The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1. The Moab Story (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
The Tulse Luper Suitcases is an ambitious multi-media project from
auteur Peter Greenaway, which essentially summarizes and comments on
the entire 20th century by creating an alternate parallel version of
it, and following the life of one man named Tulse
Luper, who lived through it. He was born in 1911 and disappeared in 1989, but may still be
alive in that parallel plane of existence.
Here is Tulse's
apocryphal biography from a website which is part
of the project. When the project is completed, it will
encompass three films, a TV series, and many CDs, DVDs, books, and
web sites. Probably some trading cards and commemorative plates,
too, for all I know, and maybe even a low-carb Tulse Luper Diet.
Here is a page
dedicated to the project, which has links to trailers, flash
animations, and more. It even tells you what is inside each of the
92 Tulse Luper Suitcases.
the official site. If any of that helps you figure out what the hell
is going on here, be sure to let the rest of us know.
I sure as hell don't know what is going on here.
Greenaway has all but abandoned any sense of traditional narrative in this project, but it does seem that the mysterious Mr Luper made an effort to eradicate all records of his having lived, thus leaving us to reconstruct his life from clues hidden in the aforementioned 92 suitcases which he deposited in various places around the world. Why 92? Well, you big silly, because 92 is the atomic number of Uranium! I'll thank you not to ask any more foolish questions, my good man! Uranium, you see, is the key to the century, so the tale must be woven by a 92-thread loom. (BARITONE VOICE-OVER: Yes, 92, it's not just for counting suitcases anymore!) There are also 92 objects of special importance in human existence, 92 characters in the story, and maybe some other 92-centric bric-a-brac that I'm forgetting. A data screen, looking like a PowerPoint slide, appears in the film from time to time, keeping us posted about the official number for a new character, suitcase, or critical object. (E.g., Suitcase #38: Water.) To maintain the numeric symmetry, there will eventually be 92 DVDs in the project, or so goes the current claim.
The three films will undoubtedly contain about as much content as we would normally expect in ten films, because the screen always seems to have much more going on than a simple image accompanied by sound. There are overlays, superimpositions, dissolve effects, additional frames appearing inside the screen, more frames within those frames, scoreboards, grids, split screens, fancy calligraphy, overlapping sound, characters appearing from nowhere to explain what other characters are doing, and so forth. Some of these things seem to add weight to the story, while others just seem aesthetically right to Mr. Greenway, I suppose. The film does look and sound beautiful. His aesthetic sense is too cluttered for my taste, but all that clutter has always, in one way or another, been part of his distinctive oeuvre, and Greenaway is possibly the most artistic of all filmmakers.
Cutting to the chase ...
Is the film good? Yes, I believe so. It is very good in many ways, and it is certainly original and ambitious. It is also completely non-commercial. It is even too arty to attract paying customers to the arthouse. I don't know of anyone but Peter Greenaway who could raise more than ten million dollars in public funds to underwrite a project with no hope of recapturing any but the tiniest portion of it. The European national film boards treat Greenaway's works as art treasures, and seem happy to subsidize them.
Is it something I enjoyed watching? Sometimes. My reactions ranged from being amused to being impressed to thinking "get on with it!" I did watch some sections of the film a second time, pausing to read the omnipresent verbiage, or to freeze a particularly striking image.
Do I want to see more of the films and other elements of this project? Not on your life. Peter Greenaway seems to live entirely in his own world, and it is not a world that particularly interests me. On the other hand, I've probably said the same thing about all of his movies, but I always seem to come back for the next one.
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