Though he’s still working (his most recent film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, is supposed to come out this year through Strand Releasing), it’s fair to say that Peter Greenaway has largely fallen into obscurity. He reached his peak of acceptance when The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover became a crossover hit in 1989, which in turn generared a brief-lived interest in his other works — and a love-hate relationship with the critics. That relationship soon soured to something like hate-indiffrence as his work became more and more impenetrable (the ending of his 1993 film The Baby of Mâcon is utterly incomprehensible without Greenaway explaining what it means). He regained some ground with The Pillow Book (1996), but lost it with 8 1/2 Women (2000). (I remember the poster in the lobby of the Fine Arts locally, but I don’t recall the film ever playing.) His stated intent — to return spectacle to the movies — suggests some kind of C.B. DeMille for the art house. Fine. That also means Greenaway is the very quintessence of “Not for All Tastes.”
My own relationship with Greenaway’s films blows hot and cold — and there are no Greenaway movies I’d want to see too often. But I do think he’s a filmmaker of some note — and one who should be better remembered than he is. His films are difficult. His obsessions are downright peculiar. His sense of humor — and, oh, yes, Greenaway has one — is very dark indeed. He finds humor in the grotesque — a lot of the humor in A Zed & Two Noughts centers on amputations and decay. The film itself can be viewed as an examination of futility. It — like its maker — is stange and unique. At its best, it’s a stylish black comedy — with a fondness for the absurd — made for adults. This is a film where motives are often inexplicable. Maybe the film is inexplicable, too, but it has an elegance and a playfulness that is hard to ignore — assuming you can tap into its vibe. It really can’t be explained. It has to be experienced — as does its Michael Nyman score.
The Asheville Film Society will screen A Zed & Two Noughts Tuesday, June 23, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.