Peter Greenaway's Goltzius and the Pelican Company — which recently played at the Rome Film Festival — was inspired by 16th-century Dutch painter and engraver Hendrik Goltzius. He was a prolific and most sought-after artist during his time, with a distinctive style — in part due to his deformed hand. Greenaway's film focuses on Goltzius' erotic depictions of mythological figures, daring nudes for such a famed artist to create. At 21 years old, he married a widow who enabled him to set up an independent print shop. The film depicts his pursuit to create a series of erotic, biblical prints and the dramatizations of the stories for the court. Who better to tell his story than the ambitious and controversial British director?
The film is the second in Greenaway's series centering on Dutch painters, following 2009's Nightwatching
about Rembrandt. The Guardian
recently spoke to the filmmaker about his work that "is positively bulging with scenes of striptease and threesomes, incest and adultery." Greenaway didn't take kindly to the writer's insinuations about "sex selling." He responded:
"You've seen my previous films: they've always been pretty frank about notions of sexuality. You've seen it in The Cook, the Thief. You've seen it in Drowning by Numbers, The Baby of Macon. So this subject is nothing new. Maybe inch by inch we push things forward a little bit, but I believe this is a credible and honourable use of a contemporary vocabulary. It's a film about how sex and religion refuse to get into bed with each other."
Greenaway also responded to claims of formalism and lack of heart:
"It's a criticism I can fully understand from a public that has been brought up by Hollywood movies that demand intense emotional rapport. But look, we're here and we're talking, not because of emotional rapport but because of an intellectual ability to discuss the issues. And I think, if only to lighten the load or change the perspective, there's a place for that too. We have more than enough deodorised, over-the-top, sentimental cinema. Let's try to bring a little human intelligence into things. It can be very rewarding."
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the interview — or not really if you consider the themes and style he touches upon in his work — is Greenaway's admission that he wants to commit suicide when he's 80 years old:
"I can't think of anyone who has done anything remotely useful after the age of 80. One or two late prints by Picasso. One or two late paintings by Titian. Now you might say, 'Well, I've got this grandfather who's a beautiful old gentleman and rocks the cradle.' But really, is he not just taking up space? OK Grandad, happy 80th birthday. Here's your cake and here's the needle."
Cheery stuff from the man who would rather be painting, anyway:
"I don't want to be a filmmaker. I think painting is far more exciting and profound. It's always at the back of my mind – let's give up this silly business of filmmaking and concentrate on something more satisfying and worthwhile."