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“The Draughtman's Contract”
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Zeitguist Films
Genre: Drama
Release:
2/12/08
Special Features: Introduction by director Peter Greenaway, Commentary by Greenaway, four deleted scenes, Interview with Composer Michael Nyman, Behind-the-scenes footage and on set interviews, Restoration demonstration, Production photos, Draughtman's sketches, original theatrical trailer, Essays by Greenaway and cinematographer Curtis Clark
Review:

"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. Made in 1982, the film played primarily in art house theaters and never received a wide release in the United States although it did receive considerable praise (and criticism from those it didn't appeal to or who didn't understand it). It's an interesting subversion of Masterpiece Theater type dramas where the subtext of what is said (or not said) is the most important aspect of the film. There are also visual clues carefully embedded in the film as to what is truly going on but like the best puzzle, you don't realize it until you have an idea of what portion of the picture you're putting together. ***

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. ---

Image & Sound: This new digital transfer looks quite nice but keep in mind the limitations of the format it was shot it--Super 16mm (most TV shows were shot in 16mm for British TV and this was financed by Channel 4. 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. ---

Special Features:

The real reason to get this though is for the extras. The original DVD release was bare bones but this new DVD version in addition to being restored includes extras that one would expect on a deluxe Criterion release. **

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 as it does contain spoilers)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. ---

Final Words:

"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. This film is an acquired taste and won't be for everyone so if you haven't seen it, I'd recommend renting it first to see if it is to yours. This deluxe version is worth the double dip though as the new releasing house Zeitguist has done a spectacular job of restoring the film and added a cornucopia of extras.

 

 
 
 
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