Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2008

A Zed and Two Noughts (1985)
Peter Greenaway, director


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it. There are 29 students and we can take no more than 1 hour and 15 minutes for our discussions.


This is a very graphic and disturbing film. I apologize in advance for those of you who might find it a bit challenging to watch. I wanted to include a film by Greenaway as he is a director who really works the architectural setting in his films and is a good parallel to Kubrick for this type of evaluation. I have shown Belly of An Architect in past years, but wanted to change this up in part to look at something new, and because the issues of madness and violence (both on the part of the film and director...?) are much stronger in this film than Belly. There are also ways to tie and contrast some of these issues with True Stories next week.

We are going to be very tight on time for this class. I want to show you Chien Andalou as it is the surrealist naissance of this genre of film. I will show it promptly at 10am, immediately followed by A Zed and Two Noughts. Due to the graphic nature of the film, I do not want the 1A and 2A students wandering in and out either during the film or at the end of the film.... We will take a short break after the film, and take up the Clockwork Orange questions.

thanks! Terri

updated Thursday, December 18, 2008 11:32 AM

"I truly believe that there cannot be a medium more artificial than cinema."
Peter Greenaway - from DVD narration


1. Andrew Azzopardi

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into the use of colour in the film?

Colour within a ‘Zed and Two Noughts’ can be seen as a means to produce a level of inner awareness, which is to become understood by the audience. Colours set up both the symmetry within the film, posing as juxtapositions, or can be seen as the contrasts between situations and characters, giving the audience cues to the intentions of their actions. The symmetry within the film is party created by the use of colour, to juxtapose the reverse of elements within the film. Black and white pose a contrast, which begins to set up the films sense of symmetry. An example of colour contrasts and juxtapositions would be the role of the zebra within the film. At one state the question is asked whether the zebra is a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes. This contrast is later shown in all scenes where Alba is in bed, with the composition of the room and then the eventual inclusion of the Siamese brothers, all-revolving around Alba within the centre of the room. The colours of the room also contrast, between the flowing delicate whites, and the sturdy browns of the men’s attire. This composition of colour around Alba also changes dramatically according to the situations at hand. This is evident when watching the scene where the brothers and Alba go to bed together- the brothers are on either side nude, and Alba in the centre in red. This contrast helps the viewer to understand the nature of Alba and her relationship with the brothers- this shows how fragile the brothers are, and how powerful/crafty Alba is.



2. Tyler Bowa

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of light in the film?

The majority of the paintings that we see in A Zed and Two Noughts are those of Johannes Vermeer.  He is known for his amazing treatment of light in all of his paintings, creating a sort of love-sickness feeling to his work.  This technique makes Vermeer’s work surprisingly interesting to look at, and allows for colours to become very vibrant.  It is no doubt that Greenway, a painter himself, was very fond of Vermeer;s work.

Greenway used a total of 26 different light sources throughout the film, according to sources.  I think that this is reflective of Vermeer’s work; Greenway is attempting to approximate the subtle use of light to create a painterly cinematography.  The lighting is used in an alternation of light, shade, light, shade receding to the back of the picture.  This is one of the defining qualities found in paintings from the 17th century, and it is clear that this education that Greenway gained as a painter was used in this film.


3. Martin Chow

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of the paintings of Vermeer in this film? (from the perspective of the actual paintings, NOT the characters in the painting as that will be another question).

The film is in part a homage to the work of Johannes Vermeer, as Greenaway seems to have been inspired by the geometric and lighting composition of his paintings.  As the director was also a fan of the artist, and has had training in painting as well, many of the principles that were learned in his education were also applied to his film.  Aside from including all Vermeer's paintings into various scenes, the scenes themselves are composed as if it were one of the paintings themselves.

As such, most interior shots are symmetrical, with the walls filmed flat such that their vertical and horizontal lines are parallel with the edges of the frame, and featured technical elements such as symmetry and vanishing points.  The scenes are all set up like a still-life painting, with deliberate placement of objects on a table, and the use of alternating light and shadows to highlight the depth of spaces and the subjets within them.  At the same time, the saturation of colours and the prevailance of soft light - often coming from many different angles - tends to achieve the opposite, so that each frame is both rich and flat, just like a painting.  Many kinds of lighting were used aside from traditional cinema and natural light, including heatlamps, mirrors, moonlight, etc, which are often used in combination within a single shot, but each dedicated to a particular subject within the frame, such that the main source of light is never obvious, invoking the dreamy world of subjectivity over accuracy that is found in true artwork.



4. Jamie Ferriera

Greenaway’s background was that of a painter. How does this education feed into his use of the characters in the paintings of Vermeer in this film?

Greenaway’s history as a painter allowed the film to progress as a moving painting and allowed the film to become a collection of carefully composed scenes.  The work of Vermeer due to its nature to methodically illuminate and focus the characters under study was a heavy influence to such direction of the film as in each of Vermeer’s paintings as the main characters are symmetrically compared further in a Zed and two noughts. The main element or spirit contained in the artworks, are mimicked in the film to present a certain mysteriousness and confusion to the role of each character and how their transformation is progressed or summarized. Alba was heavily scrutinized and explored under the artistic fervor of the doctor, and through this, it begins to give sense of ones exploration and motif which is followed throughout the film in dealing with themes of life and death and the continuation of the human spirit and will. Everything starts to become twined pairs, as painting and film frame symmetrically reflect themselves in composition. Such pairing begins to identify roles of the characters and their future elemental likeness of events and their permanence within the film’s nature. The doctor becomes the surgical artist who shares the likeness of Vermeer himself. Alba the artistic and often victimized and experimented on subject, becomes the ordinary woman who is thrown into whole mess and becomes the ordinary link and center of focus throughout the film. The lady with the red hat portrays the more mysterious link with the doctor, who is identical to the character within Vermeer’s paintings. Finally, the twins, the two unique people chained to a shared fate, are representative of the two paintings of the cartographer and surveyor, which have been mirrored to face themselves and represent such unification of their spirit in terms of profession and fate.

