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The Tulse Luper Suitcases is a multimedia project by Peter Greenaway, initially intended to comprise four films, three "source" and one feature, a 16-episode TV series, and 92 DVDs, as well as Web sites, CD-ROMs and books. Once the online Web-based portion of the project was completed, the "winner" having taken a trip following Tulse Luper's travels (and often imprisonment) during his first writings about the discovery of uranium in Moab, Utah in 1928 to his mysterious disappearance at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the final, feature film was released.
Two books and three feature films were released to supply material to the Flash/Web designers who competed in a contest to make one of the 92 Flash-based "suitcase" games featured on the interactive, online site The Tulse Luper Journey.
Three films, The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story, The Tulse Luper Suitcases,Part 2: Vaux to the Sea, and The Tulse Luper Suitcases, Part 3: From Sark to the Finish were released in 2003, although they were shown out of order, with Part 1 shown in 2003, Part 3 in early 2004 and Part 2 in summer 2004. Part 1 was entered into the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
All three were initially released only on DVDs made in Spain to provide "back-story material" for the designers working on the online site's "suitcases", chosen from submissions in a contest held in 2004. The trilogy was later released as a box set in Australia in 2008. There are also two books, Tulse Luper in Turin and Tulse Luper in Venice, published in 2004, for the same purpose.
In 2005, after the winner of the online game finished a free trip following the travels of Luper, an additional final feature, A Life In Suitcases (subtitled The Tulse Luper Journey) was released.
The project has been described by Greenaway as "a personal history of uranium" and the "autobiography of a professional prisoner". It is structured around 92 suitcases allegedly belonging to Luper, 92 being the atomic number of uranium as well as a number used by Greenaway in the formal structure of his earlier work (most notably The Falls). Each suitcase contains an object "to represent the world", which advances or comments upon the story in some way, although in many cases the contents are more metaphorical than real.
Luper was born in 1911 in Newport, South Wales and disappeared into ever more obscure prisons and jails in Russia and the Far East in the 1970s. He would have been 100 in 2011. In the last century, this extraordinary man archived his entire life in 92 suitcases. His life is shrouded in mystery, but it seems that Luper has been present at some of the key historical events of the 20th century, including the first nuclear tests in New Mexico, the 1968 Paris student protests and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Although Luper spent most of his life being a professional prisoner, he still managed to collect a large number of objects and store them in suitcases. In a way, these suitcases represent the world according to Tulse Luper. Tulse Luper is still presumed to be alive somewhere in the world - probably in a prison somewhere.
As a writer, collector, cataloguer and professional list-maker Luper is fascinated by traces, systems, maps, numbers and artifacts. The exhibition explores the connections between objects, events and ideas, re-peopling the house and bringing the collections and building to life. At the heart of the exhibition is the collection of 92 suitcases that Luper has supposedly abandoned on his travels. Tickling all senses, their content can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and felt, providing intriguing clues to his existence, his obsessions, the people he has met, and the places he has visited.
The visual style of the three feature films is unorthodox, even compared to other Greenaway films. This is most likely because they were meant to provide "source material" and "background story" for the Flash-based "suitcases" and hence are not truly meant to be watched as a film with typical fashion, but more of an audio/video pastiche.
In many scenes multiple takes, different angles, or identical copies of the same footage are displayed simultaneously within the frame, either superimposed or in discrete "boxes" taking up a small part of the screen. Multiple images are typically offset in time from one another, with a corresponding delay in audio. At times, a written representation of the script also scrolls across the screen as it is performed. The overall effect is similar to that of The Pillow Book, but because these effects are largely devoted to "narrator"-type characters providing exposition, or primary characters themselves commenting on or responding to the action, the overall effect is more like a visual encyclopedia or a form of interactive media (minus the actual interaction).
The character Tulse Luper has been featured (though rarely seen) in several of Peter Greenaway's earlier film works, and in The Tulse Luper Suitcases a substantial portion of Greenaway's output is briefly presented as if it had been filmed by Luper. Other connections to previous Greenaway films include the character Cissie Colpitts, who also appeared in the 1988 feature Drowning By Numbers and the 1978 short Vertical Features Remake as well as in The Falls from the same year. Tulse Luper, like Greenaway himself, is a keeper of extensive lists and catalogues, which serve as a sort of prism through which everything is seen. The most notable instance of this in the project is a collection of 1,001 stories which parallel The Book of One Thousand and One Nights in Arabic literature. The character Martino Knockavelli makes his first appearance here as a plump Italian schoolboy.
An entire issue of the online journal Image and Narrative: The Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative, Issue #12 is dedicated to study, analyze, deconstruct, and explain Greenaway's project.