The Discreet Bourgeois

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


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The Last Ten Movies I’ve Seen

  1. Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman)
  2. Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen)
  3. Nashville (Robert Altman)
  4. I’m No Angel (Wesley Ruggles)
  5. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  6. Charulata (Satyajit Ray)
  7. Stage Fright (Alfred Hitchcock)
  8. The Magician (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Zero Focus (Yoshitaro Nomura)
  10. The Music Room (Satyajit Ray)

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1- I recently had a big, round birthday and I wanted to do nothing more than watch a few of my ‘birthday’ movies.  These are films that one watches over and over again throughout one’s life and that come to define one’s aesthetic. On my big day I got up at 5:30 in the morning and had the pleasure of once again taking that momentous car trip in Wild Strawberries.  I rounded the day out later in the evening with a viewing of the exceedingly kind and lovely Broadway Danny Rose and the, for me, epochal Nashville. I think I need to write a piece about ‘birthday’ movies.

2- Ah, Mae West! Subversive, hilarious and, more than anything else, powerful. Too bad that there aren’t more films.  I’m No Angel is brilliant. I keep hearing her as she saunters past the jury box while she is acting as her own defense attorney and saying to the folks in the box ‘How am I doin’?’  Mae! The best.

3- Both Stage Fright and The Magician I had regarded as lesser works of towering masters. I was kind of right with Stage Fright, but it is still a hugely entertaining movie – just without the subtexts that make Hitchcock a master.  The Magician, on the other hand, is up there with Bergman’s best. Fascinating.

4- As time goes on, I realize that film noir isn’t a genre, it’s a posture. The very messy Japanese film Zero Focus really brought this point home to me. Plus, it made me realize that I find the whole film noir cult a little tedious.  It is all too operatic without the great music.

5- I am belatedly going through Satyajit Ray’s oeuvre.  You don’t need me to tell you that he is one of the absolute masters. You do need me to tell you to watch more Satyajit Ray. Good news: Criterion will be releasing the restored Apu Trilogy in the fall. Rejoice!


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Kuroneko (Kaneto Shindo)
  2. Lola (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  3. Fort Apache (John Ford)
  4. Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  5. Macbeth (Orson Welles)
  6. All These Women (Ingmar Bergman)
  7. The Son of the Sheik (George Fitzmaurice)
  8. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
  9. Deathdream (Bob Clark)
  10. Ginza Cosmetics (Mikio Naruse)

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1- When I first when crazy for movies, like around the age of 12 or so, I saw Orson Welles’ Macbeth on TV and was bowled over. I was intrigued by the play to begin with, but I had never seen anything like the movie. The ultra-expressionistic lighting and camerawork were thrilling to me. I roundly declared it my favorite movie.  I hadn’t seen it since then, but I had seen the other Welles Shakespeare adaptations (Othello, Chimes At Midnight) and was concerned that my youthful enthusiasm would be a little embarrassing to the adult me. I must say, that for what it is, it is really good.  He kind of massacres the play to make it fit into his vision. Characters are cut, new ones invented but it works.  Very well.  Jeannette Nolan is terrifying as Lady Macbeth.  Roddy McDowell is adorable and callow as the young Malcolm. I wonder how much Kurosawa was influenced by the Welles film when he made Throne of Blood? Perhaps not at all.  Perhaps the two films seem similar because an film version of the play would have to have to have similar atmospherics.

2-  I first got to know Ingmar Bergman when I was about 15 years old. One of the local TV stations would show his films late on Saturday night, hosted by critic Judith Crist. I was enthralled.  I am pretty sure that it was the only time that I saw All These Women.  I don’t know what I made of it then. Probably I thought something like ‘Europeans are very witty about sex and the relations between men and women.  This is probably very funny and when I am older I will understand it’   Well, I am older and it is awful.  I see what he was doing.  It is a sex farce but extremely labored. Smiles of a Summer Night from about 10 years before seems so much more effortless and honest (as well as funnier!) He seems use Fellini’s 8 1/2 as his jumping-off point, but in addition, he has his knife particularly sharpened for the critics. It is extremely tedious.  Hard to believe this is what he chose to make after the harrowing films informally referred to as Bergman’s Trilogy (Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence). Talk about a change of pace!

