Greenaway: The Shorts
It feels like damning with faint praise to say that the best thing in this package of six shorts was the 16 minute special feature of Greenaway providing a commentary on his early work and the six shorts in particular. Even after hearing him talk about it, I'm not sure I really appreciate the shorts on the whole, but it does do a good job providing some context of what he was doing here. To the degree that I have any appreciation of "art," it comes from the insight into its creation. In a way I suppose this ties back in to my preference for storytelling in film, to the degree that more avant garde stuff does not engage in storytelling, if I can hear the story of its creation, I get that itch scratched. Anyway, I am going to discuss the shorts in the order I liked them rather than chronological.
Windows (1975) 3/5
This one has the advantage of being the shortest short, at four minutes. It combines images of windows (naturally) with a discussion of a group of individuals who had died from falling out of windows, as broken down by age, profession and cause of fall. Apparently this was an abstract analogy to mysterious deaths in apartheid South Africa, which I'm not sure anyone would get from the short itself, but there is a certain darkly humorous tone to the narration here.
H Is For House (1973) 2/5
This is kind of an avant garde take on Sesame Street. You have video (of Greenaway's family it seems) at a country house and the narration focuses on doing little alphabet games, especially focusing on words starting with H. Almost pushes the patience at 10 minutes but it has a certain adorable aspect of it.
Dear Phone (1977) 2/5
This one does go on rather too long...the video starts by showing written text of the narration before flashing through random pictures of phone boxes. The stories are curious tales involving phoning in one manner or another. Some of them are rather absurd and amusing, but again, with this kind of material, less is often more.
Water Wrackets (1975) 1/5
Again the video is not directly connected to the narration but rather provides a suggestive backdrop. In this case we are shown scenes of water in nature while hearing about some mythical community constructing a set of lakes. The story was a bit hard to follow or get much out of.
Intervals (1969) 1/5
This film is pretty obnoxious in its editing (and it shows the video sequence three times over with changing narration), partly a product of the primitive camera/film being used that didn't allow very long takes (as in less than a minute). The editing is almost strobe like at times. There is one particularly neat shot where there are two different shots of people walking by the same location that are intercut. This has a very interesting visual effect.
A Walk Through H (1978) 1/5
This one loses out in part because it is by far the longest at 40 minutes. It also was the last one shown so I was losing my patience enough as it was. Basically we are shown a series of "maps" that are hung around the walls. It's another case where the narration is clearly in English; I understand all the words individually, but put together it just seems like gibberish.
Greenaway hints in his commentary that invariably the early film is indicative of certain stylistic choices that will repeat themselves in future films, but having seen two Greenaway films from the 90s, I'm glad this is not heavily indicative, though even so I think I can see some connections. Another thing he discussed was the potential impossibility of making an entertaining avant garde without the benefit of actors/people in more traditional cinema and the emotional connection they tend to endear. Probably the best I can say about this set of films is that at the end of the day I'm not overly disappointed by them or feeling like I wasted my time, even though I didn't really find much to love.