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‘The Falls,’ ‘Vertical Features Remake,’ ‘A Walk Through H’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 11, 1992

Peter Greenaway has the most inscrutable, brilliant and possibly deranged mind in modern cinema. In fact, he's one of the few filmmakers still around you would use the term "modern cinema" for. The maker of "The Draughtsman's Contract," "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" and "Prospero's Books" doesn't make movies so much as brain-teasing conundrums, labyrinthine trails for the mind.

To see him at his earliest and possibly most inventive, you should rush to the Biograph, which is showing a rarely screened triple bill: 1980's three-hour "The Falls," as well as the shorts "A Walk Through H" and "Vertical Features Remake," both made in 1978.

The audiovisual equivalent of an encyclopedia, "The Falls" presents 92 miniature biographies of entirely apocryphal characters. They share at least three strategic traits. Their surnames begin with "Fall," they have some connection with birds and they've all been bizarrely, even mutationally affected by an unexplained incident called the Violent Unknown Event (a k a the VUE).

As we watch documentary-style images of these subjects, with names such as Afracious Fallows and Grastled Fallusson, we hear their life stories in thumbnail, BBC-style matter-of-factness. The unending wealth of narration seems to have been supplied by a consortium of government bureaucrats, ornithologists, Western art specialists, numerologists, dadaists and possibly the Monty Python crew.

Raskado Fallcastle (listed as Number 55) "was a retired ship's navigator-turned Suffolk farmer, who privately invented maps from the black and white hides of his dairy herd." As for Agrimany Fallchester (Number 57), he was "arrested and fined 80 pounds for exploiting the area around the boulder orchard site for financial gain."

After the VUE, Fallchester suffered an extraordinary number of complications, including an outbreak of bone marrow disease, the development of a mutated, six-part heart and "various mild and seasonal skin changes which are associated with molt in birds."

Those birds figure everywhere. Obsian Fallicutt (68), for instance, has a theory that the VUE was "an expensive, elaborate hoax perpetrated by A. J. Hitchcock to give some credibility to the unsettling and unsatisfactory ending to his film 'The Birds.' "

And so on and so on . . . .

Watching "The Falls," as well as "Vertical Features Remake" and "A Walk Through H," aficionados will revel in the obsessions, the self-referential puns, the ironies and the twists that reoccur in Greenaway's subsequent works. They will also see familiar characters who resurface in later films, such as Tulse Luper and Cissy Colpitts.

See, once you develop an interest in Greenaway, it cannot stop. The further you are lured in, the deeper and more hypnotic the abyss. You are being sucked -- not into a movie, but into the British filmmaker's mind. If you're up for the intriguing, no-exit plunge, do it.

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