An avant-gardist who earned surprising access to the mainstream, Peter Greenaway is among the most ambitious and controversial filmmakers of his era. Trained as a painter and heavily influenced by theories of structural linguistics, ethnography, and philosophy, Greenaway's films traversed often unprecedented ground, consistently exploring the boundaries of the medium by rejecting formal narrative structures in favor of awe-striking imagery, shifting meanings, and mercurial emotional tension; fascinated by formal symmetries and parallels, his material displayed an almost obsessive interest in list-making and cataloguing, earning equal notoriety for its provocative eroticism as well as its almost self-conscious pretentiousness.
Born April 5, 1942, in Newport, Wales, Greenaway was raised primarily in nearby Chingford. After deciding at the age of 12 to become a painter, he entered the Walthamstow College of Art, where among his classmates was the future post-punk musician Ian Dury. By 1965, Greenaway had begun working as a film editor for the Central Office of Information, where within a year he started making his own experimental short features. Typical of his work of the period was 1966's Train, which featured footage of a steam-powered locomotive arriving at Waterloo Station recast as a mechanical ballet with a musique concrete score.