H is for House / Peter Greenaway / 1973 / 16mm / Colour / 8.47
From early on in his body of work, we can see and hear in the films of British painter and filmmaker Peter Greenaway, his love of 15th and 16th century painting and music, and this film, arguably the first of many confident and ambitious films that would come from Greenaway over the following twenty years, is a beautiful representation of this love. It also reveals his interest in (or possibly his obsession with, for anyone who has seen his film The Falls (1980)) words and indexes.
In H is for House, Greenaway narrates a short tale about a naturalist and his family who share a house in the countryside. The film partly acts as a picture-book for the letter H as a little girl plays in the garden and is occasionally heard on the soundtrack repeating a word incorrectly as she continues to master the alphabet. The film also plays host to a collection of bizarre and (typically for Greenaway) dry humoured stories and details from the life and world of the naturalist.
For me, this film’s initial charm comes from it’s narration (provided by Greenaway and the wonderfully English Colin Cantle) and the contrast between the commanding seriousness of their voices and the absurdity of the words that are coming out of their mouths. Before long, many other qualities become clear, such as the comic use of Vivaldi’s music, the (literal) home-movie form, and the rich yet hazy nature of the photography.
H is for House is a film that may instantly feel dated and pigeon-holed with it’s ‘school education film from the 70s’ feel, but it’s timeless location and great harmony between colour 16mm film and rural and domestic life in the English countryside, secures it’s place in today’s world where there is an increasing love of the simple, the natural, the beautiful and the absurd.
To read a little more about the film and for a copy of the script, click here.