Fox Lorber presents
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
Neville: "The conditions of the agreement, Mr. Noyes, are: my services as draughtsman for twelve days for the manufacture of twelve drawings of the estate and gardens, parks and outlying buildings of Mr. Herbert's property. The sites for the twelve drawings to be chosen at my discretion, although advised by Mrs. Herbert."
Mrs. Herbert: "For which, Thomas, I am willing to pay £8 (per) drawing; to provide full board for Mr. Neville and his servant, and...and to agree to meet Mr. Neville in private and to comply to his requests concerning his pleasure of me."- the Contract
Stars: Janet Suzman, Anne Louise Lambert, Anthony Higgings
Other Stars: Hugh Fraser, Neil Cunningham
Director: Peter Greenaway
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, adult themes, violence)
Run Time: 01h:43m:00s
Release Date: 1999-12-28
DVD ReviewThe Draughtsman's Contract was Peter Greenaway's breakthrough feature film. Set in 1694, near the close of England's Restoration era, he builds a metaphorical tour de force of artistic inheritance disguised by the juxtaposition of extravagance and geometric simplicity.
Mrs. Herbert (Janet Suzman) is desperate to regain her husband's attention by appealing to him through what he does care about—his house, his property, his gardens. When the controlling Mr. Herbert tells her he will be leaving for a fortnight, she urgently pleads with Mr. Neville (Anthony Higgings), a skilled draughtsman, to stay on in his absence to make drawings of the house as a gift for her husband. Neville arrogantly succumbs and the contract signed.
Although the dispassionate draughtsman coldly abuses the unhappy Mrs. Herbert, as the days pass and his drawings progress, it is Mr. Neville who is disabused of his vainglorious pride. When it is decided that Mr. Herbert's gone missing, Mr. Neville is led to the discovery that he has committed the clues to paper, condemning himself, "...more than a witness...an accessory to misadventure."
Neville could be likened to Greenaway himself (the director created the actual drawings used in the film), as they are both perfectionists, controlling to the point of obsession: "For drawing #4, from 2 o'clock to 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the front of the house that faces West will be kept cleared. No horses, carriages or other vehicles will be allowed to be placed there and the gravel on the drive must be left undisturbed. No coals will be burned that would issue smoke from the front of the house."
The signs of this auteur are everywhere, from the symmetrical structure of the interior scenes (including the ubiquitous arrangements of fruit) to the use of the camera through the draughtsman's grid, framing scenes that restrict not only his protagonist's vision but also that of the viewer, constricting our focus so that we see only what Neville sees within his limited scope. Nothing is accidental or left to chance, exactly as Neville, an utterly unimaginative artisan, void of creativity and emotion, demands of his environment: "Madam, I try very hard never to distort or dissemble."
The grid is key as it frames the hours of the days, the views of both house and property, and characterizes the narrow view of the draughtsman and his ilk. It is an object of restraint, of containment, echoing the personalities that DO NOT prevail in this story—in the end, it is those who contrive, by any means to break free, that triumph.
And it is surely not coincidence that this drama is set at the end of the Restoration era, in the formal gardens of an English estate: these were the last days of such rigid, punctilious geometries. Poetry flowed in blank verse; art and architecture began their evolution toward more natural forms. Greenaway sets us in a society on the verge of the Baroque, the great leap toward organic abstraction—a softer, more feminine landscape. As a cinematographer, he confines our vision to the picture plane, while he himself takes great lengths to force the cinematic art beyond its atrophic limitations.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.66:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Fox Lorber does it again—this is a top-rate transfer, the muted colors of Greenaway's palette are sublime. I noted only one disturbance—a "cigarette burn" (reel spot) in the upper right, at the 20 minute mark...I don't recall any others. No hot spots, especially surprising in the al fresco scenes, and no dithering in the blacks. A fine job.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: What a shame that Michael Nyman's perfect period soundtrack has not been digitized! As in Greenaway's later A Zed and Two Noughts, his compositions are as vital as any of the actors; it is paramount to the movement of the story, perhaps as much as the dialogue. No hisses or annoying fluctuations. The mix is even and poignant, everything in its assigned place.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
- Production credits
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsOh, did I mention the strange painted naked men that turn up here and there about the gardens? Or that throughout most of the film, Neville is the only character in black (with unpowdered hair), but in the end, is the only one in white? Or the recurrence of a child being taught the alphabet...or the preponderance of numbers? This is Greenaway—enough said.
"The mind must be strong that resolutely forms its own principles; for a kind of intellectual cowardice prevails which makes many men shrink from the task, or only do it by halves. Yet the imperfect conclusions thus drawn, are frequently very plausible, because they are built on partial experience, on just, though narrow, views." - Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797)
debi lee mandel 2000-06-14