Further, another aspect of this artistic education and implementation into the film is played into the stylized capture of death and decay of the objects which become characters in themselves who undergo the transformation of decomposition. Greenaway composing such scenes to further the spirit of the cyclic nature of death, and helps the viewer become artistically involved in interpretation such sequences in accordance to the purpose of art. The obsession with such a subject matter and the introduction of an artistic composition and symmetry strengthens the theme of the film, and helps it push the limits of traditional film direction.



5. Meghan Galachiuk

Greenaway makes significant use of mirrors throughout the film. Describe how this fits into the sense of twinning in the film.

It is accepted that no two things are ever exactly alike, that differences is what defines individuals. They keep a person separate; otherwise a person would be lost into perhaps madness, as seen in A Zed and Two Noughts. Greenway uses mirrors to amplify the madness that the brothers fall into. They become so self-obsessed that they become images of each other so they don’t have to face the outside world that is so different than everything the wanted, understood or could handle.

Mirrors keep everything in on its self. Separating the action from the outside world so that you are able to see the same object twice but perhaps less of its context. This makes the audience focus more on what Greenway wants them to focus on. Twinning the images, making everything conform, and disconnect from the world around it. Taking with it the sanity of the characters. As the twinning becomes more intense the film eventually wears on the sanity of the audience. Everything becomes mirror images, and symmetrical so that the there is no escape.



6. Sarah Hawley

How is the architectural setting used in Zed suited to the film in a way that the type of architectural setting in A Clockwork Orange would not be (were it to be substituted)?

Through the use of colour, symmetry and realisms the architectural setting of Zed and Two Noughts would not be appropriate if used in the film A Clockwork Orange.  The colour Palette used in Zed and Two Noughts is more subtle, than the unrealistic colour palette of A Clockwork Orange. Certain items such a piece of backdrop or a womens dress is made bold to stand out and draw a sense of contrast to each scene craftily. However in A Clockwork Orange there are some entire scenes which use unrealistic colour palettes. If they were more subtle like in Zed and Two Noughts the architectural setting would lose its raw effectives of shock-value.  Another way that the architectural setting from Zed and Two Noughts would not be adequate for the film A Clockwork Orange is the use of architectural symmetry. In zed and Two Noughts this symmetry is a key element throughout the film used in terms of not only architecture but in characters, such as the twin brothers and their twin sons and in the use of body parts; as the women does not like the idea of only having one leg. If this use of architectural symmetry where to be transferred into A Clockwork Orange it would have no meaning or higher significance. Furthermore the architectural setting in Zed and Two Noughts has a higher sense of realism overall, and if it were used in A Clockwork Orange it would contrast the madness that the film is trying to achieve of Alex’s character through the architecture.



7. Fernie Lai

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Apple.

The topic of the apple first arose when the brothers were discussing the length and process of decay at the very beginning of the film, thus starting the obsession of decomposition in the movie. The process of decomposition starts with the bacteria in the stomach, and the comment was  something along the lines of, “the first decay happened when eve took that bite out of the apple….”

Apple is generally regarded as the symbol of temptation; the temptation to satisfy curiously. Apple has always been representative of the fruit from the tree of wisdom. Tempted by the snake to take a bite, Eve is banished from the Garden of Eden, when she gains a conscience, the knowledge of right and wrong.

The role of the apple in the movie services to foreshadows the immoral and disturbing relationships between the brothers and the one legged women as well as the initiation of the films to satisfy the curiosity with decomposition and decay. There was always a large bowl of green apples sitting in the women’s room, green apples changed to red apples until they were replaced by a bowl of tomatoes. The decomposition of the apple was the begging of many, all in line with the order of evolution. Apple à Shrimp à Fish à Alligator à Dog à Swan à Zebra à and the ultimatum, humans.



8. Eric Lajoie

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Snail/Escargot.

Snails are perhaps the most classic of simultaneous hermaphrodite*, and the most widespread of terrestrial animals possessing this sexual polymorphism. Using calcium carbonate 'arrows' as sperm carriers which are exchanged between snails by shooting them, sexual material is exchanged between both animals. In this way, snails have been poetically compared with Cupid for their sharing of shooting 'Arrows of Love'. Snails typically reproduce in early spring and late autumn.
*A simultaneous hermaphrodite is an adult organism that has both male and female sexual organs at the same time. Usually, self-fertilization does not occur.
- Wikipedia

The snail is a complete entity containing both male and female sexual organs. This animal serves to juxtapose one of the themes in the movie which is "pairs." The Deuce Brothers (deuce = 2, very clever) are separated from their wives at the beginning of the film when they are both killed in a freak accident. Likewise Alba's pair of legs are separated as she also loses one in the same accident.  Snail's show up in two scenes that I remember vividly, The first towards the beginning of the film, Oliver Deuce is lying in bed grieving the loss of his wife coved in Snails. Oliver and his brother have lost their second half which sends them searching for something to fill the void. This eventually leads them back to each other as they are/were Siamese twins, but it is only temporary solace. At the end of the film their obsession with decay leads them to the top of the food chain (humans) and they decide to kill themselves and film the decay of their bodies. Once they have died the snails return, symbolizing their reunification with their wives and the return to wholeness.



9. Andrea Lam

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Zebra.


10. Bi-Ying Miao

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Swan.

In cultural, the swan is associated with a variety of meanings but is often used as a symbol for perfection, beauty, and grace. It is frequently used on crests and shields, making it a popular ensign in heraldry. In a Zed and Two Noughts, the swan appears at the beginning of the film causing a fatal car crash killing the wives of the Deuce brothers, signifying the start of an obsessive relationship between beauty and abnormality. Later in the film, the swan's dead corpse becomes another specimen of decay for the grieving brothers, further emphasizing the bazaar nature of the twins' interaction with each other and their internal and external world.

