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Falls, The (1980)


Main image of Falls, The (1980)
16mm, colour, 185 mins
DirectorPeter Greenaway
Production CompanyBritish Film Institute Production Board
ScriptPeter Greenaway
PhotographyMike Coles
 John Rosenberg
MusicMichael Nyman

Cast: Peter Westley, Aad Wirtz, Michael Murray, Lorna Poulter, Patricia Carr, Adam Leys, Mary Howard, Sheila Canfield, Evelyn Owen, Hilary Thompson, Carole Myer

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Short biographies of 92 people with surnames which begin 'Fall'. They have been selected from the latest edition of the Standard Directory of the Violent Unknown Event (VUE).

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Although The Falls is Peter Greenaway's first feature film, and a long one at over three hours, its character is very much in tune with the shorts that preceded it. In fact, the use of the list of 92 sufferers from the 'Violent Unknown Event' (VUE) allows Greenaway, in effect, to combine 92 short films into one long one; he himself went as far as to describe these as 92 different types of films.

As with Greenaway's earlier work, the literal voices of the film are largely provided by narrators, one of whom, Colin Cantlie, was a colleague of Greenaway's at the Central Office of Information. Having made films at the COI, Greenaway was now almost parodying them in his exploration of the documentary form, a process that seems to reach its zenith with The Falls.

Although the film is divided into sections, certain themes (birds, death, jokes) and even names and characters cross between them. The effect is to suggest that some larger story exists within the cracks, with the onus on the viewer to piece this together. Even within each biography the viewer must actively interpret the narration, titles, drawings and archival film to create their own sense of that which is being told. Here Greenaway reveals the acknowledged influence of the Canadian experimental filmmaker, Hollis Frampton, whose films work in a directly similar way.

Certain sections of the film hint at autobiographical details connected to Greenaway himself. We are told that Appropinquo Fallcatti wrote ecological dramas and through their success was able to work full time on a project connected to the BFI, here referred to as the Bird's Facilities Industry, rather than the British Film Institute (which funded The Falls). Similarly, an H.E. Carter is frequently referred to as a filmmaker who provides 'dream samples' for the VUE catalogue. The films attributed to Carter provide the more lyrical moments in The Falls, and are invariably made up of footage shot by Greenaway for earlier projects, for example, the extracts from the film Water. Other autobiographical suggestions lie with Casternarm Fallast, who wishes to make an opera using the names of 92 unusual birds. The number 92 determines the number of biographies in the The Falls, but is also important in Peter Greenaway's multi-media project, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, of which, again, there are 92.

William Fowler

*This film is included in the BFI DVD compilation 'The Early Films of Peter Greenaway Volume 2'.

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Video Clips
1. Introduction/Orchard Falla (2:45)
2. Lacer Fallacet (3:26)
3. Ipson and Pulat Fallari (4:35)
4. Throper Fallcaster (2:54)
Audsley, Mick (1949-)
Greenaway, Peter (1942-)
Nyman, Michael (1944-)
Quay, Brothers (1947-)
Early Greenaway