What really struck me is how even with this mediocre film he exerted such an influence on Woody Allen.  The smarmy sex jokes, the frantic farce pace, even the choice of music – a 20s Jazz band version of ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’, seem to inform the Allen farce style.

3- Rudolph Valentino dressed up in sheik garb is so iconic, that I figured it was probably unnecessary to see the films that the images come from, since they were probably awful. Well I was a little right. The movie, The Son of The Sheik, is a dumb, Arabian-nights piece of fluff but what struck me was the erotic gaze of the camera on Valentino.  He was extremely gorgeous and exuded a real animal sex appeal. Is this the earliest example of a man being objectivized by the camera?  Probably not, but it is maybe the most powerful.

4- I really didn’t like Wes Anderson – then I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and was delighted. But, I thought it was a fluke, its success riding on the wonderful performance of Ralph Fiennes. Wrong.  Moonrise Kingdom completely charmed me, despite my earnestly trying to hate it for the first 20 minutes.  I watched it twice in one day. I wonder what delights Mr. Anderson has in store for us.

5- In Deathdream, a variation on the famous short story, The Monkey’s Paw, a distraught mother prays that the notification of her son’s death in Vietnam is an error and that he will return home.  Well, she gets her wish, sorta. I remember this truly horrifying film fondly from my days in NYC when one of the local stations would show horror films late on Saturday night.  Deathdream was a standout among the other kind of awful but fun films that were shown.  What strikes me now is that this was filmed at the height of the anti-war protests.  Could war really turn us into family killing zombies?

6- I really need to write a Have You Tried ….. piece about the great, unjustly unknown in the West Mikio Naruse.  Stay tuned.

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Fanny (Marc Allegret)
  2. Lancelot du Lac (Robert Bresson)
  3. 12 Years A Slave (Steve McQueen)
  4. Persona (Ingmar Bergman)
  5. Yoyo (Pierre Étaix)
  6. Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (Robert Bresson)
  7. Rhapsody in August (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Shame (Ingmar Bergman)
  9. Sword in the Desert (George Sherman)
  10. The Golden Coach (Jean Renoir)

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1- It was interesting to watch Lancelot du Lac and Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne so close to each other. Lancelot du Lac is a prime example of what we expect from a Bresson film.  It is an austere (very austere) telling of the Arthurian legend of adultery. I found it extremely moving in its depiction of an ideal world devolving into nothingness.  Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, on the other hand, is very atypical Bresson.  His second feature, made from a script by Jean Cocteau, has more of the sensibility of that writer-filmmaker’s work than of the ‘Catholic Atheist’ Bresson we have come to know and perhaps love.  What is so interesting to me is that all the criticism and articles I found concerning Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne has the writers twisting themselves into pretzels trying to prove that this film has all the elements of his later, more ‘Bressonian’ films.  It doesn’t really.  What we have here is the theory of the auteur exercising its tyranny over any thinking about film.  I suppose I am guilty of it too, since I always list films followed by the name of the director.

Also, I am so taken with the performance of Maria Casares in Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne .  Best known as Death in Cocteau’s Orpheus and the unloved wife in Les Enfants du Paradis, she has one of the most impressive faces in cinema and was a hell of an actress.

Maria Casares

Maria Casares

 

2-  By watching Yoyo, I completed watching all the films in the wonderful Criterion box set of the complete films of Pierre Etaix.  A genius, ladies and gentlemen, descended from the line of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati.  I hope to write a Have You Tried….  post about him soon.  But don’t wait for that! Untold delights await you from this comic master!

