I was lucky/unlucky to attend Peter Greenaway’s lecture on Cinema in Pietrasanta, Italy. After a tumultuous (lack of) introduction the filmmaker’s dramatic voice quickly started provoking and capturing the audience. Cinema is dead. Who killed it? In Italy, was it Berlusconi? Or (as suggested by someone in the audience) was it simply Italian laziness? Greenaway is not the first nor the last to wonder about ‘the death of Cinema’. Recently, Tarantino’s now famous statement regarding celluloid rapidly bounced around the web gaining momentum and critiques. Greenaway’s reasoning appears to be different, as he accuses the likes of Tarantino to be suffering from the “Casablanca syndrome”. He believes Cinema has been broken from within, incapable of adapting to a changing world.
I have taken the liberty to paraphrase some of his statements in the few paragraphs below.
People suffering the Casablanca syndrome are nostalgics who still believe in sitting in the dark for two hours looking at a white rectangle of light. We now have an easy access to the consumption of content and to the tools required for creations of all kinds. The Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit has been replaced by the new trinity of the mobile phone, the laptop and the manufacturing process (for example the camera). We are aware that Cinema is on the change, and changing very very rapidly.
Greenaway is very interested in the concept of Cinema outside of Cinema. We are at the beginning of an extraordinary ‘Age of the Screen’. Screens are all around us. Cameras are all around us. “Cinema” is now a minority activity. Its importance has been declining, submerged by other screens. Even broadcast television is declining and being replaced by a ‘television of choice’. We ought to make audiovisual material alive to these new characteristics and continue to fulfil the need for audiovisual excitement in a contemporary way.
We should ‘go with the flow’ and maximise this age of the screen. The ‘democratisation’ of cinema is the result of the availability and accessibility of affordable “filmmaking tools” and distribution platforms. These new channels of communication allow the makers to ‘bypass’ the traditional distribution, the filtering and censorship, and directly connect to an audience. The ‘old powers’ have lost their grip on our imagination. Are they trying to maintain Cinema or “Cinema Money”?
These new freedoms should be used. Storytellers are forced to condense or expand stories in order to fit the existing moulds, creating situation of extraordinary absurdity and thus fossilising the formatting based on finances and not on “Cinema”. We can now pick and chose our media to take into account the needs of our audiovisiual creations. ‘What medium would fit my imagination?’ as opposed to ‘how to fit my imagination into a specific medium?’
“Unless you believe something to be broken, you will not try to mend it“ Greenaway believes cinema is broken. While creating his ‘New Cinema’ he considers 4 parameters he believes to be essential to an ‘individual cinema’. The following 4 tyrannies have always been a problem with cinema, and are now destroying it from within.
1) The Tyranny of the Text: we do not have an image based cinema. Cinema starts with texts in 99.99% of the cases. Literary adaptations, screenplays or excessive use of dialogue are all existing proofs. ‘Cinema should not be the illustration of text’.
2) The Tyranny of the Frame: “The frame does not exist in nature.” It does not represent the way we perceive the world. “Why do we continue to play with this aberration?”
3) The Tyranny of the Actor: “Cinema does not exists to be a playground for Johnny Depp. And, it isn’t Johnny Deep’s fault. It is the way we use Johnny Depp, the way we manipulate his imagination, his ability, his talent.” “We force an actor to subsume his individuality in terms of fictions that do not belong in his imagination at all.”
4) The Tyranny of the Camera: “A boring mechanical instrument with no intelligence. An image manufacturing process based on mimeses.” Greenaway seems more interested in the notion of creation. First, quoting Picasso: “I do not paint what I see, I paint what I think.” Then, quoting Eisenstein: ”The greatest filmmaker ever is Walt Disney” He added: “Cartoons start from nothing, unlike the notion of the camera which captures the known and given world”
Peter Greenaway attempts are directed at creating a non-narrative, multiscreen cinema in the present tense, without forgetting the pleasure principle of entertaining; doing whatever we can to capture and maintain the audience’s attention.
We were not able to verify how well Greenaway is capable of fighting these 4 tyrannies and fit within the boundaries (or lack of) he proposes . Sadly, the projection of his short projects could not go ahead (for reasons that are so surreal that they will not be shared). I hope to get another chance at discovering these less ‘conventional’ creations, as my curiosity has been stimulated by Greenaway’s provocations. I cannot hide that I enjoy provocation. I believe that without questioning authorities we are guilty of giving momentum to a variety of vicious circles, simply by accepting what is not acceptable (and often reproducing what we did not accept at first).
I am intrigued as his words resonate in my mind. After all, writing a script is the tedious task of translating the sensorial audiovisual creation of my imagination to text. Why not bypass it?
There are already examples of multiscreen experiences (2nd screen implementations, experimental multiscreen projections or even VR headsets) in existence. Why not take advantage of these additional available spaces to create a less ‘static’ experience?
There are also numerous examples of directors giving vast freedoms to their actors, involving them and their imagination in the creative process (and even films with no real-life actors being involved). Why always force them to surrender to our imagination? (Is it our ego talking? or marketing?)
How could I get rid of the camera? I am unsure as to how Mr Greenaway intends to fight this last tyranny. But, I can understand how the camera is limited to reproducing the real world. However, the real world can be enhanced (on set or location) or even altered (in postproduction) thus bringing ‘it’ closer to our imagination.
I do not suffer the Casablanca Syndrome (ok, maybe I do, but I label it with a different title). I am aware, though, that change is not only exhilarating and empowering, it is also scary. We cannot foresee where it will bring us, whether we will like the ‘new formats’ it creates and whether there will be room for our imagination (and professional livelihood) in these ‘new media’. “There is nothing wrong with Casablanca. It is simply boring, as every time we watch it it is always the same.” We have to remake it in a new way.