A Zed & Two Noughts (1985)

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Released 30-Jun-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-Director Peter Greenaway
Featurette-?0,ZOO Extracts from Documentary(6.56)
Introduction-by Peter Greenaway (6.40)
Easter Egg-Snails, Photo Gallery, Decay and Press Book
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1985
Running Time 112:00
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (56:00) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Peter Greenaway

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Andréa Ferréol
Brian Deacon
Eric Deacon
Frances Barber
Joss Ackland
Jim Davidson
Agnès Brulet
Guusje van Tilborgh
Gerard Thoolen
Ken Campbell
Wolf Kahler
Geoffrey Palmer
David Attenborough
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI ? Music Michael Nyman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles French
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A Zed and Two Noughts, from 1985, remains one of the most intriguing British films of the 80's and, for many, the crowning artistic achievement of British director Peter Greenaway. Funny, dark, strange and unsettling, it entertains though sheer audacity. This DVD was released in 2004 but may be hard to track down now. It is available as part of the Peter Greenaway Collection in a three DVD set with The Draughtsman's Contract and a documentary about the filmmaker.

An automobile crash outside the front of an unnamed Zoo results in the death of two middle aged women. Their car was hit by a swan. As bad luck would have it they were married to brothers Oliver and Oswald (real life brothers Eric Deacon and Brian Deacon), behavioural scientists working at the Zoo. The brothers are devastated by the loss.

Lacking the ability to understand the randomness of the tragic event both try to understand the nature of death. Oliver begins by watching the zoo's collection of David Attenborough videos, trying to find the meaning of life through study. Oswald instead looks at death and begins a study, through time-lapse photography, of decaying living things. He starts with an apple and graduates up the food chain into animals.

Both become obsessed with the only survivor of the crash, one Alba Bewick (Andrea Ferreol). She has lost a leg in the accident. When awakened after surgery, and questioned as to how she feels, she replies : " Short of a leg"!

The Zoo itself is in decline. The shady manager Van Hoyten (Joss Ackland) is trying to eradicate black and white animals from the zoo. He is not above killing an animal here and there to sell to the brothers for their work (they are now working together). As they delve deeper into decay, and into Attenborough, the brothers grow more and more alike- it is revealed that they are twins. The zoo prostitute Venus de Milo ( Frances Barber) exchanges sexual favours for animal parts and longs to, well, be united with the zebra. Meanwhile the zoo controller (Geoffrey Palmer) is growing increasingly frustrated that the brothers seem to be releasing animals from the zoo.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital Alba forms a sexual relationship with the brothers. Her surgeon Van Meggeran wants to remove her other leg claiming that it is damaging her spine. He is apparently related to the famous forger of paintings in the style of Vermeer. To attempt to chart the plot any further is perhaps to descend into confusion. Greenaway is a lover of games, mathematics and erudition and the film positively crackles with off-beat dialogue and ideas. As an artist he creates compositions which emulate the styles of his favourite painters, in this case the Dutch master Vermeer. The film had international funding and was made with a cast that included many talented French and Dutch actors. The performances are in keeping with the intense stylization and artifice of the film.

With A Zed and Two Noughts Greenaway began his long association with cinematographer Sacha Vierny. Vierny had been a favourite of the avant-garde, shooting several films for Alain Resnais including Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad and shot Belle De Jour for Luis Bunuel. The two are made for each other.

Rumour had it that the film was shot with light sources at the exact height of those in Vermeer's paintings. The truth is perhaps stranger. Greenaway and Vierny sat down and worked out how many different ways they could light the film. They came up with 26! So throughout the film eagle-eyed viewers will note that the light sources vary from morning, noon, night, moonlight, torch, fire, television, even rainbow. The compositions are impeccable and set up the idea of symmetry and twinship which is at the core of this film.

The wackiness of the script and the level of visual invention has led to the criticism that the film is too knowing and lacks any real heart. Partly true, as Greenaway is interested in the artifice, but I defy anyone not to be at least a little bit moved by the tragic irony of the ending as well as the inspired collaboration with composer Michael Nyman. It is in the meaningless struggle to understand death and fate - through decay and the history of life on earth- that we catch an echo of the infinite, the sublime point where meaning and style intersect. Peter Greenaway would go on to make the dark and brutal The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and the frighteningly intelligent Prospero's Books, The Baby of Macon and The Pillow Book. In the commentary track Greenaway suggests that with each successive project he is still making the same film. That may account for the fact that his reputation is nowhere what it was in the 80's. He continues to teach and be involved in art projects.

Although A Zed and Two Noughts can be a strange and difficult watch at times it is, for me, a high point of 80's cinema which allowed avant-garde ideas to slip into the mainstream with wit and humour.

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Transfer Quality


   A Zed and Two Noughts was shot in the Netherlands on 35mm film. It was shown cinematically at the European Widescreen ratio of 1.66:1 (IMDB mistakenly records it as a 1.85:1 aspect ratio).