In the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to the twins separately as zoologists in deep observation of disfigured or laboratory species. Then, a car crash interrupts this sequence, revealing the death of the wives of both Deuces and the case of the crash by a swan. The swan symbol signifies the death of perfection and accelerates an obsession with abnormalities and disfiguration themes in the plot. These themes are manifested further in the brothers' love affair with the one-legged Alba and their revealed secret as separated Siamese twins. The significance of the swan and its death in the film represents the death of the normal aspects of the brothers' lives. From this, an obsession with the unorthodox anomalies in nature becomes the main focus for the film.

The swan then appears as a specimen of decay and the audience can witness the complete invasion of the swan's elegant beauty in graphic detail. This further signifies the drastic growth of the obsession with the deformations in life in the film while making a connection with the first appearance of the swan to emphasize this change. In this way, Greenway chooses to treat the swan as a symbol to heighten the mad atmosphere of the film.



11. Andrea Murphy

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the Tiger.

In Greenaway’s film, the tiger appears as a symbol representing simultaneously knowledge and strength, but also a sense of entrapment and helplessness. The tiger is a creature of great strength and intelligence; it is a power which cannot be tamed. By putting a tiger in a zoo, man has made a feeble attempt to control something that cannot be controlled. In this way, the characters of “A Zed and Two Noughts” are tied to an untamable sense of helplessness, being at the mercy of fate. It is at some of the fateful moments in the film, where the symbolism of the tiger appears. The scenes where the imagery of a tiger is tied to a sense of fate and an unstoppable power are mixed throughout the movie: the initial car accident, the similar pacing of the tiger with the pacing of Oswald, and the final tiger cage entry by both twins.

The scene which initiates all action, and starts the plot in motion is the car accident. This occurs in front of an Esso Billboard which sports a large tiger graphic. This crash has a sense of fate to it, in that neither of the twins would have been able to stop it, and they are helpless to aid their wives in their final moments. Each man has a sense of responsibility for the loss of his wife, but like the tiger in the cage, all the power or strength in the world cannot give him the ability to change his situation.

At the very beginning of the film, we see the tiger pacing up and down the cage, unable to improve his situation, yet still representing a force to be reckoned with. In a later scene, we see Oswald pacing up and down the wall of his apartment, wearing away at the wall covering and becoming more and more frustrated at his inability to change his situation. We see the mirroring of the pacing, but recognizing the tiger as a symbol of strength whilst being at the mercy of fate, the symbolism rings true for Oswald’s thoughts. He is a trained doctor, studying decomposition, and with all his knowledge and skill, he cannot stop the process which is happening upon his wife who has recently been buried. His apartment is also riddled with stuffed tigers and trinkets in the image of a tiger, which furthers the connection between the animal, symbol, and Oswald.

A third location of the symbolism of the tiger is near the end where both twins enter into the tiger cage unarmed. The men receive matching wounds which reflect the location at which they were separated at birth. The location of the wounds is critical to the connection to the notion of fate: even though they have denied it, the twins cannot escape the fact that they are conjoined twins. It seems appropriate that it is the caged tiger that inflicts the wound that inspires the twins to request that they be re-joined and causes a new progression of plot as the twins begin acting conjoined once more.

In all of these ways, the tiger is a symbol for fate, the instigator of change which is beyond control in Greenaway’s “A Zed and Two Noughts”.



12. Morgan O'Reilly

Symbolism plays a large role in the structure of the film and its narrative. Describe the role of the colour RED vs WHITE.

Throughout A Zed and Two Noughts colour is used as a means of expressing overarching ideas in the film. The use of black and white as well as red and white are extremely evident in this respect.
Red would be traditionally known by the viewer to symbolize blood, fire and anger as well as love (often strong emotions in general). Overall it could be understood in the film to represent uncontrollable forces. White on the other hand is known to symbolize life, purity, goodness, angels, gods as well as innocence. With this symbolism in mind one can see the conflicting idea that while life is pure and precious there are darker forces such as death which are wild, unpredictable and could at any time harm or taint the purity of life. This is an idea that the twins struggle with throughout the plot, it is essential to the film and is represented by the use of red and white.

Looking at specific examples, it can be immediately understood by the viewer that the lady in red is an uncontrollable antagonist having only negative intentions. On the other hand there is the understanding that the legless man who wears all white is a good person without evil motives. The use of red and white however is most important when used at the same time. In these moments it represents the struggle between these opposing ideas. It is first seen in the car accident as Alba’s “flaming red hair” is contrasted against the white feathers of a swan and the white car.  This instance represents the internal struggle that the twins experience throughout the film as they are unsure of whether or not Alba was the cause of the accident. Dark forces are introduced into what otherwise is a completely innocent car ride. Red is brought into an otherwise completely white situation.

The twins try to come to terms with these red uncontrollable forces throughout the film. The most obvious example of this is their struggle to accept death. Red and white are most often used around Alba who is a constant reminder of the accident as the twins struggle with accepting the deaths of their wives. Alba seems to struggle herself with the darker forces within her. For example she has completely given in to these forces in the threesome scene and at this time she wears a red night gown. On the other hand she seems to be resisting these forces as she is taken to meet the legless man in white.
Rarely however, are the characters completely dressed in white without some hint of red. This might be seen to represent the darker forces, such as death that are always present in the back of the characters minds.



13. Sue Anne Tang

Speak about the role of Beta (the young daughter) in the film. How does the development of her character feed into a feeling of madness in the film?

In the beginning of the film, the audience relates to Beta, since she represents innocence, normalcy and reality. Like her, the audience is introduced into Peter Greenway’s world of animal decay, grief, and obsession. In the beginning of the film, the juxtaposition of Beta and the other characters, amplify their eccentricities. The dynamic between the characters transform as Beta’s character develops and begins to relate to madness. From the origin of Beta’s name to her relationship with her mother and the brothers, a sense of instability emerges.

The bedroom scene, when the two brothers and Alba consummate, it is evident that Beta becomes the observer and the backdrop of the unfolding narrative. Through Beta’s eyes, the audience is able to see various facets of the characters and plot, such as the scene with the doctor and woman and the zebra underwear.  As her character develops, she begins to become influenced by the brothers. She recites the alphabet in relation to animals and starts a personal zoo. The fascination of life and death begins to distort Beta’s and the audience’s reality. The audience, like Beta, is drawn into the irresistible world of the brothers, in which questions the boundary between insanity and reason. Through Beta, the audience questions the truth of the portrayed reality and the unfolding events, which indicated when she cannot tell the brothers apart. Yet, at the end, she is removed from the brothers’ world and Alba as the man in the white becomes her guardian. Beta’s shift in perception of reality, paralleled by the audience’s, feeds into a feeling of madness in the film.



