The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 3: From Sark to Finish (2004)

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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
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (2004)

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The second part of Peter Greenaway’s maddeningly brilliant ‘Tulse Luper Suitcases is more—so much more—of the same, documenting the titular character’s continent-spanning experiences and unwieldy collection of ‘cased artifacts told via an overwhelming 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. Oh, and Isabella Rossellini, who plays someone called Madame Moitessier (Character Number 61).
     There’s a third part not coming to a theater near you anytime soon—’From Sark to Finish.
     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.
     “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. “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 are crammed to the sprocket holes with all manner of natural histories: geology, for one thing (rocks and minerals and mountains), ornithology (typically), numerology (often, although not necessarily natural, historically), entomology (bugs) sometimes, and etymology (words) most times. Plus illicit sexual matters of the flesh, of course—women and men alike shed their tops, bottoms, and varying inhibitions in a Greenaway flick, although Rossellini and Run, Lola, Run’s Franka Potente opt to keep their period garb very much on in this one.
     It all has the sense of a grandiose knowing wink, as the painter-turned-director sublimely manipulates his multi multimedia with a style that borders on the obscene.
     To paraphrase a perceptive 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 2: Vaux to the Sea takes audacious delight in being no exception and that’s what makes it one ‘Suitcase definitely worth unpacking.


(c) 2005 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com

The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story (2003)

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“When the English write about natural history it’s always a cover for something else, isn’t that so?” observes Erik van Hoyten (Jack Wouterse), the overbearing Stationmaster of Antwerp to an incarcerated Tulse Luper (JJ Field), under “bath arrest” in Episode 3 of Peter Greenaway’s maddeningly brilliant—and typically excessive—The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story.
     “Illicit sexual matters, mainly,” van Hoyten continues, “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, at a time in his illustrious career when once a writer for a Belgian newspaper among other things, but the stationmaster’s words apply equally pertinently to writer/director Greenaway himself, whose painstakingly thought- provoking films are crammed to the sprocket holes with all manner of natural histories: geology, for one thing (rocks and minerals and mountains), ornithology (typically), numerology (often, although not necessarily natural, historically), entomology (bugs) sometimes, and etymology (words) most times. Plus illicit sexual matters of the flesh, of course—men and (here) Caroline Dhavernas (TV’s Wonderfalls) alike shed their tops, bottoms, and varying inhibitions in a Greenaway flick—and a little political proselytizing for better measure round out the equation.
     Greenaway is at his most self-referential in ‘The Moab Story, acknowledging not only previously established characters—the titular Tulse (The Falls), van Hoyten (A Zed & Two Noughts), and Cissie Colpitts (Drowning By Numbers), for example—but also his own films, including 1975’s Water Wrackets, Vertical Features Remake (1978), and The Belly of an Architect from 1987. It all has the sense of a grandiose knowing wink, as the painter-turned-director sublimely manipulates his multi multimedia with a style that borders on the obscene.
     Part 1 of the ‘Tulse Luper Suitcases (there are two more continuations, ‘Vaux to the Sea and ‘From Sark to Finish) is comprised of three discrete episodes that lavishly luxuriate over Luper’s life, from short pants schoolboy caught in the red-brick horrors of WWI to his great salt lake explorations in Moab, Utah (indelicate shades of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 2 say you?) to his journalistic tendencies in Europe during the rise of A. Hitler. The “plot” (for want of a better word; Greenaway has been quoted as saying “If you want to tell stories, be a writer, not a filmmaker”) documents Luper’s experiences and unwieldy collection of ‘cased artifacts—perfume, pencils, love letters, frogs, holes, etc.—told via an overwhelming 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 a perceptive 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 1: The Moab Story takes audacious delight in being no exception and that’s what makes it one ‘Suitcase definitely worth unpacking.


(c) 2005 David N. Butterworth
butterworthdavidn@gmail.com