THE TULSE LUPER SUITCASES: THE MOAB STORY
THE TULSE LUPER SUITCASES: A LIFE IN 16 PARTS
The Tulse Luper Suitcases is part of a massively ambitious undertaking on Greenaways part. The Moab Story (although that subtitle is never mentioned on the credits) is not merely one film but the first chapter of a work that was released in three parts. Furthermore, Greenaway at one point planned that the films would be followed by a tv series and a total of 92 dvds, cd-roms and books (92, being the atomic number of uranium, has a repeated significance throughout this and other Greenaway). It is a mind-boggling conception. The only other works to have emerged so far were the other films, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 2: From Vaux to the Sea (2004) and The Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 3: From Sark to the Finish (2004), as well as an edited down version of the saga, A Life in Suitcases (2005), as well as two books, a website and an internet game.
It could be observed that from around 1995 onwards Peter Greenaway has increasingly become a director who has abandoned narrative and most other considerations. His films now seem like they play exclusively to Greenaway fans. It is hard, for instance, to imagine audiences coming to an appreciation of Greenaway after watching The Tulse Luper Suitcases. Certainly, The Moab Story was greeted with some incredibly negative reviews when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003 and received a mixed reception the world over, not even being granted a proper arthouse release. The two subsequent films had even more of a struggle finding audiences.
The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story is not entirely unrewarding but is a difficult film to like. It is certainly the ultimate Peter Greenaway film and this may well be its downfall. While earlier Greenaway films paid more attention to plot, with the games and rituals playing around the side, The Tulse Luper Suitcases: The Moab Story is all game. Greenaway goes crazy with his lists. We gets lists everywhere Lupers 92 suitcases, with Greenaway frequently breaking away to list all of the contents of each suitcase; pop-up lists numbering and naming every character as they appear; numbers appearing on the screen throughout to count all the blows that Luper receives every time he is hit or kicked. From Prosperos Books onwards, Greenaway has started to use the screen more in a multi-media sense and The Moab Story goes visually mad with pop-ups offering information, multiple screens and numerous points-of-view of people being interviewed where the same line they are saying is multiply laid over. Dialogue comes in several different languages. Printed information, random lines of dialogue and even pieces of script flow through the backgrounds or are overexposed over shots in one scene, Greenaway even has characters saying their dialogue as a secretary types it up and it appears on the screen.
The sets are created in a deliberately stagy, artificial way Lupers childhood takes place amid a series of brick backyards and alleyways with no houses, all constricted within a 30-50 foot space built on a stage, while the offices at the railway station are simply a series of shelves and desks on a blank stage. The sets of the Moab jail and the Antwerp railway station are constructed as though they were stage sets and Greenaways camera frequently remains at a distance moving only along a right-left dolly but rarely into closeup, while maps and various pictures are randomly projected onto the walls. Greenaway draws his cast from different nationalities the Utah natives are rarely played by Americans, for instance, and the actors cast play with outrageously fake and over-the-top accents, which adds to the bizarre unreality of it.
Greenaway even gets in a number of self-referential jokes as to how Lupers ideas were remade as various of his own films, including shorts like Vertical Features Remake (1976), Water Wrackets (1976) and the feature A Zed and Two Noughts (1985), while The Belly of an Architects location also getting a mention. There is also an appearance from Cissie Colpitts, a character name that reappears throughout Greenaways work the three murderous wives in Drowning By Numbers were all named Cissie Colpitts and she also appears in one of the mock-biographies in The Falls.
All of this makes for a dense and visually busy film, although quite what it was about seemed to elude most audiences. There is a nominal plot connecting it altogether, although it is clearly something not important to Peter Greenaway. I sort of liked The Moab Story, although it took a good deal of effort. A very dry and arcane sense of humour sometimes comes through. It is also an enormously indulgent film and liking it is limited to extent to which we are prepared to give Peter Greenaway his head for his eccentricities. I was willing to, but I dont know if I would be willing to for a further two films consisting of the same thing, let alone sitting down to read the books, multimedia or view the accompanying tv series. I have followed Peter Greenaways career with interest but certainly if this is the direction that he is progressing in as a director, I cannot honestly say that I feel hugely interested in seeing what else he has to say.
Peter Greenaways other films of genre interest are: the surreal post-holocaust documentary The Falls (1980); The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989); several episodes of the modernised tv series A TV Dante (1989-91); Prosperos Books (1991), Greenaways interpretation of Shakespeares The Tempest (1611); and the miraculous child film The Baby of Macon (1993).
Clip from the film here:-