Roderick Conway Morris talks to Peter Greenaway about creating a ‘painting with a soundtrack’
Peter Greenaway is standing against the backdrop of Paolo Veronese’s enormous ‘The Wedding at Cana’ in the Palladian refectory of the Venetian monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore and is in rhetorical mode: ‘When we put art and cinema in the balance, what do we have? At least 8,000 years of painting and a miserable 114 years or so of cinema. Nothing in cinema has not already been essayed in still images in painting at one time or another. So I think it a very good idea to have a dialogue between painting and cinema.’
The occasion is a preview of The Wedding at Cana, subtitled A Vision by Peter Greenaway, the director’s latest excursion into what might be called avant-garde sacred theatre. It opened in the same week as the Venice Biennale and, bringing to a nearly 450-year-old painting 21st-century cinematic techniques, music, lighting and dizzying digital devices, emerged as the most stimulating installation of the whole event.
‘“The Wedding” is an ideal picture for a dialogue between film and painting, not least because its dimensions are the size of a cinema screen and it has a wealth of characters. Some reckon there are 134 of them in the canvas, but we’ve counted 126, and we’ve given them all lines of dialogue. So what we’ve created is essentially a painting with a soundtrack,’ said Greenaway.
‘But what language are these people speaking? The setting, the clothes, the architecture are Venetian, so they’re certainly not speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, Hellenic Greek or Latin. They must be speaking Veronese’s own language: Venetian. So, we’ve made the soundtrack in Venetian and English.’
Welsh-born Greenaway studied art and began life as a painter.