As the lights went up in Kardomah 94, I turned to the group to my left and stared at them. I raised my hands, palms upwards beseeching them for a response. It came in the form of a bemused half-smile, I did a half-smile back. I turned my head to an older gentleman, who had been sat behind me all the while and offered him a similar gesture, accompanied by the now slightly wide-eyed look. He returned my look with a similar one of his own. I made some droll comment about having not eaten yet.
It is always good to see something new, whether you like it or not it informs your taste. I like surprises and the newly devised format of Heads Up Introducing… delivers just that. A simple idea that allows a cultural, or indeed cultured guest, to choose a cinematic treat to be screened that very night. A film that has influenced them personally, professionally or both; a film not of the blockbuster variety and perhaps not an obvious choice. The chosen film remains secret until the moment of the announcement then the audience watch the chosen film.
The inaugural guest for this format was Martin Green from off of that City of Culture. After a short discussion about films from his past with Festival Producer Andrew Pearson, he did introduce the film ‘The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover‘ directed by Peter Greenaway.
I am not going to attempt to review the film at any great length, to pick out use of metaphor, explore symbolism: attempt to dissect the movie. I will say the haunting persistence of the musical score by Michael Nyman, was made all the more by the sound reproduction in the venue, achieved by Matt Lund. I could hear all the hubbub, from the adjoining tables in the restaurant scenes. Some sort of quadraphonic speaker set up I suspect, delivering a 360 degree aural experience.
The sound was gorgeous, the set design was lavish. The costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier are dramatic, ultra sexy, stylised chic. I just adored the way Helen Mirren’s outfit – when she was wearing one – changed to match the colour of the decor as she left the table. I enjoyed spotting stars of stage and screen in the cast, a young Tim Roth in leather trousers looking like death warmed up throughout. Trigger from Only Fools and a young Alex Kingston from ER all to be seen in the minor roles. A cameo appearance by Ian Dury and an absolute tour de-force by, to my eyes, an unrecognisable Michael Gambon. I think of him playing kindly old gents, not grotesque gargantuans of virility, venom and violence. Astounding. Thoroughly unpleasant to watch but watch you do.
The picture revels in Jacobean sensibilities of revenge and tragedy, it drips from every angle with gothic gloss and allure: a visual feast of extreme beauty and extreme ugliness. The violence within the film is brutal, the undercurrent of diabolical abuse, is covered over by the wise cracks and wit. I have to admit my heart was going, as the action pitched along, full tilt, relentless… just when you think you have reached the climax, Greenaway comes back for more and yet more.
Interestingly about half the audience hadn’t seen the film before, so despite being over two decades on and despite being hailed as the most controversial film of that decade, it isn’t as well-known as it might be. So I won’t be divulging all the ins and outs but I am grateful to Martin for having shared his passion for this film. He needn’t have worried about The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover having maybe lost something in the intervening years… it remains a twisted timeless and undoubtedly now, an unforgettable, masterpiece of cinematic and theatrical invention.
Find this film. Watch this film.