The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear

When is Bergman Not Bergman?

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There are a lot of movies that I rewatch constantly.  There are others about which I think ‘Well, I’ve seen that once, no urgency to watch it again any time soon.” But then times goes by and I have either completely forgotten what the film was like or I have a vague positive memory and want to explore it again.  Over 40 years have gone by since the one and only time I saw Woody Allen’s InteriorsI thought it would be fun to watch it again.

I remember that when it came out, Woody Allen’s reputation was soaring. He was previously only considered a creator of wacky, somewhat slapstick comedies.  Then Annie Hall came out of nowhere. The emotional depth of this ‘comedy’ was profound. The wacky comedy was there, but so was a self-awareness of the narrator.  Multiple watchings reveal that Alvy Singer is casting himself as the reason why the romance dies.  Annie is generously and lovingly portrayed.

What would Woody Allen follow up this game-changer with?

When Interiors appeared many critics took great pains to portray it as the fulfillment of the promise of Annie Hall. The comic genius had given us a dark, Bergmanian family drama.  Critics were pulling their own heads off in rapture. His follow-up, Manhattansolidified his reputation as a master for the next 30 years or so, until his reputation was forever tarnished by disgusting personal behavior.

So, back at its premiere, it was regarded as a turning point.  How does it read now?

Not so great. In fact, truly bad and embarrassing.  His canon was still so new that the comparison to Ingmar Bergman was a badge of honor, as comparison to Fellini would be in later films like Stardust MemoriesViewed historically it is hard to see the ‘homage’ to these two giants as anything but pretension.

The cinematography is icy in the way Bergman’s is. The acting is quiet and internal the way Bergman’s is.  The problem is that neither are good.

I usually will applaud the effort of a ‘lighter’ artist to bring depth to his work, but this just evokes disbelief and laughter.

At one point, one of the daughters (don’t worry, I will not recap the plot!) expresses her dislike of her rich WASP father’s new girlfriend by shouting, “She is a vulgarian!”.  Really, this was uttered in all seriousness.

The symbolism is so heavy-handed as to indicate that the creator was not in command of what he was trying to show, perhaps didn’t even know what he was trying to show.  Case in point: the Hampton beach house where much of the action takes place is in muted earth tones, as are the costumes of the entire cast. Get it? They are repressing their emotions. Get it?  When the new girlfriend shows up, of course she is in a blood red dress. She is brimming with life. Get it?

It was like watching a high-school version of Eugene O’Neill.

Yes, Bergman had his howlers throughout his career. Some of his work suffers from the same kind of pretense. The difference is that he always had an agenda.  He was trying to show the impact of ‘God’s silence’ on our lives, he was trying to show the difficulty (Impossibilty?) of human connection. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but more often than not, it does.

Woody Allen here is just trying to show that he could make a movie that is as ‘serious’ and ‘artistic’ as Bergman.

It doesn’t work… all.

Do watch it though. You won’t believe how bad it is.



One thought on “When is Bergman Not Bergman?

  1. Pingback: The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen | The Discreet Bourgeois

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