wallflower Press / Film Culture Ltd.: 5. ISSN 1755-5485.
  10. ^ "Peopling The Palaces at Venaria Reale – Enciclopedia del cinema in Piemonte". Retrieved 12 February 2011. [dead link]
  11. ^ Laurie, Timothy (2013), "Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice", Media International Australia, 147: 171, doi:10.1177/1329878X1314700134, S2CID 149797284
  12. ^ "Peter Greenaway llega a la UNSAM » Noticias UNSAM". Archived from the original on 10 January 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Leonardo's Last Supper" Archived 21 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine, Peter Greenaway's official site.
  14. ^ Roberta Smith, "In Venice, Peter Greenaway Takes Veronese's Figures Out to Play", The New York Times 21 June 2009 online.
  15. ^ "TULSE LUPER 'A LIFE IN SUITCASES' BY PETER GREENAWAY". Luperpedia Foundation. 2011. Archived from the original on 13 February 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Peter Greenaway". Luperpedia Foundation. 2011. Archived from the original on 29 January 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  17. ^ "3x3D". imdb. 2013. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  18. ^ "The Sea in Their Blood (1983)". imdb. 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  19. ^ Greenaway, Peter. "Act of God". Archived from the original on 19 January 2016. Retrieved 8 February 2016.
  20. ^ Aitken, Ian (18 October 2013). Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film 3-Volume Set. Routledge. pp. 2–3. ISBN 9781135206208.
  21. ^ Greenaway, Peter (1991). The physical self : a selection by Peter Greenaway from the collections of the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam = De keuze van Peter Greenaway uit de collecties van Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 27/10/91-12/1/92. Rotterdam: Het Museum. ISBN 90-6918-088-X.