This DVD is in the correct aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

A Zed and Two Noughts was originally released on DVD in Region 4 in 2004, this is a re-issue of that DVD and includes the identical extras. Prior to that release the only way to get the film was through Region 1. That version was in the correct aspect ratio but it was not 16x9 enhanced. Comparing the two versions doesn't show much difference in the considerable level of artefacts on show but there is an improvement in clarity from the letterboxed image to the 16x9 enhanced image. So too the PAL transfer appears a little less murky in its colours.

If ever a film was crying out for a high definition restoration it is A Zed and Two Noughts. In the commentary track Greenaway goes into great detail about the uses of light within the frames. In order to give the film a painting-like sense of depth Greenaway and Vierny used a lighting sequence of a.b.a.b. meaning that the light source would alternate darkness and light. The result is one of the most exquisitely lit and photographed films this side of Barry Lyndon. Unfortunately, the age and condition of the print diminish the effect that the film had at the cinema. It is grainy and soft throughout. The shadows are weak and diffuse and the colours are less than what one would like. The telecine wobbles from time to time. Still, there is enough quality left to convey most of the impressive colour palette and lighting effects used by the director and his cinematographer. In the commentary track Greenaway makes the interesting comment that the age of the cinematographer is largely over as the process of constructing a film is largely done in the editing suite.

Overall, the film is a marvel to behold.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


  The music for A Zed and Two Noughts is, of course, by British musicologist turned composer Michael Nyman. Although some may beg to differ for my money the score ranks equally with his music for The Piano. Whether it is the simple, central piano motif of a single struck key or the mad, hectic decay music Nyman's score is such a perfect accompaniment to the film that is is hard to imagine them apart. This is probably a result of the fact that Nyman worked with Greenaway from the outset rather than simply coming in to score the completed film. For fans of the soundtrack the remastered version is now available on music download services like iTunes and Bigpond Music. Aside from the Nyman the film features two creepy gramophone renditions of Teddy Bears Picnic and An Elephant Never Forgets.

The technical quality of the the soundtrack is fine. The dialogue can be heard clearly although the fact that the film was shot in Holland and featured a supporting cast of Dutch actors, speaking sometimes heavily accented English, can make for some difficulties in hearing all the dialogue. Greenaway never shied away from a multi-cultural cast and the inclusion of Andrea Ferreol adds another accent to the mix. It would have been nice to have a set of English subtitles instead of the Dutch and French set that are on offer.

Audi sync is mostly perfect.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


As with The Draughtsman's Contract there are an impressive array of extras available with this DVD.

Audio Commentary : Peter Greenaway

Peter Greenaway is a fine speaker. His approach to the commentary process is studied and intellectual. He is alive to the criticisms of the film, particularly the idea that there are really three stories in the film waiting to get out. Greenaway deals with the themes of the film and how he presents them in the movie. His knowledge and attention to detail is astonishing. The film was shot at the Rotterdam Zoo principally because it had one architect who designed all of the enclosures. He then shot the hospital interiors mainly because it was designed by the same architect. He points out that not long after a conversation with David Cronenberg in a coffee house the latter came out with Dead Ringers, a film that used the same ideas of twinship.

Perhaps the greatest feature of a Greenaway commentary is that he presents these extraordinary artistic ideas in a straight forward manner.

There are also a lot of minor asides about the process of making the film that many will find fascinating. One question, of course, is where they got the dead animals in particular the dead zebra? Another is how they got David Attenborough to lend his voice to the nature footage? Sorry, not telling!

Extracts from ?,O ZOO (6.56)

This apparently was a documentary filmed during A Zed and Two Noughts and separately exhibited. The extracts aren't really very cogent in isolation. They show bits from the flamingo scene, Greenaway working with his actors in the restaurant scene and some of the work done at L'Escargot.

Introduction by Peter Greenaway (6.40)

This introduction explains all the key concepts at work in his film including the ideas of twinship, herbicology and the manipulation of light. He ties Dutch painter Vermeer into cinema through a comment by Godard that Vermeer was the first cinematographer. He accepts that the film had the capacity to confound audiences at the time ( and probably still now).

Easter Eggs

There are four easter eggs on offer . They are accessed from the four corners of the record player in the middle of the screen. These are Snails, Decay, Gallery and Press Book. The latter is, not surprisingly a detailed press book for the film. The photo gallery consists of a series of black and white stills from the film. The Decay segment contains 6 time-lapse sequences from apple to zebra. To be watched before dinner! The Snails segment is a sheet of sketches in storyboard from of the final scene. It is possible to zoom in on the individual drawings.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   This DVD is possessed of equal qualities to the UK Region 2 release. The Region 1 release is, as said, not 16x9 enhanced.

Choose Region 4


    Like all of Peter Greenaway's films A Zed and Two Noughts has its devotees and its detractors. It is probably my favourite of his films perhaps because of the flawless integration of cinematography style and music.

This DVD will not disappoint fans although a detailed restoration would be on my wishlist.

The extras are again superb and the commentary track is a must listen.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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