Tim Carless's Live Score for Peter Greenaway's Cook Was Appetizing at The ArtsCenter | Arts

Tim Carless's Live Score for Peter Greenaway's Cook Was Appetizing at The ArtsCenter


The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover: Reimagined
Saturday, June 25, 2016
The ArtsCenter, Carrboro

The Saturday before last at The ArtsCenter, Tim Carless premiered his original score for an abridged version of the cult classic The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, director Peter Greenaway’s most celebrated film. When Greenaway began filming it in the 1980s, he already had a reputation noble enough to attract Michael Gambon, Tim Roth, and Helen Mirren to the project.

The film is billed as a black comedy centering on the foursome of the title as they enjoy adultery, sumptuous food, and cannibalism—and did I mention Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, and Tim Roth are in it? Greenaway’s ability to get these Shakespearean-trained actors to perform this shockfest as they would Troilus and Cressida is a sight worth seeing. He’s a master of film language, so that even when his movies are muted and abridged, you can still follow their inner life. Carless and his band—Casey Toll on bass, Daniel Hall on percussion—translated Greenaway’s visual language in well executed scoring.

Carless’s score begins where Greenaway’s camera does, in the dingy underworld of the kitchen where the cook plies his trade. It is an epic first ten minutes, with the camera taking long shots through Gambon and Mirren’s tasting of the different menus. A low-octave piano motif gives this epic opening the foreboding tone of film noir. The dialogue is muted, but the images are so sumptuous we can’t look away.

In more emotional moments—a fight breaks out, or the husband thinks he hears his wife and her lover in a bathroom stall—Carless’s music builds. Other times it instills a creeping sense of dread. Yes, the movie itself has a feeling of nihilism. Not a single character in Greenaway’s world is good in any regard. But Carless enhances the nihilism, making Greenaway’s images feel more apocalyptic than just shocking.

It has been said that The Cook … is, among other things, Greenaway's comment on Thatcher’s Britain and the self-inflicted desire to consume excessive amounts of things (and, in Greenaway's characters' case, people) as a result. Carless’s music moves through this wasteland swiftly, equaling Greenaway’s ingenious brushstrokes to nimbly capture repressed feelings. Notably, in the scenes with Mirren (see how she sighs longingly as she surreptitiously observes a gentleman from afar while her oaf of a husband scarfs down his food), Carless provides aching, melancholy anthems that echo Bill Evans. It is as though Carless is in the characters’ skin, hearing their inner wants and needs.

Spending Saturday evening taking in the film in its abridged version, thanks to Hollywood editor Ruth David (with Greenaway’s blessing), was a surprisingly moving experience, and it was disappointing not to see The ArtsCenter more crowded for such a rare presentation. But at least you can catch The Cook … in its entirety eventually, as The Cinema, Inc. will screen it at the Rialto January 8.

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