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Friday 22 August 2014

Movies: Goltzius and the Pelican Company

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Padraic McKiernan and Aine O'Connor

Published 14/07/2014 | 02:30

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Goltzius and the Pelican Company

The first time I remember being full-on stunned by the visual effect of a film was in 1989, in the old Light House cinema on Abbey Street in Dublin, at a screening of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. The film's creator, Peter Greenaway, who was there that night, has long held that cinema is too wordy, that it's primarily a visual medium. Yet his latest creation, Goltzius and the Pelican Company, while as visually exquisite as Greenaway's work always is, is perhaps his wordiest to date. Indeed, the accented English is subtitled so we won't miss any words.

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Goltzius was a Dutch engraver in the late 16th Century, and in this dramatisation Greenaway has Goltzius (a brilliant Ramsey Nasr) narrate the time he took his troop of actors to Italy to persuade the Margrave (F. Murray Abraham, also very good) to fund the purchase and upkeep of a printing press.

In the name of biblical analysis they re-enact, as graphically as possible, assorted old testament sins, including incest, seduction of the young and prostitution, for, as Goltzius says, "New technology must get into bed with lechery." He refers to printing, but the point is true of all media.

The level of nudity and sex is almost a parody of Greenaway's previous work, but while it sometimes, over its two-hour running time, gets obtuse, it makes some strong arguments about sex and religion and free speech. I really enjoyed what is an excellent, and beautiful, serving of what is admittedly an acquired taste.


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