"I try very hard never to distort or dissemble," says Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgins), a draughtsman of considerable talent contracted by a certain Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) to make 12 drawings for her absent husband of th... more »eir English estate. Part of that contract involves Mr. Neville taking his pleasure, and that pleasure is Mrs. Herbert. While Mr. Neville aims for fidelity in his drawings, infidelity in private is quite another matter. Then the film becomes a cerebral puzzle when objects start appearing mysteriously in the subjects of Mr. Neville's various drawings: a ladder that wasn't there before, a pair of boots standing in a field. Mr. Neville's penchant for realism is stymied by these clues, which may or may not suggest the murder of Mr. Herbert. Peter Greenaway seems to have directed this, his first art-house success, with the aim of exploring the failings of perspective in art and casting his doubtful eye on the possibility of "faithful" drawings such as those by which Mr. Neville makes his living. Greenaway was, after all, an art student, and must have known that drawing machines like the one Mr. Neville uses in the film (which is set in 1694) led not only to the invention of photography, and therefore of film itself, but also to the renouncing of perspective that informs so much of 20th-century painting.In the film, Greenaway overlays the story's mysterious elements with highly mannered tableaux, making each scene like a realistic, though sumptuous, painting, while having his actors spout witty and complicated sentences. While this is very entertaining, it has a dual purpose, which is to depict the falseness of surfaces. Mr. Neville's faith in the same is his downfall, and Greenaway's triumph is in his distortions and dissemblings, the narrative lie that gets closer to the truth than any architectural drawing could. --Jim Gay« less
Robert S. (radonfish) from ROGERS, TX Reviewed on 12/20/2011...
well, just as the reviewer said, "its not my cup o' tea" at all. syrupy slow and convoluted, effused with minutia, boooooring....
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.
My favorite movie
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the only movie I've seen more than five times. The plot is always fascinating because every explanation I come up with has some flaw, although there seem to be clues everywhere. The arch dialog is delicious, and delivered by the actors with obvious relish. This is the only movie I find myself quoting lines from, simply for the fun of it. The cast is perfect. The music is wonderfully atmospheric. The scenery is luscious. It may require a decadent taste to enjoy this movie, but if you have that, it is the ideal entertainment. I haven't found anything else of Peter Greenaway's watchable. But The Draughtsman's Contract is a masterpiece."
Daniel Sutton | Los Angeles, CA, USA | 10/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This beautifully shot, highly intelligent, somewhat surreal and shockingly unknown film was originally made by Peter Greenaway for the opening night of Channel Four Television in Britain, and represents, perhaps, the man at his peak. The story, which avoids any direct explanations of itself or its plot, centres around a draughtsman (Higgins) who is hired to produce twelve drawings of a stately home in England. While he draws, objects appear in the landscape around him, which he includes in his drawings... when a body finally surfaces, do the drawings contain evidence concerning the identities of its murderers, or has some clever person purposely placed the objects in order to frame someone else... possibly the draughtsman himself? One may watch the film many times, each time coming up with a different answer; the motives and dialogue contradict each other just enough to add to the mystery, but not enough to ruin any possible explanation. The sountrack (by Michael Nyman) is also interesting: the themes within it are based on eight-bar samples of Mozart which are repeated and improvised upon, to hypnotising and evocative effect. A fascinating film."
Games for Adults
Charles S. Tashiro | Agoura Hills, CA USA | 05/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Peter Greenaway may be the last indisputably distinctive Anglophone filmmaker. With "The Draughtsman's Contract," he broke through from relative obscurity as an experimental artist into feature-length narratives. While his subsequent films have been more conservative than his earlier work, he remains a highly original and innovative artist. "Contract" may be his most balanced film, integrating much of his earlier formal experimentation with the demands of narrative. Greenaway is just about the only well-known filmmaker with an interest in the art and film theory of the past thirty-five years. His is a "meta-cinema," at least as much about the act of making and watching movies as about particular situations. Summarizing the story of "The Draughtsman's Contract," for example, gives only a limited sense of what watching the movie is like. As some of the reviews here have pointed out, you cannot watch "Contract" without noticing the perspective tools used by Mr. Neville. These technologies anticipate the optics used in photography and cinematography. As we are aware of how they contribute to 17th century draftsmanship we (in theory at least) recognize the construction of the very images we are viewing. In short, through these and other techniques, you are too aware of experiencing the film to become engrossed in it.If you are not comfortable with such distancing, "The Draughtsman's Contract" may not be your cup of tea. On the other hand, there is certainly "much to be applauded" in "The Draughtsman's Contract." As in virtually all of Greenaway's work, the visual design and cinematography are exquisite and all the more remarkable given the film was shot in 16mm. The actors obviously relish the chance to make the film's baroque dialogue compelling, lively, believable as everyday speech. (Incidentally, fans of the British "Poirot" series should get a chuckle out of Hugh Fraser's snide, arch, thoroughly unpleasant Mr. Talmann. It's almost impossible to believe that under the wigs and layers of linen and between the pauses in a viscous German accent is Poirot's amiable poodle, Captain Hastings.) "Contract" was also as much a breakthrough for Greenaway's favorite composer, Michael Nyman, as it was for the director. The score's Purcellian themes and arrangements are a little a-typical for the composer, however.If you are familiar with the film or Greenaway's other work, you should be aware that the transfer is adequate without being stunning. While matted for widescreen, the disc is not 16:9 enhanced, which is a pity. Blown up to fill a widescreen TV, the grain gets a bit noticeable. I recommend viewing the disc in matted 4:3 mode. If you have never seen a Greenaway film, "The Draughtsman's Contract" makes an excellent introduction to the intricacies and paradoxes of his thematically and sensually rich cinema."