14. Meredith Vaga

This film is laced with symmetry. Speak to the symmetry in the architectural settings of the film and its relationship to the plot.

The plot of the film “A Zed and Two Noughts” is developed throughout the narrative by the commenting and questioning of the validity of constructing precise systems as a means of understanding the natural world. Though the film is peppered with various existing organizational systems, the two that are specifically contrasted are the historically opposing ideas of ‘religion’ versus ‘science’.

The film posits that we as humans use systems as a way of creating a ‘controlled’ environment, thereby allowing us to understand that world. In the current society science is the method of choice, as seen in the progression of the story. This attempt at moderation and mediation is then reflected in the architecture of the film. The majority of the film is framing a mirror image, or the suggestion of a mirror image (such as when the twins are each sitting under a different “self portrait” of Vermeer.) Having complete symmetry in the architecture in the shots themselves is a manifestation of the urge to control the landscape, literally as it is eschewing the accepted ‘rule of thirds’ compositionally. Those places in the film that are not symmetrical all tend to occur in moments where the imposed system in the story breaks down, such as the ending with the snails subverting the scientific experiment. Here the architecture shows the futility of treating these theories as absolute truths when the unpredictability and chaos of nature inevitably begins to take over.

On a more general level, the creation of parallel’s in the architecture seem to suggest the two prevailing theories of contemporary society – religion and science – are really two sides of the same coin, even if they more often than not find themselves in diametric opposition. In the end neither of them can claim to be the be-all and end-all.

Finally, the reflected architecture is seen as a physical frame of the progression of the story itself, which comes to a full inverted circle, if you will. For instance: the film opens with the accidental death of the vices in what is implied to be an unexpected product of the animals and nature; and then closes with the botched death of their husbands with the snails destroying their final, ultimate posthumous scientific experiment.



15. Anna-Joy Veenstra

This film is laced with symmetry. Speak to the symmetry in the development of the twins in the film and its relationship to the plot.

The facts, fiction, mythology and apocrypha on twins is limitlessly rich - two of everything, the search for your other half, mistaken identities, mirror-imaging, substitution, the doppelgänger, the lateral line and cloning. Plots, plays, scripts and libretti are certainly not infrequent on the subject. The archetypal pair of twins, Castor and Pollux, the astrological Gemini, born out of an egg from the union of a swan and a god provide A Zed & Two Noughts with its central pivot, the brothers Oliver and Oswald Deuce, the two letter Os, the two noughts, the two zeros of the film's title - put together to make a spectacle of themselves.” Peter Greenaway

The two brothers seem to be alike; zoologists, investigators and now widowers. However, emotionally, they react differently to their wives’ deaths. One is seen freeing animals; the other studies their evolution til decay. Perhaps one is more “right side dominant” (spontaneous, solves problems intuitively, thinks better lying down, likes to organize thinks to show relations), while the other is “left side dominant” (usually do things in a planned orderly way, very logical, think better sitting down, skilled at sequencing ideas). They seem to compliment each other. What one didn’t know, the other did.

Nonetheless, as the movie progresses, their trajectories and physicalities merge. They both attempt to understand the event of their wives’ deaths by studying the Darwinian origins of life and its eschatology through David Attenborough documentaries. This quest reunites them and they reveal that they were Siamese twins separated during childhood. Oliver and Oswald grow increasingly more alike, until they appear practically identical. Their obsession with symmetry is so deep that they ask Van Meegeren to join them together again. However, he refuses, so the twins ask Venus de Milo to sew a special suit that would join them together instead. To complete the evolutionary cycle they have been analyzing, inevitable from the beginning of the investigation, the twins end up committing suicide side by side and filming their own decay.



16. Rui Wang

Speak to the almost symmetrical nature in the use of opposites in the film: black and white, life and death, birth and decay.

There seems to be little meaning behind the symmetry of these particular aspects of the film other than for purely aesthetic purposes. Unless Greenway consciously believes his audience (who, because they are seeing this kind of film, can be considered a relatively educated lot) does not see the cyclical and repetitious nature of life and death, he is then going out of his way to consciously emphasis the similarities in this duality as an artistic expression.

The film’s unnerving trait of always striving for the symmetrical can be traced back through centuries of painted artworks and Greenway’s transposition of those laws into the medium of film is perhaps not surprising. Because film is a temporal medium, one notices that Greenway plays with the symmetry of the film in duration as well as subject matter. Thus we have children being born as the mother dies, and the twins slowly becoming more and more intertwined. The sets, the references to replicating artwork in real-life, all reinforce the notion that life is mimetic.

The convoluted, meticulously set-up visuals parallel the equally absurd story. The whole film works as an end to itself. The symmetry exists so it can cancel each other out. In the end you are left with not so much a movie, but more of the feeling of just having solved a Sudoku puzzle. There’s a certain satisfaction, but it is fleeting and one can’t help but feel like there are more productive things to do than to solve a puzzle that exists for no other purpose than to be solved again and again.



17. Jane Wong

Compare the use of the Darwin documentaries in Zed to the documentaries that were used in A Clockwork Orange. How does each feed into or support the nature of the plot development and sense of purposeful madness in the films.

