A Zed & Two Noughts Directed By Peter Greenaway, starring Frances Barber (1985).
Reviewed By Kris Gilpin
After Peter Greenaway's first major film (The Draughtsman's Contract, shot on 16mm), his second feature was 1985's 35mm A Zed & Two Noughts (aka ZOO), a fittingly morbid rumination on death and decay.
It begins with the deaths of two women in a car crash, wives of zoologists (though I never saw any guests visiting the zoo throughout the film) who then become obsessed with the deaths and death in general ("I can't stand the thought of her rotting away!" "The wives of two zoologists die in a car driven by a woman named Buick, after being attacked by a swan on Swan's Way?!"). They later shoot time-lapse films of dead fish, dogs, crocodiles, swans (a swan caused the deadly car crash), etc. rotting away, while also watching old documentary footage on the origins of life.
|OK, Now according to Little Black Sambo, if you run fast enough, I should have some delicious butter for my pancakes|
This film features Greenaway's frank use of full male and female nudity (as with his The Baby of Macon, Prospero's Books, etc. Over 30 years later, Hollytrite still doesn't have the maturity to make films like this!), including the sexy Frances Barber as Venus de Milo, who's kind of like the zoo's resident hooker (?). There are also running references to symmetry: the brothers are twins named Deuce, played by real-life twin actors, the two late wives, pairs of amputated legs, twin newborns.
|Alright now just poop toward the middle so I can tie them in a knot|
Using very few close-ups, Greenaway's beauty photography (his D.P. is Sacha [Greenaway's 8 1/2 Women, The Pillow Book, and Drowning by Numbers] Vierny) utilizes lots of colorful tracking shots. And P.G.'s straight ahead focal point, head-on shots and busy frames always reminded me of Kubrick's camera-image style, though Peter G. offers long takes of smart, humorous, "exaggeratedly realistic" dialogue here, too.
And the lighting in ZOO (a Zed & 2 Naughts--get it? ;-) they based on the painting style of Vermeer. Together they came up with 26 different ways of lighting their scenes, using moonlight, candles, flashing light bulbs, car headlights, starlight, etc.
The beauty music is by Greenaway regular Michael Nyman, whose catchy keyboard-based, repetitious, almost meditative musical themes remind me of my beloved early Philip Glass pieces. Nyman also worked with the director on other films, including the great Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. A separate song which also reoccurs in the film is the kid's classic, "The Teddy Bear's Picnic." (!)
ZOO was narrated by David Attenborough (ha), who would later go on to narrate tons of popular British TV series. It is a slow-paced but always fascinating, offbeat film and well worth seeing, as is all of Peter Greenaway's best work...