26 September 2014

DVD Review - Goltzius and the Pelican Company (2012)

Arthouse, History
Rating: 18
Peter Greenaway
F. Murray Abraham, Giulio Berruti, Vincent Riotta
buy: Goltzius And The Pelican Company [DVD]

Back in the 1980s Peter Greenaway was one of the leading lights of the British film industry. However something happened in the following decade, which caused his films to take a downturn for the worst. His latest film is Goltzius and the Pelican Company and the best thing you could say about it is that it’s a film only Peter Greenaway could make.

In other words, it’s the usual Greenaway orgy of art and sex; it’s about Goltzius (Ramsey Nasr), a Dutch printer who gets Margrave of Alsace (F Murray Abraham) to pay for the printing press to publish his erotic illustrated version of old testament stories, but he also has to perform these stories for the amusement of Margave. The stories include different sexual taboos like incest, prostitution and homosexuality.

The film is a complete disaster: Greenaway resorts to pointless text all over the screen, which detracts from the story itself, along with horrible cheap looking CGI (it looks like a lot of the film was shot in green screen) and pointless excessive scenes of graphic sex. Moreover, it has an extremely problematic depiction of Margrave of Alsace’s slaves who are white people in black face; maybe Greenaway is trying to interpret something about them disappearing in the background (there is a line about this) but there’s something not quite right about it.

Greenaway has made some good films in his time but his disregard for cinema as a medium at this point is just pretentious. His hate for cinema is clear, and he should perhaps do what he wants to do and be a full time painter. Despite this, the images are, at times, breathtaking, and so are the costumes. Greenaway’s 80s films at least have substance, but this seems like more of obsession with pushing boundaries, particularly the boundaries of sex and what he can get away with showing on screen. It feels like Greenaway has made this film before, but this is his worst feat yet.

Ian Schultz

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