With the conclusion of The Tulse Luper Suitcases, part three of Peter Greenaway’s typically-excessive trilogy about the 20th century free spirit, it becomes abundantly clear that this was once a 6-hour film that someone decided to chop into three “manageable” parts for distribution purposes. Ironic, that, since the British painter-turned-director’s films very rarely wind up in theaters anyway. They should have left well enough alone: if you’re a Greenaway fan, you’re not going to be put off by a piddly 6-hour running time.
“When the English write about natural history it’s always a cover for something else, isn’t that so?” observed Erik van Hoyten, the overbearing Stationmaster of Antwerp in Part 1 (The Moab Story). “Illicit sexual matters, mainly, but also a little shop keeping, a little politics, gambling debts, and the general state of the bank account, the nation of shopkeepers.”
Van Hoyten is talking about Luper, specifically, but the stationmaster’s words apply equally pertinently to writer/director Greenaway himself, whose painstakingly thought-provoking films, at least in the last decade or so, can be stylistically overwhelming, a visual cacophony of wipes, fades, overlays, scrolling text, superimposition, mattes, voiceover narration, widescreen, color saturation, theatricality, cut-ins, -outs, and -aways, and repetition ad nauseum.
An intellectual auteur, some might call Greenaway the cinematic equivalent of Henry James’s Daisy Miller, i.e., someone who does as s/he pleases but seldom pleases anyone except her/himself. His films are without a doubt a very acquired taste—always baffling, rarely boring (although I do confess to having nodded off during my second viewing of Prospero’s Books), controversial, opaque, and never less than uniquely individual.
To paraphrase an astute observation from 2002, “Nobody in the world, living or dead, makes films quite like Peter Greenaway. And nobody else would want to.” The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 3: From Sark to Finish takes audacious delight in being no exception and that’s what makes it one ‘Suitcase definitely worth unpacking.
(c) 2005 David N. Butterworth