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Fox Lorber presents
A Zed and Two Noughts (1985)

"I don't think we've seen any cinema yet. I think we've seen 100 years of illustrated text."
- Peter Greenaway (director)

Review By: debi lee mandel   
Published: June 02, 2000

Stars: Andréa Ferréol, Brian Deacon, Eric Deacon
Other Stars: Frances Barber, Joss Ackland, Jim Davidson, David Attenborough (interior narrator)
Director: Peter Greenaway

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (full frontal nudity, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:55m:00s
Release Date: January 04, 2000
UPC: 720917519524
Genre: black comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+AB- C-

DVD Review

I know one fact about this didactic director, Peter Greenaway—that he is a painter—and that is all I need to know. Everything falls in to place. He composes every frame, meticulously, based on the fundamentals of classical design and structure as if any frame could be snatched from the reel and hung at the Tate. This is the art of cinematography, and he is a master.

A summary of A Zed and Two Noughts, or most any Greenaway film would be like briefly describing the Sistine Chapel—and it takes the Big Book to do that. This film is a lesson in dichotomy: life/death, birth/decay, everything and nothing. He reminds us that our own redemption lies in the cyclical aspect of nature and the blending of these universal opposites into the dizzying blur of existence.

"If the evolutionary span of life on earth is represented by a year of 365 days, then man made his first appearance on the evening of 31st December, just as the daylight was fading...." - David Attenborough, narrating the documentary that underscores the film

A Zed and Two Noughts—ZOO—is a rich feast for the universal food chain. It begins at the end, meaning, the beginning of the end for its characters. In a freak accident (swan vs. automobile), the 2 passengers killed are the wives of two brothers who work at the Zoo: Oliver Deuce, an animal behaviorist, studies the lives and habits of animals; Oswald, a microbiologist, studies the variety of life forms that thrive upon death. The brothers obsess on their tragedy and attempt to comprehend its meaning in their individual ways. Curiosity about the processes of their science, once so clinical and removed, now fascinates them to the point of morbidity. Everyone and everything is subjected to analysis, until they themselves are finally sacrificed. In watching, we ponder the elusive qualities of existence, see the cosmic concepts of opposition, played out through the recurrence of black and white—"Is a zebra a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes?"—which pass through the spectral arc and end in the murky ooze from whence life came.

This film is not illustrated text—the storyline merely forms the foundation necessary to understand the images and concepts Greenaway presents. He uses his characters as they use each other, a means to dissect the world in order to understand it. Greenaway is not a storyteller in the common cinematic sense; rather, he has made manifest the adage "a picture paints a thousand words". Not that the dialogue is unimportant—everything here is important—but it more provides guidance for the viewer who is used to being "told."

We are provided obvious clues: the brothers' names both begin with "O" and their surname is "Deuce"; later, as it becomes more difficult to tell them apart, we discover they are twins. The crash survivor whom they come to both love and torture, Alba Bewick (the swan that caused the accident was a white Bewick) loses her legs, and she is juxtaposed by a bizarre seamstress and bestial storyteller named Venus de Milo (rendering her symbolically armless). Greenaway makes us consider common things in new ways, which is the proof of any artist, in any medium, whose work lasts over time.

There is no sentimentality here—Greenaway is not Renoir. He deconstructs the world and reorganizes it through his lens. He shows us in vivid detail how simply we are all the same; how quickly and easily we, the highest life forms, become the fodder of the lowest. This is high-calorie food for thought, presented in a dazzling, decomposing buffet that both attracts and repels us. Nothing pretty here, but this film is stunning, frame by frame, layer by methodically decaying layer.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The picture is sharp, the colors are clear and even. The exquisite lighting plays a role in this film as important as any character, and I am pleased to see that the brights are even and the blacks are true. No evident signs of softness, which could easily destroy the purposefully sharp details and render the transfer of this film useless. This really is an excellent transfer, no flaws or distortions noted. Fox Lorber did well by this film.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: This disc is presented in the original mono, a shame because like everything here, the score plays an integral role. Still, it seems faithfully transferred and achieves its effect. (Truthfully, to be engulfed in the somewhat monosyllabic tones of the main leitmotif might actually be overkill....)

The dialogue comes through with clarity, although Alba's (Andrea Ferreol) thick french accent is difficult at times. I found the lack of subtitles disappointing, as there is still one thing she says that I can't quite make out. Early in the film there is an wonderful transition as Attenborough's narration moves from overlaying the action, into the confines of a movie theater, that is as subtle and perfect here as when I first saw this on the big screen.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 9 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: As an artist I prefer that a work speak for itself, but I feel so much could have been done as far as extras for this film. However, what little is there is well presented, and the frame chosen as background for the Production Credits in itself credits (via homage) the Dutch artist Vermeer, whose paintings inspired the framing of the film—a brilliant touch.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

Greenaway is not for everyone. But a film like A Zed and Two Noughts is the perfect argument for the DVD medium—it is so rich and intriguing as to beg to be viewed again and again to digest it all.


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