Peter Greenaway is world-renowned for making films that are "difficult,"
so as not to say arcane. This one was about a girl who painted the bodies
of her lovers with Chinese and Japanese ideograms. I really had only one
question, so I didn't get to the press conference until about a half-hour
As I entered the room from the front doors that are to the side of the stage
where the famous actors and directors all sit, I could tell that the room
was tense. It wasn't the loosy-goosy atmosphere of most Cannes press conferences
where a woman stands up and announces herself, "Lea Bartholomew, MTV
Beirut" before stating her question.
As I subsequently found out, an American journalist had asked Peter Greenaway
about the use of nudity in the movie - both female and male. Greenaway
proceeded to bite the poor guy's head off - beginning, "Only an American
could ask such a stupid question!" This sort of thing always puts
everybody else off, and the press conference moderator, French critic Michel
Ciment, seemed to be asking all the questions. This is where I came in....
Greenaway: In 996 AD in Japan, a woman wrote a kind of diary called a Pillow
Book in which she wrote her dreams and whatever....I came across such a
book at the age of 16. It was a celebrated translation. I believe Coleridge
Karen Jaehne: Excuse me if this question has been asked earlier, but I must
confess that I feel like I missed half the movie, since I cannot read Japanese
or Chinese ideograms. And the story seems to be hidden in what she inscribes
on her lovers' bodies. But you are so well known for your detailed research
and your fastidious control over every aspect of your films, how did you
learn Japanese and Chinese? Could you talk to us a bit about the process
of learning those languages in order to use them visually?
Peter Greenaway: Well, that's very interesting, but I guess I must say I
don't know any of these languages. However, I had an army of calligraphers
to do the work, and I trusted them absolutely. Otherwise, I would never
have made it.
Karen Jaehne: That's a lot of trust.
And frankly, dear reader, I can't help but think that, given Mr. Greenaway's
contentious personality, one of that army of calligraphers wrote, "Screw
you" in Japanese on somebody's butt.