Letter from Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway
28 St Peter’s Grove
London W6

January 24th 1984

Monique Belanger
Arts Awards Service
Canada Council, Ottawa

Dear Ms Belanger,

I met Phil Hoffman at the 1984 Grierson Seminar. His films were a breath of fresh air amidst so much conventional material. His films blithely side-stepped the orthodoxies so taken for granted by those who believe documentary cinema is an educational rostrum, is about questions of balance, is essentially a dissertation on something described as ‘truth.’ Meeting him in the context of his films backed up my impressions of his aims and abilities. His work is an encouragement to those who want to use autobiography as subject matter, personal vision as a trademark, and show how small resources can be a positive virtue.

It was Phil’s suggestion in London several months later that he would like to be some sort of witness to the feature production of the film Zed and Two Noughts in Rotterdam in the Spring of this year—which I am certainly agreeable to—though I will not hide the fact that I believe, as a filmmaker with a personal vision, he is well past the apprenticeship stage. What he needs now is opportunities, encouragement and experience. Since his method is to work with a camera as a constant companion, I would wish he could be encouraged to make a modest film whilst he is in Rotterdam and London, certainly to be encouraged to shoot some two or three thousand feet of 16mm. The desirability of his presenting a script before hand, as far as I can see, is not necessary, considering his work method. In fact, I think it ought to be a condition of his association with the Zed and Two Noughts project that he shoot on his own on any subject whatsoever.

Most of the relevant detail of the production of Zed and Two Noughts Phil has already mentioned. It is perhaps not so strange a co-production, as seen from a British point of view, but nonetheless will present a nicely complex mixture of finance, production, cast and crew that aptly mirrors the complexity of the film’s structure and content—the ambivalent diversity of species and purpose—of beasts and men—both sides of the cages in a zoo. Phil has volunteered not just to stand by and observe but to offer practical help which will always be useful on such a modestly budgeted, ambitious film.

If he (and you) believe that he (and you) can profit by his experience with the production, then I am certainly happy to invite him. If there is anything else you would like to know, I am sure I can help, though I would be obliged, as I am sure you would understand, to keep bureaucracy to a minimum. The production of a feature film is very time-consuming and demanding.

Here’s hoping that you can agree to Phil’s participation.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Greenaway

The Road Ended at the Beach

16mm, 30 minutes, color
by Philip Hoffman

Road / Poole article

The film is a series of “telling” incidents in which events, which fall short of expectations, are confronted by more “vibrant” memories of the past. The subject, the filmmaker/diarist, whose consciousness encompasses this flow or passage of time, uses failure to make his strongest points about the convergence and intermingling of anticipation and event, experience and memory. On the road, he and his friends spend time with an old buddy who makes his own music at home but has to play in a military band to earn a living, forcing them to come to terms with their own diminished expectations on the trip they are undertaking as compared to trips in the past. The story of a wood carver who lives with his family in rural Nova Scotia seems idyllic until we find that he must also work in a fish cannery to survive. The film itself is an account of failure. Spurred on by the mythology of Jack Kerouac and his life on the road, the travellers visit Robert Frank in order to learn first-hand about the Beats. Frank matter of factly dismisses their quest by noting that Kerouac is dead and the Beat era is over. In a partial response to this shattering of the myth, the film­maker goes back over the ground of the journey once again, only this time he includes the frustrations, the dead-ends and the low spots. The smooth, linearly developing narrative that we earlier understood to be the product of the filmmakers consciousness is now questioned and replaced by a series of stops and starts, memories and reveries. The final sequence of the film marks a reevaluation and change most emphatically. The sequence shows a beach in Newfoundland on a bright clear day; children and dogs crossing in front of the camera. Yet each time some­one disappears off-frame the filmmaker jump-cuts to a new action. On the beach where the road ends discontinuity becomes a virtue, a form of concentration that validates exceptional experience, just as recollection and anticipation validate certain memories and fantasies.

– David Poole 1984