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Tulse Luper Suitcases Part 1: The Moab Story, The

Reviewed By Greg Muskewitz
Posted 02/03/04 11:50:27

"Mixed-bag media."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Peter Greenaway calls off his self-imposed retirement to flesh out the encyclopedic alterna-verse he has created for his alter-ego, Tulse Luper.

The Moab Story is part one and two combined, which is only part of a series (of 16?), encompassing film, television, DVDs, CD-ROMs, and internet sites, each apparently offering more space for depth than the last. The film itself is a mixed bag of media, quilted together in a redefining grasp of narrative filmmaking, beginning with Luper’s childhood in south Wales, reaching to his misadventures with the discovery of uranium in Moab, Utah, and later, being sat upon in an Antwerp station. (The project plans to span from the 1920s, to Luper’s “last known sighting” in 1989.) The array of visual gimmickry begins immediately as the childhood past is given definition from various auditions, cut-and-pasted, super-imposed, in boxes, double, triple, even quadruple times over. Greenaway presents the history as though it were real history, including talking-head historians (Connie van Doeter, Constantin da Rima, etc.), examining the contents of the alleged 92 suitcases he left around the world (various contents including coal, photographs, perfume, bills, pornography, bloodied wallpaper — all things to represent a stage of his experiences), examining the 92 objects to represent the world (objects he studied, like tubs, teeth, clocks, vases). (Reference is made, through other films by Greenaway, to Luper, including the discovery of the last known suitcase during the filming of The Belly of an Architect, and attributing him his own short films — Vertical Features Remake, Water Wrackets, etc.) It sounds messy and disconcerting, and in presentation, it’s no different. Yet the gonzo adventure is still rather engrossing. Greenaway toys around with experiments that he’s already shown proclivity towards, such a split-screens, multiple frames, various pop-up information pieces, super-imposed text and script over images. As with the auditions that open the film, an actor who plays a particular character may not always be the same actor; or even though one scene may be going on, an overlaid image travels around the frame with different footage and different performers. Much of the reoccurring motifs found herein is Luper’s tendency to be imprisoned (“Luper’s home and shell were his suitcases”), and not always in the sense that he is behind bars, though that happens often as well — locked up by his father in the coal room; tied up (with his prick smeared with jam) in the deserts of Moab; confined in a Moab jail; impounded in Antwerp; and so forth. And being a Greenaway film, there is no shortage of nudity, especially frontal nudity, regardless of sex or size, though in most cases the visage of penises (honey-dipped, or not) is JJ Feild’s, and the appearance pudenda hails from Caroline Dhavernas (though in honesty, she has more to show off than just that). There is a clear overload of the senses, and Greenaway’s obsessive style of filmmaking is going to do nothing to reconcile his admirers and detractors, but there is something temporarily fulfilling within the blend and presentation of information and how it is smattered across the screen. (The key, if you can call it that without it unlocking all of the mysteries, is not the act of storytelling, but the way we visually learn the information, along with typical Greenaway idiosyncrasies thrown in.) He may not be onto a new format in visual storytelling, not anything lasting, but the beginnings of his massive experiment, while never more than a re-thinking of form using inertia to propel the story instead of impetus, have a fleeting interest to continue a little farther yet into the saga. With Drew Mulligan, Jordi Mollà, Scot Williams, Jack Wouterse, Deborah Harry, Valentina Cervi, and Yorick van Wageningen.

[Worth-seeing.]

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