A Walk Through H (1978)


We slowly enter a gallery with many drawings displayed, each framed and situated adjacently on the walls. The narrator tells us that Tulse Luper arranged all the drawings for him while he was ill. The narrator tells us about some of the drawings, some given to him, some stolen, one of them stolen by him. We then arrive at a drawing that Tulse Luper says the narrator will probably need first. The drawing is focused on, Michael Nyman's familiar music starts to play, and, on Tuesday morning, at a quarter to two, the journey begins.

The places are described; a scarlet brick road initially leads through them. Tulse Luper suggested the narrator's journey through H needed 92 maps, and the time to decide what H stood for was at the end of the journey, and by that time, it scarcely mattered. By the time the thirteenth map is reached, the preceding maps begin to fade, each now bears a cross-shaped mark. It could be a signpost or a skeleton of a windmill. Maps are fading and the narrator is now running through H.

The maps cease fading. We soon reach the Amsterdam map, which previously belonged to the keeper of the owls at the Amsterdam zoo, Van Hoyten. Van Hoyten is now a bird counter. Different birds are now shown to us at brief intervals. The journey continues through the remaining diverse maps. Eventually, on Tuesday morning, at a quarter to two, the destination is reached. The narrator has travelled through 92 maps and covered 1,418 miles.

A lady in the gallery gets up from her desk, puts on her coat, and leaves. She had been reading a book called Some Migratory Birds of the Northern Hemisphere by Tulse Luper, 92 Maps, 1,418 Birds in Colour.


"Peter Greenaway's unique short feature is one of the best British movies of the decade. It defeats efforts at description. You could call it a cross between a vintage Borges 'fiction' and a Disney True Life Adventure, but that wouldn't get close to its humour or the compulsiveness of Michael Nyman's romantic score. It's nominally a narrative about an ornithologist following a trail blazed by the legendary Tulse Luper, but it is a narrative without characters... see it at all costs." - Tony Rayns, Time Out

"A Walk Through H - Peter Greenaway's 40-minute surrealist film flies free into an empyrean of the imagination all its own... The film is an island of fantasy lapped on all sides by absurdity. Like all the best surrealist art, it combines the pedantically methodical with the devoutly inconsequential... The film takes as its own complete and unquestionable cosmos a world exclusively orientated round maps and birds. The map paintings, by Greenaway himself, are honeycombed with witty detail, the narrator's voice is inspirationally solemn and factual (the humour would have been ruined by a 'funny' voice), and the music soundtrack, often no more than a repetitively plinking piano, is perfectly in key with the changing of the film." - Nigel Andrews, Sight & Sound


Greenaway on A Walk Through H:

"I've always been fascinated by maps and cartography. A map tells you where you've been, where you are, and where you're going - in a sense it's three tenses in one. It's also an amazing ideogram of information that is very useful and, perhaps most pertinently, also not at all useful. My father had recently died, and the subtitle of the film was 'The Reincarnation of an Ornithologist' - my father was one. Through his life he had amassed an extraordinary amount of information about bird study, and I was very aware that with his death - as indeed with any death - a vast amount of very personalized information had gone missing, was totally irrecoverable. The film is on the journey a soul takes at the moment of death, to whatever other place it ends up - H being either Heaven or Hell. I devised 92 maps to help this particular character get there. The whole film was divided into five sections that represented movement from a very urban landscape to a wilderness landscape, and there were references and cross-references to all sorts of systems."

Greenaway on the making of A Walk Through H:

"Not that much is known about Tulse Luper. Some say he is far-sighted but garrulous, others that he is myopic. He could be blind. If all the projects attributed to him are truly his, then he should be considered prolific. He has always been an optimistic authority on most subjects and he makes continual significant appearances as a referee of events. He is an arch-cataloguer, a maker of lists, taking pleasure in accumulating more of the same yet relishing the essential minor differences. But to appear suddenly as an authoritative ornithologist was a surprise even to those who know him best.

The Institute of Reclamation and Restoration (the IRR) made a film called Vertical Features Remake. It is purportedly an attempt to recreate an obscure film project of Tulse Luper's that had been concerned, in a round about way, with synthetic versus natural change in rural domestic landscape. Vertical Features Remake went through more than one version before the critics were satisfied that some justice had been done to document Tulse Luper's concerns and influence. In one of the preliminary versions however, the IRR having mentioned almost in passing that Tulse Luper was interested in flight, treated his project material in ornithological terms. This particular version was never satisfactorily completed and never publicly projected, but it was handed over to me, an ex-member of the IRR and a known admirer of Tulse Luper. It was thought that I might like to develop the idea.

