British auteur Peter Greenaway is an unabashed maker of art films. Regardless, he did have a commercial success of sorts with 1989’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover featuring a frequently naked Helen Mirren, and Michael Gambon as her gangster husband.
Since then, however, only a few of his films have been released in the United States (Prospero’s Books, 8½ Women, The Pillow Book) while others – including some of his best (The Baby of Macon, Darwin) – have had commercial showings only in Europe.
Among the works unreleased over here is a multimedia project – encompassing three feature films, a 16-episode TV series, CD-Roms, and books – known as The Tulse Luper Suitcases. The title character, Tulse Luper, is an artist, writer, filmmaker, and traveler – an alter-ego of Greenaway himself, credited with making Greenaway’s films. Per Greenaway, “His life is reconstructed from the evidence of 92 suitcases found around the world – 92 being the atomic number of the element Uranium.”
The images above are from a Region-2 DVD of the first feature in the series, The Moab Story, starring J.J. Feild as Tulse Luper, Caroline Dhavernas as the oversexed “Passion Hockmeister,” and Kevin Tighe (best known to American viewers as Locke’s evil dad on Lost) as a Mormon patriarch. The story, such as it is, follows Tulse Luper through 3 episodes: as an English child during World War I, as an explorer in Mormon Utah in the 1930s, and as a writer in Belgium during the rise of fascism. Blondie‘s Deborah Harry appears briefly as a Belgian bureaucrat.
The narrative is amusing enough, but the real reason to watch this film – like any of Greenaway’s films – is for the visuals. First and foremost a painter, Greenaway loves to use modern video editing technology to play with the image – to write on it (as in Images 1 & 3, above), to paint on it (as in Image 2, above, deliberately coloring the Utah skies to resemble a Maxfield Parrish painting), or breaking up the frame into multiple moving subparts (Images 1 & 4). At other times, he is content to create beautifully lit compositions in the manner of the Italian Renaissance or Flemish/Dutch masters (Image 5).
Greenaway’s films are, in short, eye candy for the thinking film viewer.