Peter Greenaway

Who knew that the film artist Peter Greenaway was even bothered about something as political as the nuclear threat? Whenever I meet this arrogant Brit, he is scolding people for their lack of ethical-visual understanding. As when he exclaimed, to an auditorium of 1,000 in Amsterdam, that almost everyone is visually illiterate! Greenaway frequently insults people, as in Nyon in April, where he in an old fashioned, or too contemporary manner, performed the same presentation to as many, again arrogant and too simplistic about film’s status quo: «Film is almost dead! » Today’s film industry «merely duplicates what is in the book stores! » You have to stop writing stories and instead make use of film’s new technological or digital possibilities. Originally an artist, something Greenaway repeatedly emphasises – it is more about what images we remember rather than the story itself.

This can also be seen in the short film Atomic Bombs on the Planet Earth (13 mins, 2011, see for excerpts), which Greenaway introduced during his April master class at the Visions du Reel documentary film festival in Switzerland. He frequently name drops French Jean-Luc Godard, which makes me recall that I once interviewed him at Trondheim’s Kosmorama; I mention Godard, whom he referred to in several texts. Greenaway glares up at me from the deep sofa he is buried in, to where I am sitting on a chair opposite. Bends his head backwards, stares at me from along his hooter – looks me straight up and down, and exclaims: «Godard! Why mention him? You sound like a student! » Well, I had already been at the helm of Morgenbladet for a decade, and I did pose relevant questions.

Mushroom clouds. Here we are in Nyon and Godard is yet again his idol. He pulls out the quotation «film is truth 24 times per second» – meaning the number of reality images, to which the audience’s documentary makers nod approvingly. Well. Atomic Bombs on the Planet Earth uses somewhat singular images, or rather short video clips which are fixed in varying sequences of 4-25 videos simultaneously shown on the screen. There are film excerpts from a series of nuclear tests explosions – as in the Bikini Atolls (see John Pilger’s article elsewhere), Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Does anyone realise that there have been over 2,000 nuclear missile test explosions in the fifty years post the Hiroshima-bomb? Greenaway hints that the same amount may have occurred «on the sly» in the next 25 years until today. These could of course be more of a symbolic deterrent than actual «test explosions». Watching Greenaway present these in continuous succession for 13 minutes is hard to stomach. The soundscape is deafening, and up to 25 mushroom clouds enter as documentation. In the background we hear Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) repeat «You people cried» or «Most people were silent».

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