3- Some artists go from strength to strength as they age,  leaving us undeniable masterpieces at the end of their lives. Otello and Falstaff by Verdi, Parsifal by Wagner, The Dead by John Huston are examples of this.  But there are other genius who seem to fizzle out at the end of their creative life. It is hard to see how the director of Psycho and The Birds would have been content with Topaze. I was thinking about this watching Akira Kurosawa’s  Rhapsody in August.  This film comes shortly after his majestic epics Kagemusha and Ran, and compared to those mighty cinematic brothers, this film is little more that poorly executed cinematic claptrap. The platitudes about the affects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the Japanese and America survivors some 40 years after the fact, are cringe-worthy.  The whole thing is  inept and  annoyingly sentimental. I really wanted to strangle that gaggle of a kids.

All that I have left to watch of the Kurosawa oeuvre is Madadayo, which, from its description, sounds like a bad Japanese version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips. I am nervous.

4- In the introduction to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain writes:

‘In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit:  the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Golden Coach by Jean Renoir. I have no idea why the decision was made to have everyone in the film speak English, but because of this, the film often devolves into an incomprehensible Babel.  Even Anna Magnani, the voracious star of the film, lapses into streams of Italian swearing from time to time and she seems much relieved.

 

 


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Ugetsu Monogatari (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  2. Heroes For Sale (William Wellman)
  3. Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman)
  4. The Queen (Stephen Frears)
  5. Equinox Flower (Yasujiro Ozu)
  6. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
  7. The Harmonium In My Memory (Young-jae Lee )
  8. The In-Laws (Arthur Hiller)
  9. Miss Julie (Alf Sjöberg)
  10. Torment (Alf Sjöberg)

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1- Seeing Bergman’s trilogy again after many decades has been a very satisfying experience. What the hell did I make of these movies when I was 15 years old?

2- Watching The Queen again makes me realize yet again how irrelevant the Oscars are. Does anyone remember The Departed now?  Who would rather watch Gandhi than E.T?  The awards and the rankings just appear more and more ridiculous to me as time goes on.

3- What a treat to watch two films by Alf Sjöberg back to back while working my way again through Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre.  Alf Sjöberg was one of Bergman’s mentor’s and indeed, Torment was Bergman’s first screenplay.It contains all the delightful misanthropy we have come to expect from him.   I thoroughly enjoyed Miss Julie, as well.  I remember that it was frequently programmed in the New York City revival houses of my youth, but since it was in Swedish and not  by Bergman, I gave it a pass. Ah, youth.


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Pride (Matthew Warchus)
  2. The Immigrant (James Gray)
  3. Time Regained (Raul Ruiz)
  4. Un Cuento Chino (Sebastián Borensztein)
  5. The Marriage Circle (Ernst Lubitsch)
  6. The Land of Milk and Honey (Pierre Étaix)
  7. Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa)
  8. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne)
  9. The Quiet Duel (Akira Kurosawa)
  10. Through A Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman)

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1- Having finally completed reading the entire À la recherche du temps perdu (shameless bragging freely admitted),  I have been on a quest to read and see everything that can help me relive that wonderful experience.  I wouldn’t let myself watch Raul Ruiz’ Time Regained until I finished reading the whole cycle. I  felt I would never get to see this movie because of this silly rule I imposed on myself.  I’m glad I did. This is a film only for people who have read, loved, obsessed over, shared, hated and lived in Proust’s great work. I can’t imagine who else would get it.  It is magnificent in its compression – the spirit of the work is so well captured in small and big strokes.  Even though the movie ostensibly concentrates on the last volume, there are flashes of earlier, important events and the juxtapositions between past and present would have made Proust proud.  The casting is wonderful. Although John Malkovich is not the right physical type for the wonderfully infuriating and repellant Baron du Charlus, he embodies the character’s quirky sense of self-righteousness and self-torture perfectly, especially in his final scene when he is bowing to the hitherto despised Madame de Sainte Euverte.  Marie-France Pisier is pitch-perfect as the awful Mme. Verdurin and no one else could have played the older Odette than Catherine Deneuve. When Edith Scob appears I said, ‘Yes, that is exactly what the Duchesse de Geurmantes is like’. I loved this film, but can’t really recommend it unless you’ve immersed yourself in the worlds of Swann’s and the Geurmantes’s ways.