Documentaries are generally seen as objective views of reality, and while not necessarily portraying the complete truth, they are a source of factual information and serve as references to the general public. In most cases documentaries try to reveal the truth to most unbiased degree, and are readily accepted due to their factual nature, and it is this quality of order and convention that sets the normalcy for the movie.  In Zed, the Darwin documentaries portray the cycles of life for various species, and this idea of generation, regeneration and life sets a precedent and juxtaposition for the brothers’ documentation and investigation of decay. The consistent nature of the Darwin documentaries also creates a bond between the brothers in thought and in matter, and support their existence as Siamese twins rather than as separate beings. This feeds into the madness and obsession of the brothers through the stark contrast of their experimentations of death and their new life as reconnected twins, and the lives they led separately. It is easy to see the wildness and oddity in the documentation of death, as we are reminded by the Darwin documentary of the natural processes of life and natural selection, and hence, a method of documentation that is also of convention, which the brothers break through their pursuit and killing of animals to satiate their curiosities.

As for the documentaries in a Clockwork Orange, Alex is exposed to films of violence that are used to ingrain the convention, or what is right, into his mind. The documentaries also set a precedent for Alex’s behaviour, and provide a backdrop and juxtaposition similar to in Zed that emphasizes his madness and the wrong in his lewd acts, but yet also demonstrates the extreme nature of the asylum’s methods of “correction”.  Rather than show Alex documentaries of acts of kindness and good, he is shown gruesome, violent films to have pain induced at extreme moments, which portrays another method of experimentation that breaks societal conventions, and only emphasizes the wrong and madness of it all.



18. Yoshi Hashimoto

In reference to Un Chien Andalou, would you consider A Zed and Two Noughts to also be a Surrealist film? Is any one of the less or more disturbing? Why?

I feel Zed and Two Noughts is at most a mildly Surrealist film.  The spirit of the surrealist movement was to incite surprise and even shock by subverting the norms of what is expected in various art forms and the like.  While Zed and Two Noughts certainly does place unexpected juxtapositions at pivotal moment during the film, in today's context it is entirely tame and hardly elicits anything close to shock. 

Arguably the most extreme elements of the film were the reactions to amputation and death (or lack of reaction and emotion), as well as the stop motion sequences featuring the process of decay.  Indeed it is not for the squeamish, and could certainly be cause for offense amongst some audiences.  Is it surreal?  For me, surreal is when something is distinctly out of the realm of the real.  It resides somewhere between the real and the unreal.  A surreal event would never be confused with real life, and this is the role of peripheral imagery or characters, or of bending the rules of time and physics.  Strange behaviour and events are just that- odd but it just could happen.  Context is everything.  Dada films simply would not cause the wonderment that they were meant to instill, to audiences today unless it was understood that it was cutting edge for the time.  We are bombarded continuously with crazy images and sequences these days, in music videos and advertisements, it is what passes for entertainment now, and we have grown desensitized to it.  In this way, surreal cannot be replicated in the same manner and get the same result as in past generations.  It is about as shocking as Elvis' swiveling hips. 

A modern surreal film must take an extra step to propel you into a suspended state of belief.  It does not necessarily need talking cockroaches or even C.G., but it does need to get your heart rate up, cause one to gasp and reach for the rewind button.  The sleepy pace of the movie is actually the most surreal element of the film, but it needed to be juxtaposed with a complementary dose of adrenaline or at least visual surprise.  Decomposing bodies do not offer that- what else would you expect a dead body to do?  Prolonged animations of maggots can be either fascinating or disgusting, but they are not shocking.

Un Chien Andalou is markedly more disturbing.  Even by today's over sated gore fans, the cutting of the eyeball with a razor is heartrendingly difficult to watch.  To see it in original discoloured black and white is just icing, it adds an edge that modern filmmakers go to great lengths to replicate.  Even something the relatively tame "armpit where the mouth should be" scene conveys a clear sense of invasion.  There are some things you never want to look at, and it doesn't always have to be gory.  There is an undeniable dreamlike quality to the entire story, and the transitions frequently elicit genuine surprise.  Truly life presents all sorts of twists, but when you see a man dragging 2 grand pianos, dead donkeys and 2 priests, you can be certain that it is a surreal event.



19. Elfie Kalfakis

Compare the graphic nature of the “violence” in Un Chien Andalou, Clockwork Orange and A Zed and Two Noughts.

In Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange violence is portrayed gratuitous.  Its shown as a human instinct that is satisfying the characters primal, yet manic, urges.  The acts are reactions of the madness in each character.  The violence is savored by each of the assaulters, but at the same time treated as trivial consequences to their primal urges. The film deploys camera angles that capture the assaulter’s sense of. It paints violence with a vividness that captures the savage nature of the assaulter’s acts; a depiction of experience.   The violent acts are not graphic in that the visuals make the audience squeamish; but rather the audience experiences the intensity of the act through the assaulter. 

Peter Greenway’s A Zed + Two Noughts, displays violence overtly.  There is a very clear representation of violent acts in an observational/ scientific manner.  Violent acts occur as a means to investigate biological cycles. The portrayal of violence is one of scientific examination. It causes discomfort through vivid portrayals of the physical repercussions of this violence.  It causes a squeamish reaction rather than one of disturbance.  A Zed and Two Noughts is psychologically disturbing in alternate way to Clockwork Orange, where violence acts are trivial consequences of scientific examination.  That’s not to say that Clockwork Orange is not psychologically disturbing.  Of course, acting on all primal impulses at ones leisure, as Alex does, is nonsensical.  But it is the idea that violence is an act that stems from an inner primal madness that makes Clockwork Orange differ from A Zed and Two Noughts. 

In Un Chien Andalou, the violence is a combination of gratuitous violence, (the man fondling the woman’s breasts) and an exposition of physical reactions to violence, (the razor splitting a woman’s eyeball). However, there is a distinction between this movie in relation to A Zed + Two Noughts and A Clockwork Orange.  The surrealist movement prided itself in enveiling the human unconscious through works of art.  The movie Un Chien Andalou is a representation of a person’s dream sequence.  It is this position that negates any psychological disturbance on the audience.  Where A Zed + Two Noughts and A Clockwork Orange portray a reality, Un Chien Andalou isn’t.   The audience is then able to follow the movie as delirious representations of someone’s sub-conscious rather than their terrifying reality. 



20. Elaine Lui

Does the nature of the architectural setting this film (thinking of Alba’s apartment and the more precious spaces in the film) balance the nature of the decay sequences in a way that makes their place in the film more acceptable than had they been contained in a grittier series of spaces?

