Career-defining projects can be dangerous. They grab media attention and give you your famous fifteen minutes. After that you want to move on without constantly referring back to one highlight. “The Pillow Book” left its mark on my career but is now ancient film history – production began twenty years ago this month. Time for the long shadows of this wonderful film to fade away for good. So let me say a word or two here and then wish Vivian, Ewan and Peter a fond farewell.
Pillow Book has aged in a way that Prospero’s Books, made four years earlier, has not. The film seems dated now, the story stiff and stilted. The acting is as good as Greenaway could make it. He has never been a director of genuine emotion, but in PB he tried and mostly failed to speak directly to the heart. And yet there are truly beautiful moments in the film (Vivian Wu against a silver door, with Ewan pounding on the other side; the Our Father prayer written on Vivian’s body; the flaying of Ewan to make the Book of the Lover).
I learned a great deal from the project, no denying that. Working at top speed and under enormous pressure, I discovered inner resources that have served me well since (big picture first, then the details; emotional impact first, graphic strength second; finesse and skill in the service of these). There were never second chances on the set. My first body composition had to be the money shot. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not. And so often, at the end of a shoot, I thought, “Damn!!! I should have done xxxx”.
There have been a lot of interesting and exciting projects since, often giving more artistic satisfaction than PB. Happy anniversary Pillow Book and rest in peace!