2- Un Cuento Chino is a rare delight. A sweet film with just enough vinegar to keep it from cloying.  Endearing characters that are neurotic enough to be believable. Riccardo Darin is a huge star in Argentina who should be better known here. I loved this movie. A pure pleasure.

3- The Immigrant and Two Days, One Night were both up for Oscars and both starred Marion Cottillard. Both also embody certain aesthetics and moralities of contemporary cinema.  For the past twenty years or so, moral relativism seems to be the only lens through which certain filmmakers can address moral issues. There is a great reluctance to identify evil as evil, immorality as immorality, etc.  Clear-cut identification seems uncool.  The Immigrant seems particularly guilty of this. Two Days, One Night looks moral choices and consequences squarely in the eye and comes down on the side of doing ‘the right thing’, even though it might take a while to understand what ‘the right thing’ is. Moral relativism might seem sophisticated and adult to some, but I find it lazy and adolescent. I am not advocating that movies should be like illustrations of The Lives of the Saints, but I do think it does take a certain maturity to make a moral choice in a film and the Dardenne brothers do this admirably.  Plus, I think that The Immigrant was pretty sloppy, ugly and dull. But hey, that’s just me.  You might love it.

4- I first heard about Ernst Lubitsch’s The Marriage Circle in one of Donald Richie’s marvelous books on Japanese films.  This silent classic was a sensation when it first played in Japan. The Japanese were dazzled by the economy of Lubitsch’s visual storytelling and you see this subtlety in the films of all the great masters, especially Yasujiro Ozu. The film is a magnificent comedy of manners that holds up beautifully.  I highly recommend it. The version I watched seemed to be taped in front of a live audience, which was a little weird. Any recommendations for a good commercial copy?

5- I have been working my way through the Criterion collection of the complete works of Pierre Étaix and my delight continues to grow. These films should be as well known as the works of Jacques Tati, with whom Etaix apprenticed. The Land Of Milk and Honey was his undoing in France.  This ‘documentary’ of the French bourgeoisie on vacation at a ghastly resort earned the rancor of everyone and effectively ended his career. It is a cruelly critical look at a crass society, but it is so much fun.  I think this film is his Peeping Tom, another unpleasantly wicked film that ended the career of the great Michael Powell I am still toying with the idea of a ‘Have You Tried Pierre Etaix….’ post in the near future.  He is delight.


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Have You Tried Ingmar Bergman?

bergman

When I first conceived of these ‘Have You Tried……’ articles, I imagined I would concentrate on obscure directors. For example, I have been planning posts on Mikio Naruse and Marcel Pagnol. Not exactly household names, alas.  These articles were intended to be about directors that might not have had the popular currency of the ‘Pantheon’ directors.  What I began to realize while planning those other articles is that it is my notion of the ‘Pantheon’ no longer seems to have currency.

From the Fifties on, that is, from the time that people began to write seriously and analytically about film, it seemed that consensus formed around a group of directors who were deemed to be essential to one’s film literacy. John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles were masters working in the US, while on the international scene Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Jean Renoir were revered. There were others here and abroad, but the important thing was that familiarity with their work was a requirement to become a well-rounded cineaste.  This idea was developed in France by the authors of the magazine Cahier du Cinema, many of whom became important directors in their own right: Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette.  The concept of the director as auteur of the film was championed in America by the critic Andrew Sarris in his important and useful book The American Cinema. An auteur, usually a director, is an artist whose personal style is indelibly stamped on the film. For example, you don’t need to watch more than two minutes of a Hitchcock film to know who directed it.  In many ways,  Bergman is the epitome of the auteur. He wrote and directed all of his major works, cast them with many of same actors (many of whom were at various times his wives and/or lovers). He had his preferred stable of cinematographers who gave almost all of his films an unmistakable look. Several of his later films were even shot on his own island!

