ICFIFC: The Falls (1980)

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Monday, January 12, 2015

ICFIFC: The Falls (1980)

Peter Greenaway, CBE (5 April 1942) is a British film director.  His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Flemish painting in particular.  Common traits in his film are the scenic composition and illumination and the contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death.

In 1962, Greenaway began studies at Walthamstow College of Art, where a fellow student was musician Ian Dury (later cast in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover).  Greenaway trained as a muralist for three years; he made his first film, Death of Sentiment, a churchyard furniture essay filmed in four large London cemeteries.  In 1965, he joined the Central Office of Information (COI), working there fifteen years as a film editor and director.  In that time he created a filmography of experimental films, starting with Train (1966), footage of the last steam trains at Waterloo station, (situated behind the COI), edited to a musique concrète composition.  Tree (1966), is a homage to the embattled tree growing in concrete outside the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank in London.  By the 1970s he was confident and ambitious and made Vertical Features Remake and A Walk Through H.  The former is an examination of various arithmetical editing structures, and the latter is a journey through the maps of a fictitious country.

In 1980, Greenaway delivered The Falls (his first feature-length film) – a mammoth, fantastical, absurdist encyclopedia of flight-associated material all relating to ninety-two victims of what is referred to as the Violent Unknown Event (VUE).

The Falls (1980)

  • Genre: Drama – Sci-Fi
  • Directed: Peter Greenaway
  • Produced: Peter Greenaway
  • Written: Peter Greenaway
  • Starring: Peter Westley, Aad Wirtz, Michael Murray, Lorna Poulter, Patricia Carr, Adam Leys, Mary Howard, Sheila Canfield, Evelyn Owen, Hilary Thompson, Carole Meyer, Monica Hyde, Colleen Thomas, Neil Hopkins, Dewi Thomas
  • Music: Michael Nyman
  • Cinematography:
    • Mike Coles 
    • John Rosenberg
  • Editing: Peter Greenaway
  • Studio: British Film Institute
  • Distributed: British Film Institute
  • Rated: Conflicting Data
  • Release Date:
    • 1980 (UK) 
    • 3 May 1983 (USA)
  • Running Time: 195 minutes
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Language:
    • English 
    • Dutch 
    • French 
    • German

The Falls is a 1980 film directed by Peter Greenaway.  It was Greenaway's first feature-length film after many years making shorts.  It does not have a traditional dramatic narrative; it takes the form of a mock documentary in 92 short parts.

The world has been struck by a mysterious incident called the "Violent Unknown Event" or VUE, which has killed many people and left a great many survivors suffering from a common set of symptoms: mysterious ailments (some appearing to be mutations of evolving into a bird-like form), dreaming of water (categorized by form, such as Category 1, Flight, or Category 3, Waves) and becoming obsessed with birds and flight.  Many of the survivors have been gifted with new languages.  They have also stopped ageing, making them immortal (barring disease or injury).

A directory of these survivors has been compiled, and The Falls is presented as a film version of an excerpt from that directory, corresponding to the 92 entries for persons whose surnames begin with the letters FALL-.  Not all of the 92 entries correspond to a person – some correspond to deleted entries, cross references and other oddities of the administrative process that has produced the directory.  One biography concerns two people – the twin brothers Ipson and Pulat Fallari, who are played (in still photographs) by the Brothers Quay.

In addition to the common VUE symptoms mentioned above, a number of themes run through the film.  Among these are references to a number of bureaucratic organizations including the VUE Commission and the Bird Facilities Investments (a parody of the British Film Institute), the history of manned flight from Daedalus with the suggestion that birds may be responsible for the VUE (and that the film may thus be seen as a sequel to Hitchcock's The Birds), complex debates over the location of the epicenter of the VUE, and repeated references to Tulse Luper.  Luper is a recurring off-stage character in Greenaway's early films, and would eventually appear on film in the epic series The Tulse Luper Suitcases (2003 onwards).

The Falls includes clips of a number of Greenaway's early shorts.  It also anticipates some of his later films: the subject of biography 27, Propine Fallax, is a pseudonym for Cissie Colpitts, the central figure of Drowning by Numbers (1988), while the car accident in biography 28 prefigures that in A Zed and Two Noughts (1985).

The largely formal and deadpan manner of the narration contrasts with the absurdity of the content.

I don’t know what I’m watching but I think I like it!



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