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With The Baby 0f Macon, the ever-controversial PETER GREENAWAY has whipped up his wildest
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critical storm yet. Trevor Johnston met him to discuss the artistic intentions behind the shockfest.
y anyone’s standards, Peter Greenaway has to be one of the most remarkable artists to come out of Britain in recent decades. His exhibition at the Venice Biennale earlier this year was so successful they want him back to do another one, and they’ve promised to put a palace at his disposal. He’s just been asked to redesign the lighting for the Seven Fountains of Rome. He’s had his drawings exhibited in the Louvre. He’s been commissioned by the Amsterdam Opera House to create a new work with frequent collaborator, the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, and there are future multi-media projects in Geneva, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Tokyo to be getting on with over the next few years.
None of this, however, prevented the critics — and particularly the British critics — from giving
his latest feature film The Baby 0f Macon a right old cufﬁng when it premiered in the newly- created ‘Masters’ section at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. With this l7th century story of a supposedly miraculous infant and the terrible punishment meted out to the young woman instrumental in exciting a good deal of spurious and highly profitable religious fervour around the child, Greenaway, it was largely felt, had gone too far. Why did there have to be so much gynaecological probing? Why did the female protagonist have to be raped over three hundred times? Why did The Baby Of Macon itself have to be ripped to pieces by an angry mob? From the reports that came back from the Croisette, you’d think the film was a virtual bloodbath unredeemed by any kind of artistic merit, a reaction so virulent even Greenaway himself admits to have been rather shocked by it.
In the event, it would be foolish for any cn'tic to give the film the soft-sell, but in looking beyond the visceral horrors of the piece’s grisly superficial details, it is at least possible to give Greenaway his due in speaking up for his work. The film forms the mid-section of a trilogy of films set in the l7th century — ‘the extraordinary hundred years when most of the ideas that have since shaped out civilisation were set on course,’ he explains — which commenced with Pmspem’s Books (‘the uses and abuses of knowledge’), continues here (‘the uses and abuses of religious iconography’) and will conclude with the ﬁlm he’s due to shoot in Holland this winter, Augsbergensfeldt (‘the uses and abuses of war and militarism, another pretty gn'm movie’).
From such a point in history, the connections with a recent controversial Benetton advertising
8 The List 10—23 September 1993