Being someone whose aesthetic is more about explaining the classic as opposed to ferreting out the new, I failed to notice that the Pantheon itself seems to have slipped off its base.  Most contemporary writing on film is concerned with the new, perhaps rightly so. A contemporary Pantheon is being erected, enshrining the likes of  the Coen Brothers and (*shudder*) Quentin Tarantino. I fear that what will prevent these new(ish) directors from taking their place among the immortals is the ironic stance they often take toward their characters. The Coen Brothers’ A Simple Man depicts an existential crisis in the life of its main character, but there is so much condescension in the depiction of that crisis that it is hard to feel any identification with the character – we feel compelled to deride him. This creates an intellectual distance between the film and the audience which I believe eventually leads to indifference on the audience’s part.  In the films of Ingmar Bergman, there is no condescension toward existential crises of the main characters. In fact, existential crises are exhalted!

I will admit that much of middle-late Bergman is filled with obscure (or maybe just personally resonant) symbolism that is difficult to engage with. His bleak view of interpersonal relationships, especially marriage, can be grating after a while, no matter how masterfully it is portrayed. However, when one considers his whole output, there can be little doubt that his body of work contains more essential masterpieces than the work of any other filmmaker, or any other artist for that matter. What makes it all worthwhile is the absolute seriousness and integrity with which everything is treated. This makes the decline in popular regard all the more troubling.  It reached a low point with Jonathan Rosenbaum’s shockingly Oedipal, idol-killing New York Times Op-Ed piece a few days after Bergman died.

So, then what accounts for Bergman’s slide in popularity? Several things come to mind:

1- Decades of successful parody, even by rabid admirers such as Woody Allen, tarnished his reputation by making his supposedly self-indulgent seriousness an object of ridicule. As an example, perhaps no iconic film image has been parodied more than the knight, Antonius Block, playing chess with Death in The Seventh Seal –

seventh seal chess

When taken out of context, it seems grim, medieval and ponderous. In context, there is much lightness and humor in the film. For example, after Death chooses black in the above scene, he smiles and remarks on the appropriateness of the choice. This humor leavens the more serious aspects of The Seventh Seal. The problem is that the lightness of touch is almost always missing in any parody of his work. Since parody has a way of presenting itself as something you need to agree with or you run the risk of being as foolish as that which is being parodied, the parodies of Bergman have solidified a false reputation for ponderousness and self-importance. This is unfortunate because The Seventh Seal is quite funny in places and even ends on hopeful note – sure there is still The Black Death ravaging Sweden and almost all the main characters are dead, but the good and innocent live to enjoy another day.  Even the dead ones get to dance with Death:

dance of death

2- Another reason is that Bergman’s films deal with religion in a serious way. He is engaged in titanic battle with God. It manifests itself in the yearning for God on the part of his characters, which is rewarded by God’s silence. Bergman’s father was a Lutheran minister who practiced a very severe form of his faith.  His son engaged with, rejected and engaged again with this Calvinist version of the faith. He is perhaps the angriest Christian who never became an atheist.

The problem with all this is that modern audiences cannot handle a serious, gut-wrenching meditation on matters religious.  Religion is O.K. in film if it is either being ridiculed or if it dealt with in a transcendent, elusive way, such as in the films of Robert Bresson. Neither happens in a Bergman film. He and God are in it for the long count.

3- As stated above the male/female relationship is unsparingly dissected. No one comes out looking good. The mastery of character analysis is superb, but the findings wear the viewer down after a while.

4- His films, especially those from the late 60s/early 70s seem to come from a highly personal symbol world. This often thwarts the understanding, and hence the involvement of the audience.  Often the only audience response can be the ‘game’ response – “Let’s play the game to figure out what Bergman’s symbols represent and thereby find the key to the film, and thereby be able to ‘get’ the movie.”  Of course, this is no way to deal with a great work of art.  If it is all a cagey game on the part of the creator, then who cares? I doubt that Bergman is ever playing games with the audience. He is not a cynical artist. I believe that the films of this period, such as The Hour Of The Wolf, Persona and The Silence come from such a personal and troubled place, and instilled in Bergman such an urgency to express something, that it is small wonder audiences struggle with them.  I know I do.

