Holiday-themed movies have become as intrinsic a part of the season as getting drunk on eggnog and passing out under the mistletoe while relatives sneak awkwardly out the door.
But does a film necessarily have to include persecuted Santas and suicide-preventing angels to be a true "Christmas classic?" Before you slip in your well-worn copy of The Bells of St. Mary's or Scrooged, consider some titles from The Pink Smoke's alternative list of movies that touch on the most wonderful time of the year (to varying degrees.) Pinnland Empire's Executive in Charge of Shameless Defenses of Terrence Malick, Marcus Pinn, joins us to discuss a filmmaker with Christmas unexpectedly coursing through his films.
Over the course of these last few months I've gone back and revisited a lot of the writings in this series and I honestly think there needs to be a shift in the Christmas movies that are celebrated, explored & brought up every year on the same ol' redundant Christmas lists. Even the so-called "alternative Christmas lists" that we often see aren't as "alternative" as one might think. For example - when you do a simple google search of "alternative Christmas movies", films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Brazil, Die Hard & Lethal Weapon are the first to pop up. How are those movies "alternative"? They're certainly good movies (some excellent) but I think we can delve a little deeper in to the corners & crevices of Christmas on the big screen.
Basically what I'm trying to say is that I think The Pink Smoke is the most unique platform when it comes holiday-themed movies and John & Chris should be given the keys to the finest repertory theater so that they can program a series on true "alternative Christmas film".
I know I'm guilty of contributing pieces on fairly standard stuff like Carol & Eyes Wide Shut, but I'm also responsible for the words on slightly non-traditional stuff like Rambo: First Blood and the piece you're about to read right now...
I wouldn't consider Peter Greenaway and someone like Shane Black to be equals, but Mr. Greenaway isn't exactly a novice when it comes to setting films on or around Christmas. Besides A Zed & Two Noughts, both Darwin & Tulse Luper Suitcases have (quick) Christmas sequences. Lets also not forget that Sergei Eisenstein's time in Mexico - the subject of Greenaway's most recent film – stretched over Christmas as well (and although it isn't mentioned, Brian Dennehy's "Stourley Kracklite" would have spent his Christmas in Rome given the time frame of The Belly Of An Architect).
But What sets Peter Greenaway apart from other Christmas-themed directors is that Greenaway's vision of the holiday season is depressing & dreary. A Zed & Two Noughts is the least Christmas-y of all his films. Its color palette isn't in tune with your typical Christmas movies. Instead of various shades of reds, greens & other festive colors, A Zed & Two Noughts is darkly lit with a color palette made up of black & various shades of grey.
Sure there's lots of murder & violence in the films of Shane Black but at least he makes things fun. I'm a huge fan of Peter Greenaway's work but he's an acquired taste to say the least. I wouldn't blindly recommend something like A Zed & Two Noughts to just anyone like I would Long Kiss Goodnight, Lethal Weapon or Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (I'm well aware Shane Black didn't direct Long Kiss Goodnight or Lethal Weapon but as the screenwriter his name is kind of synonymous with those films).
Like Michael Haneke, Peter Greenaway is one of the best examples of an artist's work being a true representation of the artist's personality. The cinema of Peter Greenaway is cold, strange, (sometimes) alienating and just all around prickly. Putting aside the fact that I've heard Greenaway described using the aforementioned terms & phrases by people who have actually met him (and will remain nameless) - you can get a sense of the kind of person he is by watching his art history lectures on YouTube. On one hand they're very informative lectures on the subject of the link between art, cinema & mixed media, but on the other hand his lectures make him look like Brian Cox in Adaptation just growling at his audience.
I don't know if this is bigoted or ignorant (or both), but Peter Greenaway, who is British, and most of his movies, play in to some of the generic stereotypes that some people have about older British men that you might find in a kitchen-sink BBC drama - gruff, cold, off-putting and potentially abusive. Basically, someone you wouldn't expect a hug from. He might be the actual Grinch from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas in human form. They kind of look alike. I wouldn't call them twins but I think you can see the facial similarities. Their grins are even similar...
Forget the grinch comparison for a second and just look at his face. All Peter Greenaway needs is a scar on his cheek or a monocle and he'd be one of the greatest Sean Connery-era bond villains ever.
