Not for the first time, I recently felt like an ignoramus. I felt like an ignoramus because I hadn’t heard of someone. There are so many people out there, and I seem to have heard of so few of them.
The person I hadn’t heard of was esteemed film director Peter Greenaway, the man responsible for The Draughtsman’s Contract and Drowning by Numbers. A friend suggested we see The Draughtsman’s Contract at Rice University, and thinking I would partially fill my shameful knowledge gap, I agreed. The problem was, after seeing the film, I felt more baffled than ever. As we walked over to Valhalla for a beer, I tried to get my friend to explain the plot – yes, the basic plot - to me. It soon became apparent that my friend, a self-professed Greenaway fan, didn’t really get the plot either, which made me feel better.
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But you know what really would have made me feel better? If I’d been able to say something along the lines of, “Greenaway’s graphic, allegorical films are visibly influenced by fine art. Layer upon layer, frame within frame, they are virtuosic and dazzling, mazes of meaning overloaded with symbols and metaphors.” All I would have needed was my copy of 501 Movie Directors, the new book by the creators of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. This handy guide has a comprehensive cheat sheet on just about every filmmaker you’d want to know about. Unfortunately, it just arrived on my desk. – Cathy Matusow