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requires a real Eye for Optical Theory...,
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This review is from: The Draughtsman's Contract  [DVD] (DVD)
The Draughtsman's Contract is one of the great British films... a wonderful fusion of baroque 17th century mystery, with pop art sensibilities and a plethora of arcane references to neo-classical literature & art. All of Greenaway's principal trademarks are here, with infidelity, jealousy, revenge and vulgarity acting as the lynchpins of the multi-layered narrative... whilst the lushness of the design and the ornate perfectionism of the mise-en-scene certainly acts as a foundation for later works such as the Cook the Thief his Wife & her Lover, and the more similar parable, 8 ½ Women. It is a film rich in intricate details that make it impossible to forget; with the filmmaker creating a multi-faceted story which encompasses everything from high-tragedy to high camp - sort of Barry Lyndon meets Blackadder - whilst also playing with the notions of self-reference... both in terms of the knowing dialog and in the intricate visual design (Greenaway filling the screen with windows within windows leading in and out of worlds within worlds).
The plot is always unfolding, often subtly, with Greenaway never signposting events; always confident with the subjective power of the film to let his camera drift over the lush-vistas of the English countryside as Michael Nyman's grandiose-Purcell-influenced score resonates beyond the cinematic framework, to give the film an even greater sense of playfulness and frivolity. The acting is fairly standard, though this has never been a great concern for Greenaway, who instead is more interested in playing witty and arcane cinematic tricks with the audience, such as layering clues to the mystery within swathes of seemingly banal dialog and the almost two-dimensional compositions (created to mirror the sketches created by the titular draughtsman). This was a real turning point in Greenaway's career as a filmmaker, as it is his first example of a narrative film, after years of short, conceptual doodlings (c.f. Dear Phone, A Walk Through H, and Water Wrackets), and is a definite precursor to future classics like A Zed & Two Noughts, Drowning By Numbers and The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover.
The disk, released by the BFI, is lovingly created... with a real sense of input from the usually reserved Greenaway. Here we find an extensive director's commentary in which the filmmaker discusses the intellectual complexities of the script, his varying inspirations, and the various narrative layers, as well as the process of shooting his first film in general. There are also archive-deleted scenes, a filmed introduction with Greenaway in the style of Prospero's Books, an interview with Michael Nyman, details of the re-mastering process and a collection of hidden-features. The screen transfer, in it's original 1:66.1 aspect ratio, and the crystal clear sound gives the film a whole new lease of life, allowing us to appreciate Greenaway's evocative framing and subtle use of sound-design all the more. Some have argued that the Draughtsman's Contract - like the majority of Greenaway's back-catalogue - is an elitist film, the type of which can only be enjoyed on a purely artistic level. I would disagree.
The Draughtsman's Contract is one of THE great British films: funny, witty and deeply interesting... in a way that future Greenaway films (or most other UK films for that matter) could only dream of.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 4 Jan 2009 09:09:18 GMT
Margaret Picky says:
In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jan 2009 21:04:05 GMT
Jonathan James Romley says:
I didn't. Go to the DVD page for The Draughtsman's Contract and you will see that this review is there (along with these comments). Amazon has a habit of moving their reviews around. Take it up with them.
I did also review the score as well many years ago.
Posted on 5 Oct 2013 11:58:16 BDT
Dan Smith says:
Liked your review; liked Janet Suzman but the film is unbelievably airy
In reply to an earlier post on 13 Aug 2015 17:12:15 BDT
Jonathan James Romley says:
Thanks Dan. A shame you didn't like the film. All the best.
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