Monday, July 30, 2007

Me On Bergman

I suppose I should say something about Ingmar Bergman, since I have read everything interesting about him that I could find today. Admittedly, I am a bit intoxicated right now, having drunk a few swigs of Whyte & McKaye scotch whiskey and a few bottles of beer.

Anyway, the criticism of Bergman's films that strikes me as most bizarre is that they are 'pretentious'- to me pretentious means relying on MTV- style editing, weird camera angles, and special effects because your story is piss poor. There are countless modern films that are pretentious- 300 anyone? But it's hard for me to see Liv Ullman talking directly to the camera, and discussing the sort of personal information that most people will never share with anyone, as 'pretentious'. It seems so unguarded to me. There's a monologue in Persona that struck me as more real, in that way that most people will never be real lest they come off as perverse and strange- than anything I've ever seen in a movie.

I think the first thing that draws me to Ingmar Bergman's films is the honesty of them. There are scenes in his movies that feel so raw and real that I can't imagine how he could have written them- the spider/God scene in Through a Glass Darkly, or the scene in Fanny and Alexander in which the husband cries about being a failure, or the scene in Persona in which Bibi Andersen allows Liv Ullman to walk on broken glass- I have no idea how Bergman tapped into those scenes- which feel like they could have only come from the subconscious minds of the characters themselves. How did he come up with the dinner scene in Hour of the Wolf? What about the end of Shame? How did he figure out so many secret aspects of so many different people?

Maybe the second thing that draws me to the films is how universal they are. When he deals with death in The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries, it's hard to say that he's dealing with specifically Swedish themes- actually, I can't think of a Bergman film that could really be called culturally-specific. This probably gives the lie to the criticism that his films were 'elitist'- but it also gives the lie to the banal idea that art is important only for what it tells us about specific historical contexts- Faro in Bergman's films could be anywhere, and everywhere.

I also love how humane his films are- for all of the talk about how gloomy the average Bergman film is, he had an incredible amount of sympathy for his characters and all of their foibles. Notice how deeply flawed the father is in Saraband... now note how sympathetic he turns out to be. Or Liv Ullman's character in Persona, whose feelings towards her son might seem inhuman. Or the priest in Winter Light... Bergman might have seen the flaws in human beings, but he sympathized nonetheless with their struggle.

Lastly, I love how historical and Western his films are. In a time in which filmmakers imagine it's clever to visually refer to 1980s MTV, Bergman drew from the Bible, Shakespeare, medieval wood prints, August Strindberg, and Mozart. Whether we like it or not, the unity of Western culture is a fact that we are all stuck with. Few artists of the twentieth century have chosen to write the next chapter in that book. But Bergman had the cultivation and the will to do so.

I will write more later, no doubt. But for someone who has planned a Bergman Festival at Mall University, this is a big deal.

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