Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Ornithologists rejoice!

Tulse Luper! Ipson and Pulat Fallari! Catarese B! The Madras lemonade-glass! The Boulder Orchard! The theory of the responsibility of birds!!

Yes, according to the latest issue of Film Comment, Peter Greenaway's first (I think) feature film, The Falls (1980), has, at long last, come out on DVD! (There's already a region 2 release, The Early Films of Peter Greenaway 2, but this is the first region 1 disc.) As you may surmise, this is one of my favorite films. Greenaway is a grade-A nutcase, and when his perversity overwhelms his artistry (as in the vile 8 1/2 Women), the results aren't pretty. But The Falls is a classic exemplar of a certain arch yet curiously intense and deeply humane British aesthetic sensibility running from Tristram Shandy (of which there is a new movie "adaptation," believe it or not) through Monty Python, Tom Phillips (with whom Greenaway collaborated on A TV Dante), and Brian Eno's "idiot energy" phase (and there is a snippet or two of Eno in the soundtrack to this film, most of which is made up of perfectly apposite post-minimal ensemble workouts by Michael Nyman). The Falls concerns a post-apocalyptic (or, rather, post-VUE ("Violent Unknown Event")) world, in which there are a whole welter of spontaneous new languages, and "female woman" is not a redundancy, and ... oh, forget it. (And birds keep coming up for some reason.)

I first saw this film in 1984 or so, when Greenaway was a relative unknown (The Draughtsman's Contract, which I like a lot less, was his first film to get much distribution in the U.S., and I think I saw that one later on), so I was completely unprepared. I remember sitting there in amazement during the last half-hour as it messed with my head big time (the effect is cumulative, as the various motifs start interacting with each other more and more). Maybe it will have less impact on someone who has already seen, say, Drowning By Numbers, or Prospero's Books, which are bigger-budget and consequently better-looking features (this is important, as Greenaway started out as a painter, and his films are very visual – lord knows they're not dramatic!); and of course by now the faux-documentary form has passed beyond played-out cliche and into respectable subgenre. I guess Drowning, Prospero's Books and The Pillow Book are my favorite of his non-Falls films, so try those too (if the copious and gratuitous male nudity in the latter two doesn't creep you out). Less successful are, in order of ascending weirdness, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (which does look great, I admit), The Belly of an Architect, The Baby of Macon, and A Zed and Two Naughts. They're still watchable, though (yes, even ZOO), unlike 8 1/2 Women, which I hated intensely.

The Falls page at imdb includes a link to an official-looking Falls page with a lot of further info, some of it quite odd. They're all over the DVD release, but for a while there the page featured the cover of a non-actual Criterion Collection DVD release (which had me going for a minute, but a visit to the Criterion webpage set me straight).

This new release is actually available from Zeitgeist Video (you get 25% off for ordering online). It's called Greenaway: The Early Films, and includes another disc of shorts (or you can get either of the two discs separately). The shorts include H is for House and A Walk Through H, both of which are good, and some other stuff I haven't seen (or don't remember); I think it's the same as the UK disc The Early Films of Peter Greenaway 1. Also included on the Falls disc (as it is on the British version, so I guess what we have here is a straight reissue, although it looks like there's some new bonus material on ours) is Vertical Features Remake, which has some excellent Falls-related material (Tulse Luper, Gang Lion, etc.), as well as some prime Eno ("Inland Sea," if I'm not mistaken).

Hmm, it won't actually be available until April 11. Until then, how about a rousing chorus of the Bird List Song! All together now: Capercaillie, lammergeyer, cassowary...

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