The nature of the architectural setting in this film places the decay sequences in a palatable manner by gradually intensifying them then if the architecture had been the opposite of which was shown.

The architecture of Alba’s apartment does balance the decay sequences within a setting that has calm connotations. The architecture consists of white walls and black lines in a respectable clean and well lit environment. The first scene of decay is of an innocently bitten apple in a modern apartment. As the desire to capture decay of more simple organisms begin to consume the twins, Oliver and Oswald, the scene changes to eerie flashes of photography light in a darkened room. The frequency of the darkened room scenes increase as does the complexity of the rotting organism being filmed.

However, the pleasing architectural spaces of symmetry that Alba occupies are light and airy, allowing the viewers to soon forget the abysmal decay that had just occurred. The pure white curtains billow in the wind as furniture continually becomes more sparse in the hospital of large double-height bay windows that presents Alba as belonging with the nature that surrounds her. This gives the audience enough intrigue to keep watching with enough comic relief in beauty and irony.

The film is very successful in easing the viewer into scenes of extreme grotesque by using the beauty of the built environment as a disguise to the disintegrating world Peter Greenaway creates.



21. Reggie Macintosh

Violence in film (the kind that earns the R or X rating in terms of censorship), usually consists of scenes that are either highly sexual in nature or very bloody. I know that I felt very uneasy with the graphic nature of the decay scenes in this film. Do you think this sort of scene would warrant a censorship rating? Why? Why not?

In film, the purpose of censorship and restrictive ratings is to protect those who are not yet mature enough or able to understand that violence or sexual content is to be viewed in the context of the film but not as reality.  The scenes in A Zed and Two Noughts depicting the decay of both plants and animals are incredibly graphic and to some are very disturbing, especially since the footage is real.  Scenes such as these should definitely be considered when assigning heavier ratings to films.

If we are to follow a set of standards for film ratings, then A Zed and Two Noughts should be no exception considering the graphic images of decay presented, even if we ignore the film’s sexual and violent content.  If this film were shown to young children, their collective reactions would be very predicable, especially after watching the Dalmatian being transformed from man’s best friend to a maggot-ridden carcass.  Most likely there would be a fair amount of questions like, “Why did they kill the puppy?” made barely comprehensible through the shower of tears and hiccoughing sobs.  Scenes of decay like in Zoo will do more harm then good when shown to the wrong audience by possibly causing nightmares or further trauma instead of promoting understanding.  It is important that all people learn about what happens to a body after death, but only at an appropriate age.  It is also important that a person understand the meaning of death and its importance to the people it affects before being shown the results of death.  This type of imagery is very similar to scenes of extreme violence.  The difference is that violent scenes sometimes end in death and scenes of decay begin with it.  Disturbing enough in films is the depiction of death alone, even without decay and without showing the cause.  Censorship and advisories are applied to live television as well.  When presenting images of violence on the evening news, the newscaster always gives the public fair warning that content may not be suitable for all audiences. 

To protect the public, it is important for films to be rated in a way that will limit their exposure to the wrong people at the wrong time.  Scenes of decay, violence, and sexuality can all be very important to a film’s integrity and storyline, but only if the audience watching is mature enough to understand its purpose.



22. Judith Martin

Compare the effect of the soundtrack (largely done by Michael Nyman) for this film with that that Kubrick used for A Clockwork Orange. How does each feed into the sense of madness in the film?

The soundtracks to Clockwork Orange and A Zed and Two Naughts support the films’ depiction of chaos through increasing the sense of absurdity in a disturbing manner and creating an uncomfortable friction between the music and film.  The main character Alex performs the majority of the ultraviolent acts in Clockwork Orange. Alex participates in a rape and assault on a woman without any sense of empathy or guilt.  During this interlude Alex sings “I’m Singing in the Rain” (a popular song from the 1950’s musical comedy).  Pairing Alex’s guiltless ultraviolent acts with a cheerful and wholesome theme amplifies the films irrational events.  Similarly in A Zed and Two Noughts, a tart woman offers herself two one of the two widowed brothers.  She is rejected after commenting on the brother’s odd infatuation with snails and is thrown out.  As she collects her clothing and leaves the premises she sings “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.”  The composition of a semi-erotic scene with a popular children’s song, with little narrative correlation appeals to the films general theme of a nonsensical events. 

Clockwork Orange and A Zed and Two Noughts use classical scores to suit the mad theme of the film.  A synthesized version of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is appears during Clockwork Orange. The Beethoven’s music accompanies the frequent acts of violence throughout the film and is specifically relevant during the disturbing experimental treatment performed on Alex.  Throughout the film Alex proclaims his affection for Beethoven, ironically Alex is given an experimental treatment where he is forced to view horrific images while listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  Although the viewer is already accustomed to the combination of violence and Beethoven’s Ninth, there is an added conflict in this scenario because Alex is disturbed by the music, rather than infatuated with it.  The result is conflict within the films balance of the films use of Beethoven’s ninth, which in turn increases the chaotic nature of the film.  The musical Score to A Zed and Two Noughts composed by Michael Nyman is generally a compilation of strings, saxophones, a few electric bass and brass.  The harmonious compilation of the string instruments during the film contrasts the ultra structured and absurd imagery found in the film.  Throughout the film one of the brothers becomes infatuated with the concepts of death and decay so he takes stop animations of various animals and plants decaying.  The flowing harmonies of the score paired with the stuttering imagery of the decay stop animation strengthen the films sense of disturbing irrationality by coupling conflicting rhythms.  Each film uses specific music pieces to strengthen the general sense of madness by disturbing the audience through a combination of music and scene as well as causing friction between the music and image video. 



23. Derek McCallum

How does the art deco nature of the Rotterdam Zoo (used to film the zoo sequences) feed into the nature of the film? How might the film be different had Greenaway not been able to use this zoo (given that it was in fact designed by a single architect in the early 1900s so has a uniform architectural character)?

