Zeitgeist Films and Kino Lorber unleash two wild and wondrous early features by the British provocateur
Accompanying their recent release of Peter Greenaway’s breakout feature film, The Draughtman’s Contract, Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films have assembled a two-film set of Greenaway’s bookending features–The Falls and A Zed and Two Noughts. These two films wildly diverge in terms of stylistic approach and thematic content–one an ethnological faux documentary over three hours in length cannibalized from the BBC archives, the other a visually striking tableaux of death and decay. Viewed as a pair, though, The Falls and A Zed and Two Noughts reveal themselves as emblematic of how fascinated Greenaway is by both the need for humans to categorize and bring order to a chaotic world, as well as our inherent drive to set such rigorous structures ablaze with our impulsive desires.
The Falls compiles ninety-odd interviews of individuals all seemingly impacted by the Violent Unknown Event (VUE), with the random sampling only determined by the fact that all of their surnames begin with FALL. It’s an oddly whimsical feature compared to the rest of Greenaway’s filmography that I’ve had the pleasure of watching, almost like Look Around You played completely straight. A meandering melange of constructed languages, ornithological obsessions, and delightfully absurd asides, it’s fascinating to see Greenaway conjure up new meanings behind the juxtaposition of unrelated bits of archival footage, with his own shot faux-doc footage spliced in for good measure. For a film whose purpose aims to divine some possible meaning behind an event whose origins and overall impact remain as mysterious by the end of the film as they were at its outset, it’s surprisingly entertaining to see what connections are to be made as names, places, and other elements pop up without warning in this mammoth debut feature.
Following the success of The Draughtsman’s Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts sees Greenaway push himself further into narrative experimentation and rigorous, painterly formalism. The film tracks the bizarre experimentations of a pair of twin zoologists who capture time-lapses of animal decay on an increasing scale after the deaths of their wives. Beginning with plants and fruit and working their way up the food chain, the Deuce twins (Brian & Eric Deacon) push the boundaries of obsession and ethics as they also grow romantically attached to Alba, the newly-amputated survivor of the same accident that killed their spouses. Zed is a gripping film as much as it may repulse–uniting symmetrical ideas of life and death, captivity and freedom, and love and rejection in equal measure, finding as much to love about quixotic animal behavior as there is to condemn. The relationships within the film feel reduced to transactional, primitive bargains on a natural scale–from prostitution outside of animal cages to the mistreatment of animals (and other human beings) for the satisfaction of inner compulsions or intellectual curiosities.
One Greenaway anecdote refers to Cronenberg consulting him about A Zed and Two Noughts before embarking on his own Dead Ringers. Having finally seen both films, it’s hard not to picture Ringers as Cronenberg at his most Greenaway, and conversely Zed as Greenaway at his most Cronenbergian. There’s such a fascination with the inner workings of the human body, with the brothers and their director stripping away the humanity of their subjects bit by bit until they seem little more than organic machines, with wants and desires seeming more like errant bits of programming. Where The Falls is a bloodless, witty jaunt that gives birth to Greenaway’s love of intricate, referential anti-narrative, Zed is a film of gut-churning and wry observations, rich with the painterly detail and cutting satire that would define much of Greenaway’s later films.
Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films present The Falls and A Zed and Two Noughts in 1080p HD AVC encodes in their original aspect ratios–1.66:1 for Zed and 1.37:1 for Falls, respectively. Both features are sourced from restorations undertaken by the BFI National Archive. Both films are presented with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0-Channel Stereo tracks. English subtitles are provided for the feature films.
Both presentations provided deftly represent the lush and layered cinematography throughout Greenaway’s long career. However, the overall picture quality of both films varies mainly due to the advantages or limitations of their respective media. The Falls, presented in Academy ratio for British TV, bears most of its age over the last few decades. If anything, though, the roughshod look fits Greenaway’s overall aesthetic for the ethnological mockumentary. A Zed and Two Noughts has the best transfer of the set, porting over the BFI restoration previously available in the UK in all of its vibrant, contrast-rich splendor. Some light print scratches are present, but otherwise, Greenaway and cinematographer Sacha Vierny’s imagery remains well-preserved and chock-full of intriguing detail.
Audio tracks are serviceable for both pictures. The Falls’ dual-channel track retains more scratch and muffled dialogue due to the nature of the equipment used to make the original recordings for the voiceover that carries throughout the documentary. On Zed, dialogue has more of a primer placed upon it, with Michael Nyman’s score imbued with a bombastic, urgent frenzy that doesn’t overwhelm the witty and macabre scene work. Unlike The Falls, the Zed audio track seems to have undergone further restoration work–with fewer pops and hisses throughout the presentation.
Disc One (A Zed and Two Noughts)
- Commentary: An archival commentary by writer-director Peter Greenaway.
- Video Introduction: An archival introduction by Greenaway discussing the pressures of developing and directing his follow-up to The Draughtsman’s Contract, the diverse styles of lighting that are throughout the film (challenging viewers to determine the list of 26 light origins present in ZOO), and the three kinds of films he believes are present, interwoven into the film as a whole.
- Decay Sequences: Six extracts from the Deuce brothers’ compendiums of animal decay videos. Not for the faint of heart.
- Greenaway Shorts: This disc presents two selected shorts from Greenaway’s early career, H is for House (1976) and A Walk Through H (1978).
- Theatrical Trailer for A Zed and Two Noughts.
Disc Two (The Falls)
- Vertical Features Remake: A radical blend of archival and typographical imagery under the guise of four attempts to “re-edit” documentary footage compiled by artist and recurring fictional Greenaway character Tulse Luper. This 45-minute film provides a glimpse at Greenaway’s creative efforts during his transition into feature-length filmmaking, which began with The Falls.
- Video Introductions to The Falls and Vertical Features Remake, discussing the deliberately oblique and introspective nature of both films, as well as further metatextual elements present that recur across Greenaway’s filmography.
Two Films by Peter Greenaway: A Zed and Two Noughts and The Falls is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films.