Features

Peter Greenaway, Sacha Vierny, Michael Nyman, Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs

Peter Greenaway, Sacha Vierny, Michael Nyman, Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs

Peter Greenaway’s distinctive cinematographic signature looks and sounds something like the following: a tracking shot, locked irrevocably onto one or multiple actors as they walk forward, lulls with extraordinary composure from left-to-right. The background is dense with activity, with paintings, props, or other actors, some of them dancing rhythmically, and dressed in some risqué fashion. The score underlines the shot’s rhythm, pounding in an urgent staccato as if echoing the focus’ rigid footsteps. This image will be sustained for several moments – in some cases, near ten minutes – without interruption.

A sequence like this is exampled in each of Greenaway’s films, often numerously. This conceives an idea of Greenaway’s visual tactics, but what more appropriately distinguishes the British filmmaker are his collaborations. For measure, the aforementioned sequence is almost equally characteristic of the work of cinematographer Sacha Vierny, art direction team Ben van Os and Jan Roelfs, and composer Michael Nyman. Absent these collaborators – the departure of Michael Nyman (Prospero’s Books would be their final collaboration, in 1991) and the death of Sacha Vierny (in 2001; 8 1/2 Women was the last film he lensed for Greenway) – Greenaway’s cinematic work has diminished in visuals and sound, and has largely given way to the director’s multifarious array of projects in other media.1

In conjunction with our forthcoming screening of Greenaway’s 1989 masterpiece, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, we’ll be considering the British expatriate’s collaborations with the aforesaid crew, as well as some of his formative early work:

Introduction by Rumsey Taylor


  1. I know less of the nature of van Os and Roefs’ separation with Greenaway, but The Baby of Mâcon, 1993, would be their final collaboration
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