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For Greenaway, movies are not a spectator sport


PETER Greenaway, director and writer of "Prospero's Books," a perplexing version of Shakespeare's "The Tempest," was not amused when he was told that the distributors of his new film were thinking of including a synopsis of the plot.

"That's news to me," he said. "They haven't asked me about it, and if they were to ask me, I'd say absolutely not. That would make me very angry, indeed, if they were to do that.

"At one point, they were considering adding subtitles for distribution in America, and that would have been appalling," he said.

Greenaway is the man who did "The Belly of an Architect" (1987) and, in 1989, "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her lover." The first was rather linear in structure. The second was a mind boggler, as dense as it was repellent, so natu

rally, it gave rise to controversy, something that doesn't scare Greenaway. You might even say he courts controversy.

He is quoted as saying (and freely owns up to it) that "It is a terrible admission to make, but I do feel for me, that cinema has somehow ceased to be a spectator sport. I get tremendous excitement out of making it rather than out of watching it."

Brian Dennehy appeared in "Belly of an Architect," a 1987 drama that takes place in Rome during a convention attended by architects.

"He wanted to do the film," said Greenaway, who said the movie cost $1,700,000. "I think he thought it was a role he could get his teeth into, and I suppose he wanted to work with this eccentric Englishman who has the effrontery to make movies the way he chooses."

There is abundant nudity in "Prospero's Books." Actually, there is hardly one frame in which the nude form, male and female, is not in evidence.

Europeans haven't made much of it, but Americans have, and Greenaway has an answer to that.

"It's an American obsession," he said. "They are so up tight, and there is such hypocrisy. The Japanese are just as bad. They seem to have these double standards. They get very nervous about nudity on the screen, about pubic hair, then they have those houses where you can go and have anything done to you.

"I included all that nudity because I wanted to create a Titian landscape," said Greenaway. "Classical nudes are part of that landscape. I also wanted to explore the physicality of the body."

There was, in "The Cook," a boyish character who wore a blond wig, was semi-nude, frequently stood about and sang in a high monotonous voice. "Prospero's Books" includes a similar character, someone who looks like a boy and sings, sings, sings, throughout.

"I used him in both films because I like the music he sings," said Greenaway. "It serves as a kind of theme. And," he added, "he is no little boy. He is actually a 25-year-old man."

Greenaway has been to the United States. "Do you know, that on one occasion, at a press conference, a woman stood up and asked, in very offended tone, what my mother thought of my work, specifically, the emphasis on nudity?" he said.

"Unfortunately, my mother died 10 years ago, so she didn't know me as a film maker."

Told that so many critics have described "Prospero's Books" as a visual rather than an intellectual feast, Greenaway said, "You hear that from those people who have some knowledge of the plot," he said. "I would like to be as cathartic as I can, rather than do a boring, psychological drama. While others race ahead, our cinema limps behind."

Greenaway is 49. He hopes to continue doing film. "I hope I can intrigue and entertain you again," he said.

"Prospero's Books" is at the Rotunda.

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