The zoo sequences in A Zed and Two Noughts are filmed within the Diergaarde Blijdorp in Rotterdam - one of the oldest zoos in Europe, founded in 1857.  Like the majority of the rest of the city, the zoo was destroyed during heaving bombing in WWII, leading to the death and escape of many animals.   The Dutch architect Sybold van Ravesteyn was selected to rebuild the entire zoo in his image, and he did so at a site north of the original where it would be safe from further bombardment.  The zoo’s design is therefore very homogenous and was amongst the first to utilize passive forms of animal containment (such as moats and overlooks) instead of the traditional cages and fencing.

Built during a fundamental transition phase in van Ravesteyn’s architectural theories, the zoo’s character is one of neo-classical modernism.  Nearly all the buildings are built out of poured-in-place concrete, and embellished with columns and a degree of restrained ornament that van Ravesteyn had recently rediscovered.  The overall character of the place is rather somber and the overwhelming homogeneity of the entire complex renders it even more so.  This suits the film well because of the grave themes it explores, and in a way reflects the depressed emotional state of its main characters.  The classical proportions and symmetry of van Ravesteyn’s architecture serve Greenaway very well in further illustrating his themes of twinning and balance seen obsessively throughout the film.  Almost any scene filmed within the zoo can provide a perfectly symmetrical or balanced background for the director, and Greenaway uses this to his advantage.  The zoo as a background is often not the main focus of the scene, but its subtle symmetry strengthen it as a whole.  The concentration of monochromatic concrete construction also works for the character Van Hoyten – who is colour-blind – and his ambitions of creating a zoo exclusively for black and white animals. 

I think had Greenaway been unable to film within this zoo, the nature of the film would be fundamentally different.  Had it been filmed in, for example, the Toronto Zoo, with its myriad pavilions of various architectural styles and scales, that underlying sense of balance and symmetry within the film would be weakened.  The Rotterdam Zoo is also successful in that it doesn’t necessarily look like a typical zoo – its classical style renders it similar to many civic and institutional mid-century buildings.  In this way the viewer feels less like he is watching humans and animals within a zoo, but rather watching them inhabit a fantastical world where everything has an equal or balancing part.



24. Sarah Neault

Greenaway admits to a decision in conjunction with his cinematographer to use all 26 types of set lighting in the film. This he said was he was self conscious about film as a language. Do you think this particular instance assists in the portrayal of a sort of madness in the film?

“The basic lighting scheme for film and video was a three-point system, consisting of a key light, a fill light, and a back light. The key light is the primary light in the scene and it simulates the natural light, e.g., the outdoors or an interior light. It is usually placed between 30 and 45 degrees from the camera-subject axis and is elevated by 30-45 degrees.

The fill light is supposed to partially fill in, or soften, the shadows created by the key light. It is a lower intensity and more diffuse light than the key light. It is usually placed on the opposite side of the camera from the key light, at an angle of 30-45 degrees from the camera-subject axis, and at about the height of the camera. If the fill light is too intense, then a low contrast, flat image is created.

The back light is placed above and to the rear of the subject, so that the light does not come directly into the camera lens. It helps to outline the subject, especially the upper portion, and to separate it from the background.

More extensive lighting systems may include the following:

  1. eyelight - a small light that can be focused to reflect in the subjects eye, giving them a reflective sparkle
  2. background light - to illuminate the background
  3. kicker light - similar to a back light, i.e. it helps to separate the subject from the background. It is usually placed low, behind the subject, and may be opposite the key light

By varying the intensity, duffuseness, position, and number of these lights, different effects can be obtained. Note that some of these lights might be virtual lights, i.e., highly reflective surfaces that are positioned to reflect the light of a real light source.”
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Interestingly, I can find no general reference to 26 types of set lights, but the number 26 recurs throughout the film, particularly in reference to the 26 letters of the alphabet (after which Alba Buick names her children, though the Greek alphabet that she uses has only 24 letters, as pointed out to her by Oliver).  I wonder, then if Greenway’s statement is more potent evidence of madness on the part of the filmmaker than any particular application of set lighting.

There is no doubt that Greenway uses a wide variety of types of set lighting - from spotlights to headlights to light from an empty film projector.  This dizzying variety gives each scene a distinct character even when shot on the same set from the same angle thus throwing off the viewer’s sense of continuity.  Discontinuity is one of a filmmaker’s rhetorical methods for representing madness - it mimics the “mad person’s” rapid and violent personality swings.

Greenway’s personal obsession with the Dutch painter Vermeer’s use of light - calling him the the inventor of cinematography in that “cinema is a world entirely manufactured by light, dealing with singular split seconds of time” (The Age) - is also woven into the plot of the film as Van Meegerin repeatedly tries to make Alba up as a woman from Vermeer’s painting “The Music Lesson”.  Greenway does not, however copy Vermeer’s lighting when he sets up this scene - he reverses the source of light and removes it from the shot.



25. Lisa Rajkumar-Maharaj

Greenaway says that one of the major themes of the film (given that it originated in the early 1980s) was as an environmental commentary the responded to his keen interest in natural history and Darwin. An examination of the world as a zoo. Inferences that there were issues with stability of the same and the position of the human species in the world zoo. Do you think this message is still evident when viewing the film in 2008? Why? Why not?

I do not think the message of the film, as an exposition on Darwinian Natural history or environmentalism remains relevant today. I say this mainly because the film seems to be more about suffering and decay than about evolution. Critics have said that the story is Darwinian in that it favours the evolution of death over the evolution of life. Although this theme is central to the story, I think that today, one leaves the film with the idea of it as a tragedy, and a sordid kind of story on human suffering.

The short films follow the themes of natural history and environmentalism in the sense that they show sequentially, the decomposition of simple celled organisms to more complex organisms, almost to human decomposition. They also convey an acute, unmitigated sense of mortality and physicality of life, but more importantly; the inevitability and nakedness of death and decay. This reflects an underlying human anxiety about mortality and the stability of their position in the lifecycle. One brother says on more than one occasion that he hates the idea of his wife’s corpse rotting in the ground. In the film however no humans are seen decomposing physically, which pulls back the evolution of the theme to a more esoteric human decay than a physical one (which I’m not sure isn’t a bit of a cop-out).

