Rembrandt’s J’accuse is an essayistic documentary in which Greenaway’s fierce criticism of today’s visual illiteracy is argued by means of a forensic search of Rembrandt’s Nightwatch. Greenaway explains the background, the context, the conspiracy, the murder and the motives of all its 34 painted characters who have conspired to kill for their combined self-advantage. Greenaway leads us through Rembrandt’s paintings into 17th century Amsterdam. He paints a world that is democratic in principle, but is almost entirely ruled by twelve families. The notion exists of these regents as charitable and compassionate beings. But reality was different.
The sinister title of the painting alone suggests we should look for it. And we should listen too to the sound-track of the painting. Amongst all the hullabaloo, the dogs barking, the drummer drumming, the clattering of thirteen pikes, the hallowing of Banning Cocq, the loudest sound is of a musket shot. You can see the flame of the firing, bursting forth behind the head of the foreground shining figure in yellow, who carries the head of his halberd where his prick should be, and whose belly is groped by the shadow of the hand of his companion. Where did the bullet go?
In 1642, the year of the painting of the Nightwatch, Rembrandt is a very successful and wealthy painter, twenty years later he is a pauper. Is this the result of the plutocracy of the Amsterdam Golden Age, that certainly had its less than golden underbelly, taking a revenge for Rembrandt’s dangerous accusation of conspiratorial murder in paint?
Peter Greenaway was born in Wales and educated in London. He trained as a painter for four years, and started making his own films in 1966. He has curated exhibitions and has regularly been nominated for the Film Festival Competitions of Cannes, Venice and Berlin, published books and written for the theatre and opera. His first feature film, ‘The Draughtsman’s Contract’, completed in 1982, received enormous critical acclaim and established him internationally as one of the most original and important film makers of our times, a reputation consolidated by the films 'The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover' and 'The Pillow Book'.