Careful research through Tulse Luper's poorly documented papers finally revealed notes, illustrations and the draft of a textbook that Tulse Luper intended for publication called 'Some Migratory Birds of the Northern Hemisphere'. The intended design for the book's dust-jacket boldly proclaimed contents that included 92 maps and 1418 illustrations of birds in colour. This proclamation is the basis for the film A Walk Through H; an attempt to take some of the ideas of the ornithological treatise, and working backwards from the extreme outside of the book, ie the dust-jacket, to provide one explanation for the projected book's origin.

Some of the 92 advertised maps for Tulse Luper's textbook were included among the papers held by the IRR. They plainly did not compare that closely with the expected migration and distribution maps normally found in such a book. Clearly some other central reference held them together. It was apparent that Tulse Luper was utilising the map as a metaphor for 'search' in both topographical and psychological terms. The map to Tulse Luper was a manifestation of quest. In 289 pages he used 17 references to Treasure Island, 17 references to Pilgrim's Progress and 17 times quoted the phrase 'broad is the road, but narrow is the way'.

Luper enthused about the omnipotence of maps that showed the traveller where he had been, where he was and where he could be. The past, the present and the future all in one plane and all at one time. He enthused about cartographical scale, how maps of a desert-continent could look like maps of a square metre of beach, how maps of the tributaries of great rivers could look like maps of the brain. From the observations that whilst some maps were made for public consumption by millions, many were manufactured for much smaller and specialised groups and by far most were drawn up without doubt for the intended private use of a single individual. This last observation made it clear where Tulse Luper was heading.

Scattered throughout the entire collection of Tulse Luper's papers are references to an idiosyncratic belief in reincarnation. He believed the journey from an end to a new beginning needed a map, maybe several, and he believed that every journey was different. He dramatised this within the pages of his projected textbook by appropriately appearing to select the case of one ornithologist. A Walk Through H does the same.

Many different cultures share the idea that the departing soul 'took wing', and either became a bird or used the services of a bird to travel to the next incarnation. Tulse Luper was fascinated by the swallow, arch-instrument of transmigration, host to up to a dozen different parasites at any one time, a bird seldom seen on the ground and a bird that feeds and sleeps in flight. Before the swallow departed every autumn it was thought likely that it hibernated, disappeared underwater or travelled to the moon. The significance of the bereaved searching for the face of the moon was not lost on Tulse Luper. Nor indeed were the thousands of ornithological references that permeate and fertilise the speech and imagery of the cultures of the Northern Hemisphere. He examined those European proverbs and nursery rhymes whose superficial/fundamental significance is couched in bird imagery and he examined the ornithological etymology of plant-names, place-names and Christian-names. To mirror some of this wealth of bird reference, it is no accident that characters in A Walk Through H fall ill with chicken-pox, speculate on Fat Hen and die after eating omelettes.

A Walk Through H has not by any means exhausted the considerable implications of Tulse Luper's ornithological interest. In the later pages of his project, he began to use the bird as a metaphor for flight in both its English meanings and made some suggestion that the cultures of the Northern Hemisphere have all eagerly yearned for wings to the extent that man as a flightless bi-ped is seriously incomplete.

Aided by Tulse Luper's omnipotent example and the generosity of the IRR, it is now certain that such considerations will be further pursued on film."


You can see the script of A Walk Through H here




H is for House


Water Wrackets

Dear Phone

Vertical Features Remake

The Falls

Act of God

The Draughtsman's Contract

The Sea in their Blood

Making a Splash

A Zed & Two Noughts

26 Bathrooms  

The Belly of an Architect

Drowning by Numbers

Fear of Drowning

Death in the Seine

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

A TV Dante: The Inferno Cantos I-VIII

Prospero's Books

M is for Man, Music and Mozart


The Baby of Mācon

Lumiere & Company

The Pillow Book

8 1/2 Women

The Death of a Composer

The Tulse Luper Suitcases

The European Showerbath


Tulse Luper


92 Lists

92 Numbers