This movie has received high critical acclaim but has also passed over the heads of many. It is known as one of Greenway’s least accessible movies (although one of his best). There is a plethora of symbolic and literary references included in its telling, many of which pass over the heads of the general audience. I think therefore if it indeed explored the stability or instability of the human species in the evolutionary process, its anxiety is one that was more relevant at the time it was filmed than it is currently. This is perhaps because a great deal of the effect of the movie is because of it’s graphic content – which isn’t as surprising to a modern audience as it might have been at the time. It’s portrayal of human life in a metaphorical zoo is quite limited to more superficial symbolism than a holistic approach to the craft of the movie. Life in a metaphorical science lab of deranged twin brothers, mad with grief – is perhaps more appropriate.



26. Michael Taylor

The cinematographer on this film was Sacha Vierny. This was the first time that Greenaway had used him (not for his previous first film, A Draughtsman’s Contract). Vierny had worked with Alain Resnais before this. (He did the work on Night and Fog and Hiroshima Mon Amour as well as Prospero’s Books.) He had obvious influence in the creation of this film. How might this contrast with the nature of filming that Kubrick employed, given that he did a significant portion of his own camera work?

Stanley Kubrick uses quick erratic camera movements to indicate a kind of chaotic psychology in his movie.  More specifically many of his shots focus on the faces and expressions of the characters while maintaining constant movement of the camera during the “madness” scenes.  It is the physical aggression in clockwork orange which gives it a distinction within a surreal dystopic environment, and it is the close ups which gives the audience an exaggerated connection to the character’s emotion at that particular instance.  Whether this emotion is fear, madness, confusion etc. is dependent on the facial expression of that character and its reliance on cinematography to express it. 

  This is not the same for a z and two noughts.  Many of the scenes shots by vierny are viewed through wide angles and during most of the film we are far enough away from the characters to feel a sort of separation with them physically but a closer connection to them psychologically.  He uses wide angles to capture larger sets in and the characters are pushed to the background.  This is a major distinction between Vierny and Kubrick, as in Z and Two Noughts, the audience depends more on the script and the music to know when to expect a scene of madness. 



27. Alison Janes

Differentiate between the artistical inference "madness", "obscene" and "sick" in cinema in reference to A Zed and Two Noughts vs A Clockwork Orange, Burton's Batman and Chien Andalou.

(same question as Allan's below - I want two opinions on this subject)

“Madness” – the state of being severely mentally ill, extremely foolish behaviour, a state of frenzied, chaotic behaviour.

“Obscene” – offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of moral behaviour and decency. – repugnant.

“Sick” - Suffering from or affected with a physical illness,  Mentally ill or disturbed. Unwholesome, morbid, or sadistic, Defective; unsound, Deeply distressed

In a Zed and Two Noughts, the main characters have been traumatized by the death of their wives.  Their madness and obscene behaviour is triggered by this event and eventually leads to their deaths. This is similar to the Joker’s traumatic decent into madness Burton’s Batman. However, A Zed and Two Naughts is primarily concerned with the portrayal of the lengthy decent into madness and the destruction of the body and the mind as it progresses rather than the chaotic behaviour when one reaches that state as in Batman. 

Greenaway uses physical sickness in the form of rotting and decay as a metaphor for a decent into madness. Visually this is accomplished by the increasingly graphic description of rotting animals as the movie progresses. The obscene or disgusting rotting mirrors the growing mad obsession and amoral behaviour of the main characters. This is also mirrored in the obscene (in this sense against accepted standards of moral or natural behaviour) sexual behaviour of the twins: a ménage a trois, a child by two fathers.  Alba’s physical deterioration and sickness (essentially the rotting of her legs), also mirrors the increasingly morbid and sadistic actions of the Duce Brothers and herself as their mental sanity deteriorates.

In comparison, A Clockwork Orange is pre-occupied with the definition of sickness, obscenity and madness rather than the lengthy portrayal of how the character actually arrived at this mental state. The doctors and prison staff try to use physical illness as a means of curing the main character. The intention is to improve the mental and moral behaviour of Alex through sickness, rather than use it a physical expression of his decay. However, when we understand that Alex has been completely destroyed by the physical sickness, his illness becomes a metaphor for the society’s decent into amoral and obscene behaviour.


28. Allan Wilson

Differentiate between the artistical inference "madness", "obscene" and "sick" in cinema in reference to A Zed and Two Noughts vs A Clockwork Orange, Burton's Batman and Chien Andalou

(same question as Allison's above - I want two opinions on this subject)

To reiterate, madness in Batman is inferred viz. the placement of an anarchic character in a highly articulated atmosphere. Alternatively this condition is inverted in Clockwork Orange, wherein an articulated character is placed primarily in an abstract and modernized environment. The synthesis of the two can be found in Greenaway’s Zed and Two Noughts. It can be argued that neither of the twins is actually insane but instead are expressing their disposition as a coping mechanism. Rather than embodying “villainistic” qualities they remain composed in investigating they cycles of life and death while fully interacting with the erratic, supporting cast. Madness in Un Chien Andalou is then interpreted as the antithesis to both Burton’s and Kubrick’s inferences. This is done by juxtaposing characters in juxtaposing (fluctuating) scenarios, thus removing all frames of reference.

Obscenity in both Batman and Un Chien Andalou is depicted as very cartoonish and carnal, Thus strengthening the tone of the film as a work of fiction that we can objectively asses and participate in. On the other hand, the other two films present obscenities as being very graphic and very real situations. The disease associated with the films makes the works more impactful as commentaries on our latent potential for self-destruction.

Finally, sickness in Batman and Zed and Two Noughts is presented as an external accident or condition which is then associated with some feeling of sympathy for the “victim”, whether it is Jack (the Joker) transforming via the chemical accident, or the brothers losing their wives. While in Un Chien Andalou and Clockwork Orange, the sickness is inferred as a psychological and deeply personal, innate condition that immediately isolates the character as being insane.


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