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Film and Art: The Meeting of a Painter and a Film Director

Rembrandt vs. Peter Greenaway in <Nightwatching>

 

British director and multimedia artist Peter Greenaway came to Busan International Film Festival last October.  It was the great director’s first visit to Korea.  Since majoring English literature in college, Greenaway nurtured dream of making films while watching European avant garde films of the 1920s.  Starting with the making of short films, he then participated in the production of BBC documentaries, and eventually became world famous in the 1980s with such films as <The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982)> and <The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)>.  Since then, a multimedia film <The Tulse Luper Suitcases> was produced in various formats such as DVD, VJaying, interactive video game, and television.  These were introduced not only at film festivals but also at art galleries as well. 


Greenaway grew up in a strict public school system, and he once said that while reminiscing his childhood, he only began to feel the breath of life when he started taking art class.  The director is known for not forgetting his childhood dream of becoming a painter and for his way of life as a painter.  Greenaway was influenced by structuralism and semiology in the past and the theme of sex and death are the most important elements to him.  Peter Greenaway is famous for being a director who makes experimental films emphasizing art, especially images, in his films instead of using more traditional methods of utilizing the relationship between literature and films.  Eloquent speaker Peter Greenaway, who emphasizes the superiority of arts, or paintings, in the film, released his latest film <Nightwatching> in 2007, which has the same title as the Rembrandt’s painting.

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(c)copyright2007 piff.org


The film <Nightwatching> plays a role of a kind of documentary displaying the stories behind the painting <Nightwatching> done by Rembrandt who was known as the “Painter of Light.”  As a national iconic painter of the Netherlands, Rembrandt was rich and famous in his youth but he died as a poor artist. 

The film is set on time when Rembrandt marries his first wife, Saskia who was also a sound supporter and his second wife, Hendrickje in 1645.  This period was the time considered to be the height of his artistic life.  It was also the time commissioning paintings by general civilian class was becoming trendy as the Netherlands were in its Golden Age in the 17th century with the economical boom.  A kind of a group portrait, <Nightwatching> was commissioned by the civic militia and portrays the commissioners’ relationship of desires and authorities.  The painting gives a lot of details about the commissioners trying to look better than others by bribing and pressuring the artist.  Furthermore, sympathy can be felt for the artist’s reflection trying to express his mental changes in a surrealistic atmosphere as well as for the artist’s effort to portray victims left out by the commissioners within the characters in the painting. 

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(c)copyright2007 piff.org

The film contains more realistic power of description as it expresses not only the individual life story of Rembrandt but also the mental anguishes the artist goes through in the process of creating art.  Perhaps, Rembrandt tried to revive these mental anguishes through watcher’s eyes in the dark part of the canvas which no one can recognize.

Unfortunately, the sound supporter as well as Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia passed away before the completion of then controversial <Nightwatching>.  Since then, Rembrandt spent his time in sorrow and eventually got married to his second wife Hendrickje.  She spent the pathetic parts of Rembrandt’s later years playing a role of a genuine assistant.  The first scene of the film looks as if a play stage with a sailboat-shaped bed located in the center of the stage.  It gives tediousness to the viewers with a long take shot of Rembrandt in a pajama appearing like a lone hero in a monologue, along with a dark lighting and a simple screen composition.  Though the dark lighting continues, the considerations of the director to fix the viewers’ attention on the screen is evident as if viewers are watching the Northern European still life paintings from 17th century.  The use of play stage set up and display of still life painting composition prove that Brecht’s ‘alienation effect’ which the director likes to adopt frequently, and the aesthetic of distancing latently exist in the film.

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(c)copyright2007 piff.org

The director’s love and affection for the art can be felt from the point that he shows many details on the backgrounds of Rembrandt’s painting such as unofficial history of the great painter of the art history.  Living in Amsterdam where Rembrandt Art Museum and Rijks Museum displaying <Nightwatching> are located, Peter Greenaway must have shared so many aesthetic sympathies with the 17th century painter Rembrandt.


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Nightwatching, Rembrandt



written by_ eyeball director IAN

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Posted by EYEBALL_Media Arts Webzine


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