Good things to come?
Nobody | 02/09/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"An enhanced version of this movie is certainly welcome, possibly it will introduce the film to a new audience. If you've never seen the film and you count yourself as a movie buff, you must. I'm not saying you'll come away as a champion of the movie, I'm sure their are as many people who think it was silly and confusing as those who attribute genius to the production. But regardless, it's a stunningly beautiful film and there can be no argument that it's compelling to watch, which seems to be Greenaway's forte, stirring up the pot, but with the most elegant eye candy.
This DVD presents a "restored" version of the film, which as explained in a special feature, is not actually a frame by frame "Vertigo" style effort, but a digital wash through a couple of programs that eliminate flicker and improve detail. In any case, as illustrated in the examples shown, the process does produce a noticeably cleaner film. The question is should you rush out and replace your existing copy? I have the 1999 DVD, and I can now see the flaws, but they weren't so bad that it affected my enjoyment in any way. Your call, even the new version is not that great, this was his first (feature) film, and was filmed with rather primitive equipment.
Now, if this new series, with "Greenaway" across the top, will finally produce an appropriate DVD version of "Prospero's Books", not the ridiculously horrible version burped up by AA Classics sometime back, that would be something to celebrate indeed."
Not everyone will be "drawn" to this mystery--commentary, fe
Wayne Klein | My Little Blue Window, USA | 02/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This new digital transfer looks quite nice but keep in mind the limitations of the format it was shot in--Super 16mm (most TV shows were shot in 16mm for British TV and this was financed by Channel 4--when watching this new digitally restored transfer of "The Draughtman's Contract". The plan was for a theatrical release and then a TV airing. The budget was quite small. Super 16mm doesn't yield the fine detail of 35mm or 70mm. The transfer is an improvement over the previously available DVD but it also reveals the flaws of the source so the high definition elements can't mask the limitations of Super 16mm.
The real reason to get this though is for the extras. We get a commentary track by director Peter Greenaway as well as an introduction that's almost long enough to be a featurette on the making of the film. We also get deleted scenes, an interview with composer Michael Nyman ("The Piano"--this was one of Nyman's first scores), a restoration demonstration, behind-the-scenes footage and on set interviews and the original theatrical trailer for the film. There is also a booklet with an essay by Greenaway (don't read it until AFTER you have seen the film if this is your first time viewing it)and an interview with Cinematographer Curtis Clark discussing how he and Greenaway decided to use Super 16mm and the challenge of shooting only by candlelight.
"The Draughtman's Contract" won't be for everyone. Director Peter Greenaway deliberately sought to subvert the way a traditional period piece was portrayed in film with this unusual and elliptic mystery. Part social commentary and avant garde period piece. Greenaway has his actors behave in a stiff, formal way often posing as often as performing. Imagine an avant-garde period film written by Patricia Highsmith and directed by Alfred Hitchcock and you might just get an idea of what "The Draughtman's Contract" is like.
The plot is simple--Mr. Neville a draughtsman who creates pictures of valuable items for the wealthy is employed by Mrs. Herbert the wife of a stuffy and insufferably man. She plans to give the pictures that Neville draws as a gift to her husband when he returns from his journey. Neville's terms are difficult to say the least--he demands that she engage in degrading sex with him, provide room and board plus his usual fee. Neville thinks himself superior to those he provides service to and makes that quite clear his speech and attitude. It's a time of stuffy people doing stuffy things and Neville takes advantage of it. In many respects, Neville is just as bad as the master of the house subjecting the family to his whims but things take an unusual turn when it appears that a murder may have been committed.
"The Draughtman's Contract" is certainly unusual and for those adventurous enough to try it (and those that enjoy "art films" something that Greenaway was trying to take the stuffing out of anyway with this film), you'll probably enjoy it. It is an acquired taste so I would recommend a rental before purchasing."