Peter Greenaway on The Death of Cinema

Last week on CBC’s Q, I listened to a pretty fascinating interview (MP3) with cinematic auteur and hero of snobby cineastes Peter Greenaway. Greenaway was on to promote his latest film, Nightwatching (here’s an extended trailer).

I quite like Q host Jian Ghomeshi, but he was definitely fighting above his weight. Greenaway lectured him on a number of topics, including the ‘death of cinema’. I agreed with much of what Greenaway said, so I transcribed a few bits (only transcribe opinions you concur with, I always say):

Cinema now, with the laptop generation, Generation X, is really to do with an interactive, multimedia world and cinema can’t be that. Cinema cannot be democratic–it cannot create multiple endings. You can’t interface with it in any satisfactory way.

So, I think if we’re going to excite imaginations with the potentiality of this grand audio-visual experience, we’re going to find new ways of doing it. I would argue that the ‘Casablanca’ syndrome–that cut-and-dry bedtime story for adults–is really finished. It doesn’t really have a place anymore.

That’s not to say the screen is going to disappear. I have a mobile phone in my pocket, and I suspect you have too. And it has a screen.

And here’s another good bit:

We’re now all lateral thinkers, and certainly we are encyclopedists. We are browsers, we are laptop users. So we have to refashion this media to be relevant to contemporary imaginations.

I’m fond of saying that, before too long, going to the cinema will join the ballet and the opera as dated, niche entertainments that appeal to a few. Mr. Greenaway just said it better.


  1. I like going to the cinema, sitting in front of a screen and vegetating. Going to the movies is very much a therapeutic down time activity for me to recollect… I like being told a story and I don’t think I’d enjoy a mind boggling interactive choose your own adventure… not yet atleast =P

    just my $0.02

  2. I think it’s harder for experimental films and films that challenge popular culture to find the cinema wall space. This probably started the same time they started pulling down smaller cinemas and putting up multiplexes.
    Greenaway’s personal vision for the cinematic world is dying, but I don’t think you can say that about cinema in general. But I agree with him about the quality of films that are getting cinema time is getting worse at the expense of smaller films.

  3. Perhaps actually going out to the cinema will become a niche activity. But film or video as a hot medium that immerses you in a visual, auditory and emotional experience, I can’t see that going away. We don’t always want to interact.

  4. Being, apparently, a ‘snobby cineaste’, Greenaway is in fact one of my personal artistic heroes. I have to disagree with Norlinda that his ‘personal vision for the cinematic world is dying’… His personal vision for the medium is in fact what he is predicting – in a way, he is rather hopefully suggesting that cinema is moving towards what he has been working on for years. Draughtsman’s Contract to Prospero’s Books are all experiments in structure and form, then The Pillow Book adds multiple concurrent information streams, and lately his web-based Tulse Luper Suitcases project adds that interactivity. I suspect his problem has always been being too far ahead of what he thinks is the natural progression of the medium. Which certainly never helps to get him into mainstream theatres…

  5. Oh – and having just watched the preview, Nightwatching looks to be his most mainstream work in at least a decade…!

  6. John: That’s why I was specific about ‘going to the cinema’. The movie is now just an ad for the DVD.

    Matthew: Ah, but you’re my favourite snobby cineaste.

  7. My most hated critical meme is the “death of” construction.

    I think everything has died in the last fifty years, according to critics.

    And even if that’s so — and I really think not — I just wish we’d get a little more original. Provocation shouldn’t be based solely on the expression of absolutes.

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