He has been among the most exciting arthouse film-makers of his generation. But the British film director Peter Greenaway caused a stir at Korea's Pusan film festival yesterday by launching an attack on modern cinema and claiming the medium's days are numbered.
"If you shoot a dinosaur in the brain on Monday, it's tail is still waggling on Friday. Cinema is brain dead," said Greenaway, who has shocked and delighted audiences, often simultaneously, with movies such as The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Prospero's Books.
"Cinema's death date was 31 September 1983, when the remote-control zapper was introduced to the living room, because now cinema has to be interactive, multi-media art," he told a director's masterclass.
It should be noted that September has 30 days.
Known for his uncompromising views of art, the universe and everything in between, Greenaway said that new film-makers should look instead at new, interactive forms. He was in Pusan to promote his film Nightwatching, which is based on a period in Rembrandt's life.
There were gasps among film students when he took aim at some of the biggest names. "Here's a real provocation: [US video artist] Bill Viola is worth 10 Martin Scorseses. Scorsese is old-fashioned and is making the same films that [the pioneering director] DW Griffiths was making early last century," he said.
He added that cinema should not be "a playground for Sharon Stone". "Cinema is wasted on cinema – most cinema is bedtime stories for adults," he said.
Warning his audience that he liked a fight, Greenaway dismissed a comment by one Westerner in the audience, who said his films were proof that cinema was very much alive, describing her remarks as "not intelligent" and "humbug". Earlier, he said a line in Welsh, perplexing the Korean translators. "Every medium has to be redeveloped, otherwise we would still be looking at cave paintings... New electronic film-making means the potential for expanding the notions of cinema has become very rich indeed."
The generation "who grew up with laptops in their cots" wanted greater participation and "to do away with the elitism of Hollywood", replacing it with a cinema based on image rather than text. "We're still illustrating Jane Austen novels – what a waste of time," he said.
Greenaway trained as a painter, and considered cinema a "pathetic adjunct" to that medium. His visually rich, difficult movies, often based on paintings or visual images, have earned him accusations of intellectual snobbery but he said that he firmly believed the changes in how films were made would ultimately be acceptable to a wider audience. He pointed to controversy when the first Star Wars movie came out, how people felt it was too fast and too difficult to understand, but how the way it was made had entered the language of film.
"We're obliged to look at new media... it's exciting and stimulating, and I believe we will have an interactive cinema which will make Star Wars look like a 16th-century lantern lecture," Greenaway said.
He said the last film-makers were probably the Germans, including Volker Schloendorff, who is also attending the festival. "Thirty-five years of silent cinema is gone, no one looks at it anymore. This will happen to the rest of cinema. Cinema is dead."
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