The Film Comment Podcast: Peter Greenaway on Drowning by Numbers
The last few years have seen several new restorations of the films of Peter Greenaway, the British director known for classics like The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982) and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989). His films are formally exacting and erudite, yet full of play and perversion, and are as provocative today as they were upon release.
The latest Greenaway film to receive a restoration is Drowning by Numbers, which has just been re-released by Severin Films on Blu-ray. Made in 1988, the film is a metaphysical puzzle, equal parts fairy tale and process piece. The story follows three women—a mother, her daughter, and her niece—all named Cissie Colpitts, as they drown their husbands one by one. They cover up their crimes with the help of local coroner Madgett and his son Smut, both of whom are obsessed with games of all stripes—moral, athletic, mathematical.
Shot by Greenaway’s frequent collaborator Sacha Vierny, Drowning by Numbers is one of the best of the director’s ’80s features, as clinical as it is maximalist. Recently, FC Co-Deputy Editors Devika Girish and Clinton Krute called up Greenaway on Zoom for a freewheeling conversation about his memories of making the film, his long career, and his thoughts on mortality and art.