You have to be a true grinch of a person to ruin Christmas and Peter Greenaway always ruins Christmas for the characters in his films. I think it's safe to say Peter Greenaway is a bit anti-Christmas. Take the characters in A Zed & Two Noughts - the movie opens with a double vehicular homicide just before Christmas. And by the end of the movie we're exposed to themes ranging from incestuous undertones to severe mental illness. Ultimately it's a movie about how two twin brothers (“Oswald” & “Oliver”) cope with the loss of their wives by having an affair with a woman who was involved in the very same car accident that killed their wives at the start of the film).
If Peter Greenaway was a Bond villain he would more than likely be an art thief (a large majority of his films are about art or artists) or an art forger (half of his films contain an intentional recreation of a famous classical painting). Art appreciation is one of the key plot points in A Zed & Two Noughts. One of the supporting characters is named Venus De Milo (a little on the nose but whatever) and another character in the film is a surgeon obsessed with amputating humans in an effort to make them look like the paintings of Johannes Vermeer.
A Zed & Two Noughts is web of (possible) influences & visual connections involving everyone from David Cronenberg to the Lynch family.
When you take some of the key elements that make up Dead Ringers and compare them to Greenaway's film you'd find some striking similarities that make for some amazing coincidences. Both films are about twin brothers in the medical field who share romantic feelings for the same women (both sets of twins also don't have a problem being naked around each other either).
It's also quite possible that certain aspects of A Zed & Two Noughts were unintentionally/subconsciously influenced by David Cronenberg's own early science fiction films that were more intellectual than violent & visceral. Oliver & Oswald become more & more obsessed with the idea of decay to the point where it becomes detrimental to them and their work. Long before the idea of Dead Ringers, the idea of twin brothers in the medical field fascinated with decay & medical experiments is right out of Shivers/Rabid-era David Cronenberg.
The Christmas angle isn't even the most fascinating aspect about A Zed & Two Noughts. The synchronicity between twins can be both awesome & creepy. As an only child who always wanted a sibling, you can imagine how heightened my fascination is when it comes to twins (my grandfather on my mother's side was a twin and I have a pair of twin uncles on my father's side).
A few years ago Vice did a story about James Franco's twin sidekicks in Spring Breakers. One of the strangest things about their relationship was how they shared the same woman (this was actually incorporated in to the characters they play in the movie). I was immediately reminded of how Oliver & Oswald openly shared the same woman in A Zed & Two Noughts (the twins in Dead Ringers trick a woman in to believing she's involved with one man so there's a slight difference).
Dead Ringers & Zed also feature characters that are obsessed with performing experimental & unethical procedures on women, and, just to stir the pot even more, the car accident scene in Crash involving Holly Hunter is incredibly similar to the car accident in A Zed & Two Noughts.
David Cronenberg is his own filmmaker. I'm not calling him a copycat. Like almost every filmmaker in existnce I'm sure he's influenced by someone but I doubt he draws inspiration from Peter Greenaway. While they do cross paths thematically from time to time, Cronenberg is more concerned with subjects like science, science-fiction, violence, the crevices of the human body & the human psyche, while Peter Greenaway is slightly more experimental and concerned with art & mixed media (since day one his films have combined animation, live action, stills & stop-motion all within the same film). Plus, David Cronenberg has been making films longer than Peter Greenaway and he found his footing/style long before Peter Greenaway came to prominence. I just think the similarities between certain specific works is too obvious to not mention.
The same could be said about the loose connection between A Zed & Two Noughts & Jennifer Lynch's Boxing Helena. The subplot concerning the surgeons experimental amputations is incredibly similar to … (Julian Sands)'s obsession with amputating … (Sherilyn Fenn) so she can be dependent on him forever. Sure Jennifer's iconic father David Lynch made the short film Amputee over a decade before Greenaway's film but the tone & execution between Boxing Helena & A Zed & Two Noughts leads me to believe Jennifer Lynch visited her local video store for inspiration before developing her feature film debut.
No matter what kind of anti-Christmas Grinch Peter Greenaway may be, it should be noted that he's lived in Holland for quite some time. I don't know about you all but when it comes to upholding the traditional Christmas spirit, the Dutch are some of the first people that come to mind. Sure they still celebrate the black face tradition of "Black Peter" (a Black-faced gentlemen that hands out gifts to little children), but we're not going to go down that road right now. As a black person I think it's offensive and I'm sure a Dutch person thinks it's a harmless tradition. Opinions won't change so let's not focus on that. Let's focus on the fact that Peter Greenaway lives a country that's commonly associated with Christmas and a nice handful of his movies incorporate Christmas in to the plot some how. Coincidence? I think not. Maybe behind that gruff exterior there's a jolly British boy that really loves Christmas.
~ DECEMBER 22, 2016 ~