Peter Greenaway's A TV Dante: The Inferno DVD
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Directed by Peter Greenaway, Tom Phillips
Produced in 1990
Main Language - English
Countries & Regions - British Film
With its fleshy tableaux and frames within frames, Peter Greenaway's adaptation of Dante's work stretched the medium of TV to its limits says Nick Riddle. John Gielgud and Bob Peck star.
Around the time of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Peter Greenaway collaborated with artist Tom Phillips to turn the first eight cantos of Dante’s Inferno into a video performance, complete with onscreen footnotes from Phillips, David Attenborough and others.
Bob Peck and John Gielgud anchor the piece in its textual origins, reciting Dante’s lines to camera. Meanwhile all hell breaks out around them, as Greenaway and Phillips stretch the medium to its limits (and it had plenty back in 1989): frames proliferate within frames, containing archive footage (featuring everything from leopards to Mussolini) that illuminates or resonates with the spoken text.
The region’s inhabitants are represented by several platoons of naked extras who writhe and suffer gamely in fleshy tableaux - this is Greenaway, after all. It’s all tremendously atmospheric, and in its artful layering of information it anticipates the online environment that we now take for granted. But best of all, we get to watch stately, no-frills performances by Gielgud and Peck - now, alas, both shades themselves.
Nick Riddle on 4th May 2011
Author of 62 reviews
Peter Greenaway won the Prix Italia for his A TV Dante, an ambitious project to produce a video version of Dante's Inferno. Greenaway was first inspired by artist Tom Phillips' illustrated translation of the work and they collaborated on the first eight Cantos of the work, using all the state-of-the-art technological resources available to the electronic media at the time.
The eight Cantos of the film are not conventionally dramatised, rather they are illuminated with layered and juxtaposed imagery and a soundtrack which comments, counterpoints and clarifies. There are visual footnotes delivered by relevant expert authorities, and these often perform the function of narration as well as illustration. The result is a dazzling video journey through Dante's underworld.
The press was unanimous in welcoming their bold new approach to the art of television when A TV Dante was transmitted on Channel 4 in 1990: 'That rare and beautiful thing, an attempt to do something new with the medium,' said The Observer; 'Nothing quite like it has been seen on television before. The extraordinary, multi-layered images on the screen are not so much state-of-the-art video but the state after that' (The Times), and 'A dazzling and inventive piece of video-image making ... an eye-stitching use of television.' (The Guardian)
Also includes M is for Man, Music, Mozart (Greenaway, 1991). Using advanced video post-production techniques of its day, this music theatre film is set in a 16th century anatomy theatre. With visual references to Hogarth, Vesalius and Arcimboldo, it explores the mysteries of the central letter of the alphabet: M, and the creation of man, music and Mozart. This incarnation of man and Mozart is taken by dancer Ben Craft, with texts by Vesalius, Schultz and Eisenstein sung by jazz singer Astrid Seriese, to Louis Andriessen's powerful jazz/funk music performed by the Dutch ensemble, De Volharding.
Publisher: Digital Classics
Length: 88 mins
Format: DVD Colour
Released: 18th April 2011
Cat No: 1115DC
- M is for Man, Music, Mozart (Greenaway, 1991)