Vertical Features Remake / A Walk Through H (1978)

Ah, Greenaway. There’s a distinct possibility that I’ve not watched anything by uncle Pete since my university days; one of my fellow travellers, Charles, was a major Greenaway nut, and it was thanks to him I latched onto Greenaway and saw the majority of his features (still never seen The Falls though) plus a few assorted shorts… but university finished 15 years ago, and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his films, new or old, since then until tonight when I dusted off a couple of his earlier works (both from 1978) that I’d never seen and which I’d found on Ubuweb…

Vertical Features Remake: Interesting to see IMDB actually classes this as “comedy”, which is not inaccurate, of course. but it’s a very abstract kind of comedy taking aim at a very particular target, i.e. 1970s structural film… Greenaway’s characterised it as a “celebration-criticism”, which seems about right, in that it manages to be a decent structural film in its own right—to some extent it’s about the possibilities of assembling filmic material and the various ways in which it can be done using structural method—while also providing a narky parody of it as well… Greenaway says at that link that the “academic disputes” linking the different attempts at remaking the film are the probable highlight of the film, and he has a good point, I think; there’s a line about the film being made purely as an academic film-making exercise that made me giggle. Like I said, it is funny, but it’s that sort of humour; if you’re not already familiar with Greenaway and at least the idea of structural film, it’s probably not going to be as obviously laugh out loud.

A Walk Through H: IMDB doesn’t call this one comedy as such, although there’s quite an amount of humour in it; it has an essentially absurdist streak like the above film, but it’s presented in a vastly different manner. This blog offers another quote from Greenaway: “The film is on the journey a soul takes at the moment of death, to whatever other place it ends up – H being either Heaven or Hell. I devised 92 maps to help this particular character get there.” All of which explains what it’s about better than I probably could… so the film’s narrator (voiced by Colin Cantlie, who also narrated VFR) takes us on a somewhat abstract (oh god/dess not that word again) journey through/to the mysterious land of H, whatever exactly it may be, across a series of 92 maps and recounting in perfectly deadpan manner the somewhat bizarre manner in which those maps were produced and collected (a remarkable number of them involving theft of some sort), adding up to an often hilariously precise catalogue of events. It’s a somewhat denser film than VFR, mostly on account of the fairly active soundtrack (Cantlie’s detailed narration and Michael Nyman’s constant score), and I don’t think I liked it as much as the other film—the idea is good but I don’t think it quite extends to a forty-minute film—but it’s still good.

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One thought on “Vertical Features Remake / A Walk Through H (1978)

  1. Joel Bocko November 6, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    A Walk Through H is one of my favorite films of all time, though Vertical Features Remake is great too. I adore the Greenaway shorts – the features are fascinating but the shorts feel somewhere more, I dunno, complete.

    I wrote about A Walk Through H here: http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2011/12/avant-garde-whats-in-name.html (ironically in that same series, I had a post a few weeks earlier on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as you do here).

    Personally, I feel comfortable saying that I enjoy watching Greenaway’s mock-ups of structural films much more than the structuralist films of, say, Frampton or Snow themselves…

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