In his crusade against traditional cinema, Peter Greenaway (Newport, 1942) has returned to Mexico, scene of his last film, Eisenstein in Guanajuato (2015), the first part of a future trilogy about the Russian director. After his conference at the fsummer FIL Zocalo of Mexico City, the prolific and baroque British artist -with pictorial training and 70 pieces between films and art installations- talks with EL PAÍS about vertical cinema against horizontal cinema, cinema-painter against film-writer, the night that He slept in the same bed as the Pope, Russian taxi drivers and antiquated critics.
Question. How is the second part of the trilogy going?
Answer. We will start recording in April and it will be called Eisenstein Hollywood. In 1929, Stalin sent him to Hollywood to study sound films. He was there 18 months. Obviously it was not nor is it a place for intellectuals so it was a complete jar. The story is an excuse to talk about his work and launch the question we always ask ourselves: is art cinema or a business? The answer, obviously, is that it has to be both.
P. In Russia did not like the first part very much?
R. Because it showed the homosexuality of Eisenstein and the Russian government is very homophobic. I have been advised not to travel to Russia in one season. It's a shame because my relationship with Moscow was very good, especially after The cook, the thief, his wife and his mistress (1989) It was very popular because it was a demonstration of the dangers of oligarchy and the vulgarization of capitalism. One day a taxi driver quoted me a whole dialogue of the film in Russian.
P. In The battleship Potemkin there is a scene where worms are seen in the rotten food that they give to Russian sailors. The decomposition of matter is one of his obsessions. Did you start there?
R. What fascinates me about the Eisenstein movie is that it is the first truly serious film about politics. The Russian Navy mistreated sailors a lot and the rotten meat is a symbol of that violence. In Guanajuato there is a museum of death: 400 corpses, not so old, from the beginning of the nineteenth century, mummified in a natural way. Einstein was there and was fascinated.
P. And you too
R. Yes, but Guanajuato seemed an extremely conservative city. I have an amazing anecdote. One day I went down to breakfast and in the lounge of the hotel there was a picture of Pope Benedict. They told me that he had stayed at the hotel during his last visit. I kept asking and they told me that in room 112, it was the same room where I was staying, which means that the Pope and I have slept in the same bed.
P. Has that anecdote inspired you for any of his works?
R. Not particularly, but I think it's really fun.
P. How do you value Mexican culture about death?
R. It is very surprising, there are three words that used to terrify everyone: abortion, homosexuality and suicide. In Mexico they are very sensitive issues, perhaps still because of the Catholic past. I think we need to overcome these taboos, and in fact in the last three decades the perception of homosexuality and abortion have changed a lot. I think the new pornographic frontier is death, not sex.
P. Do you still consider that distancing of Brechtian inspiration is the best dramatic tool?
R. It is the best way to deal with emotions. In a plane crash, the most valuable people are doctors and nurses, who are not going to scream historical and create more chaos. I am a painter and the painters look from outside. I do a very static cinema, there are not many camera movements, just to put the look inside the situation.
P. You abhor the predominance of text in the cinema.
R. The cinema that we know has not been more than 125 years of illustrated texts. All films start from a text. And that's literature, not cinema. I'm looking for a cinema-painter, not a film-writer. A non-narrative and multi-screen cinema. Even filmmakers like Tarkovsky, I find them slow, boring and petulant.
P. That is a criticism that your detractors throw at you
R. They say that my cinema is elitist, that it needs a lot of prior information. Well, we live in the information age. All the information that I have access to is also there for everyone. As an ancient Roman poem said, every work of art must be 50% entertainment and 50% pedagogy. The great works for example of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel are Catholic propaganda. He also criticized Eisenstein for that, but the great propaganda is always great art.
P. What would be your propaganda?
R. I think my cinema deals with topics such as evil, but it also has a celebration component, full of ideas and colors. I think my cinema is a sincere celebration of life.
P. You defend technology, but I do not think your movies can really be seen on a phone screen.
R. We need to change attitude, grammar, syntax and vocabulary. Young people do not go to the movies. It does selfies with the phone screen vertically. The cinema is always horizontal. I'm investigating with an Italian producer what I call vertical cinema: 20 Italian filmmakers who are cured by me who will do vertical works. It will be presented at the Berlin festival in 2020.
P. Do you think that is the new taste of the time?
R. Talk to young people …
P. The critics have not been very convinced about their latest experiments
R. Fuck the critics. They have always been irrelevant, outdated and without any sophistication