Peter Greenaway Retrospective At The American Cinematheque

Dolores Quintana
5 min readAug 20, 2022

The American Cinematheque is doing yet another service to the Los Angeles community this weekend. For the first time since 1997, the iconoclastic auteur director Peter Greenaway is in Los Angeles for the film series retrospective MOVING PICTURES: THE FILMS AND TEACHINGS OF PETER GREENAWAY. I strongly urge cinema fans and artists to attend as many of these screenings as you can. It is an incaluably valuble window into the mind and work of one of cinema’s premiere filmmakers and artists and a volatile and provocative evening with a master craftsman.

Chris LeMaire, Senior Film Programmer at the American Cinematheque said in an emailed statement, “We are incredibly honored to host one of the most groundbreaking artists of our time, Peter Greenaway. The retrospective represents a few special milestones: it’s the 25th anniversary of Peter’s last visit with the American Cinematheque, the 40th anniversary of the film that launched his career, THE DRAUGHTMAN’S CONTRACT, and also the year that Peter is celebrating his 80th birthday. Over these four days, we are thrilled to explore his decades of innovative work and to hear firsthand from a visionary who continues to challenge and expand our understanding of art.”

He is in town this weekend only and we’re already half way through the program. Greenaway has two lectures scheduled, one of them PETER GREENAWAY’S “FILM & MUSIC” LECTURE / THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT was on Thursday and it was a marvelous treat. The American Cinematheque’s website described it saying, “Filmmaker Peter Greenaway lectures on his collaborations with music composers, such as John Cage, Philip Glass, David Lang, Michael Nyman, Louis Andriessen and Marco Robino. The presentation features excerpts from his feature films and rare shorts.” It was a bit of a double feature as after the lecture and Q&A, Greenaway introduced his film THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, his second film and first that brought him international acclaim.

On Friday night at the Aero, a sold out crowd was witness to the double feature of THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE, AND HER LOVER and the rarely screened THE BABY OF MACON. With this series, every night is an education in cinema. The Cinematheque website described the double feature like so, “Greenaway’s most graphic assault on the senses (and perhaps his most renowned film) THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER (1989) revels in gluttony, violence, torture, and cannibalism, while being playfully structured as a multi-course meal at a fine dining restaurant. And likewise, the sexual violence and shockingly brutal treatment of the quasi-religious figures in THE BABY OF MÂCON (1993) are framed by the play-within-the-narrative structure, a wink to the audience that the events within the film are not real.”. I walked out of that double feature assault of the senses slightly aghast and filled with inspiration. I was greeted by the cinema staff with a congratulatory salute of “You made it.”


Today, at the Los Feliz Three, unsurprisingly in Los Feliz, the series continues with THE GREENAWAY ALPHABET, a documentary on the filmmaker and his daughter Pip made by the artist Saskia Boddeke who is also his wife. There are still tickets available and I will be attending this sure to fascinating documentary.


This is how the Cinematheque describes the film: “Peter Greenaway constructs an alphabet for and with his daughter Pip as a blueprint of his life. The fascinations of filmmaker Peter Greenaway, whose motto is “art is life and life is art,” are captured like butterflies and arranged in an alphabet, a form suiting him perfectly as an encyclopedist. In intimate conversations with his perceptive 16-year-old daughter Pip, we discover the ‘whos, whats and whys’ about Greenaway. Pip’s spontaneous questions penetrate Greenaway to the core, enabling his wife, multimedia artist Saskia Boddeke, to make a deeply personal portrait not only of the artist, but also of Greenaway the father in his battle against time.”


The 7:00 PM screening of A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS is sold out, but the 10:00 PM screening of THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT still has tickets available and will feature an introduction by Greenaway. Here’s the Cinematheque’s synoposis, “Peter Greenaway’s Palme d’Or nominated tragedy THE BELLY OF AN ARCHITECT stars Brian Dennehy as Stourley Kracklite, a distinguished American architect who is invited to Rome with his young, attractive wife (Chloe Webb) to set up an architecture exhibit. His health issues and obsession with his stomach weigh heavily on his wife, who finds amusement and affection with a young Italian (Lambert Wilson), until ultimately both the architect’s marriage and his life collapse. Dennehy’s towering performance anchors this visually stunning portrait of life and death.”


Tomorrow the series returns to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for the second lecture PETER GREENAWAY’S “LANDSCAPE” LECTURE / DROWNING BY NUMBERS. Most importantly, this lecture still has tickets available and will feature Greenaway’s next film WALKING TO PARIS. Here is the Cinematheque’s synopsis, “Filmmaker Peter Greenaway lectures on his filmic fascination with landscape and presents sections of his new, soon-to-be-released film WALKING TO PARIS, as well as clips from THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT, A ZED AND TWO NOUGHTS, and THE FALLS, and his short films “The Reitdiep Journeys,” “Vertical Features Remake,” “Water,” and “Erosion.” The theatre will then screen DROWNING BY NUMBERS which is described by the Cinematheque thusly “Peter Greenaway’s witty and artful DROWNING BY NUMBERS tells the tale of three generations of women, all with the same name — Cissie Colpitts — who share an aversion to their marriages. With the reluctant help of a local coroner, they plot to put an end to their troubles. Greenaway beautifully captures the stunning pastoral landscapes in a film overflowing with metaphors and mathematical riddles. Starring Joan Plowright, Juliet Stevenson and Joely Richardson.”


The series will continue without Greenaway from September 1 through the 21, with screenings of Greenaway films such as PROSPERO’S BOOKS, THE PILLOW BOOK, 8 AND A HALF WOMEN, and EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJAUTO.