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“8 1/2 Women”: Peter Greenaway Interview

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., May 5, 2000 — Any actor cast in a Peter Greenaway film knows one thing for certain: There won’t be much of a wardrobe budget.

That’s because the 58-year-old director of fare such as “The Pillow Book” and “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover” believes in celebrating the human body in all its well, natural glory. It’s become a staple that characters in Greenaway films will be seen talking, frolicking and contemplating in the nude.

“I think I probably accrued for myself a certain sort of reputation,” says Greenaway, who was a painter before he became director. “That if an actor or actress decides to sign with me, they sign a certain sort of contract” that they will spend part of the film unclothed.

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It’s certainly true with his latest film, “8 1/2 Women,” which follows the fantasies of a father and son brought to reality. After Philip (John Standing) loses his wife, his son Storey (Matthew Delamere) attempts to cheer him up by taking him to see Federico Fellini’s classic film “8 1/2.” Philip and Storey are inspired by the movie to recruit a number of young women to live at their estate, creating a sort of private bordello.

Greenaway, who also wrote the film, first saw “8 1/2” when he was a film student.

“Here was a filmmaker who had extraordinary vision and imagination. I didn’t always agree with his politics … the later of his films, I think, were particularly unstructured — and I was very keen on tight structure. But he was a man who often made some of the most extraordinary images that reverberated in your head for many, many, many months and years afterwards,” he said.

Like Fellini, Greenaway’s technique is more visual art than anything else. In Greenaway’s case, however, his “visuals” feature a lot of flesh, from the actresses who make up the brood of “8 1/2 Women” — Polly Walker, Toni Collette, Amanda Plummer and Shizuka Inoh among them — to the actors who run the household. But the film isn’t sex-oriented; very little is actually shown.

“I suppose you ought to address ‘What is the condition of nudity?'” Greenaway muses. “In contemporary western, Hollywood, Calif.-based cinema, it’s basically people taking their clothes off as a prelude to sex. And we know from our own physicality we exist in a world in which nudity is not always predicated to sex.

“My background was as a painter,” he goes on to explain. “And the idea of the male and female nude in all its sizes and shapes, not just in 16- to 24-year-old Californian female, has always been a part of the phenomenon of the events of life. And I … think if we move the body out of the frame, then our curiosity and our interest and our fascination plummet.”

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“8 1/2 Women” opens in limited release May 26.

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