Provocative aesthetics: British director and artist Peter Greenaway turns 75 | Film | DW | 05.04.2017
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Provocative aesthetics: British director and artist Peter Greenaway turns 75

He defines himself as a philosopher and an artist: As the unconventional British filmmaker Peter Greenaway celebrates his 75th birthday, here's a look back at his career.

The 1980s were Peter Greenaway's golden era. Between 1982 and 1989, he directed five films which received a lot of attention and acclaim and established him as a star director. Cinephiles were fascinated by the audacious and unconventional ideas of the British filmmaker.

It all seemed to be over quite suddenly. During the following decade, he appeared to leave the international stage just as quickly as he had made it to the top. It wasn't that Greenaway stopped directing films, but rather that they suddenly ceased to be en vogue. The same critics who had once hailed him, suddenly rejected his works for being too intellectual. And subsequently, his audiences drastically shrank.

Peter Greenaway and his wife at the exhibition «Gehorsam. Eine Installation in 15 Räumen» (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gambarini)

Peter Greenaway and his wife, Dutch director Saskia Boddeke, at an exhibition in Berlin's Jewish Museum in 2015

Hardly any other film director in the post-war era has enjoyed such a high degree of popularity within a particular time frame, only to then lose it so quickly.

Greenaway himself might see things differently. After all, he very consciously turned his back to what he termed "conventional cinema." But what precisely did he define as "conventional"?  After all, even his hits including  "The Draughtsman's Contract," "The Belly of an Architect," and "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover" were anything but conventional. The highly original British filmmaker never even tried to please mainstream audiences.

Curious about the versatility of film

Born on April 5, 1942, in Newport, Wales, Peter Greenaway was always interested in the versatility of film, its vocabulary and its future, taking into account the development of new techniques and the older techniques that would become outdated as a result. 

Deutschland, Berlinale 2015 Peter Greenaway (DW/E. Usi)

Peter Greenaway at the Berlinale accompanied by actors Elmer Bäck and Luis Alberti who starred in his Eisenstein film

After predicting the end of film as a medium, the director went on to present his own ideas on art, where film only played a minor role. Through his elaborate installations, combining art and film, painting and music, traditional culture and modern techniques, the conceptual artist Greenaway created some total works of art.

Film comeback

At that point, most film fans took for granted that the highly philosophical artist wouldn't be returning to film, having found a new niche international audience through his art.

He nevertheless surprised the film world all two years ago, by presenting his movie "Eisenstein in Guanajuato" at the Berlin Film Festival. Greenaway was back with a new exploration of that good old dying medium.

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