So, why should we bother? Because, when it all comes together, nothing can compare to the impact a Bergman film has. It is cathartic, devastating, elating and confounding all at the same time.

If you are encountering Bergman for the first time, or if you have fallen away from the path of the True Believer and want to get reacquainted with his genius, let me suggest you sample the following films:

smiles of a summer night

1- Smiles Of A Summer Night (1955) – Bergman’s early works were often women’s films or comedies of manner.  Many of them are quite enjoyable, like Waiting Women or the quasi-neo-realist Summer With Monika, the film that single-handedly gave Sweden the reputation of being a sexy nation. The culmination of this first period was Smiles of a Summer Night, his international breakthrough, which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It is a wise romantic comedy in the tradition of Der Rosenkavalier or Le Nozze di Figaro.  Perhaps best known today as the inspiration for Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, it is a good way to ease into Bergman’s oeuvre.  A sex farce, yes, but not without the meditations on aging and death that we have come to expect from Bergman.

virgin spring

2- The Virgin Spring (1960)- Of course, The Seventh Seal is Bergman’s towering achievement in evoking the world of medieval Sweden.  It is possibly the one Bergman film you have seen. Let me recommend this companion piece.  Also a tale of early Christian Sweden, it is quite distilled compared to The Seventh Seal, a chamber work compared to that great symphony of a film. A simple tale of violence and revenge resulting in grace, Bergman is working from the aesthetic of the medieval Mystery and Miracle plays. Stunningly photographed by longtime Bergman collaborator Sven Nykvist. The end of this film should generate a lot of discussion about whether or not Bergman’s world view is as bleak as reputation has it.

wil strawberries 1

3- Wild Strawberries (1957) – Perhaps my favorite film of all films.  It has been a beloved companion since I first saw it back in the early 70s.   Bergman deals here with the passage of time more effectively in the 91 minutes of this film than Proust does in the thousands of pages of his novel. Aged Dr. Isak Borg is to receive an award in Lund for his years of service. He makes the day-long drive from Stockholm to Lund with his frosty daughter-in-law Marianne. Along they way they pick up a young group of students going to Italy and a couple who are emblematic of Bergman’s sour view of marriage. As they wend their way south, they visit places that were emotional landmarks in Isak’s life. They visit his bitter ninety-plus mother, they stop at the family’s old summer house and as the film progresses the border between past and present, dream and reality dissolve. When the magnificent final image (see above) appears, you and Isak have travelled through life and time and have arrived at a dream past that always and never exists.

A beautiful aspect of this film is that Isak Borg is played by the great Swedish director Victor Sjöstrom.  He was a pioneer in both Swedish and American silent films and was both idol of and mentor to Bergman.

winter light

4- Winter Light (1963) – The middle part of a very loosely linked trilogy, Winter Light depicts in real time the crisis of a Lutheran minister who has lost his faith and is failing everyone who depends on him. The almost Hindu-like call to duty, (he will officiate at the next service regardless of his personal feelings!), is complicated and powerful.  A small and brutal film, with magnificent performances by Ingrid Thulin and Gunnar Björnstrand.

fanny and alexander

5- Fanny And Alexander – (1982) As surprising as it was that Giuseppe Verdi ended his illustrious career as a composer of tragic opera with the gossamer comedy of Falstaff, it was also surprising that Ingmar Bergman, the gloomy master of Nordic angst ended his long film career with a sprawling, life-affirming Dickensian family saga. Watch either the three-hour theatrical release or the five-hour original television version, although I believe the multipart television is even more satisfying. Fear not!  Despite all the turn-of-the-19th-to-20th century trappings and the complicated family interactions, this is not Downton Abbey. There is enough meditation on good rewarded and evil punished to remind us that we are firmly rooted in Bergman’s Lutheran heaven/hell.   The opening Christmas sequence is one of the great set pieces of all cinema.

So,  please help me restore Bergman to his rightful place among the Cinema Gods.  Watch as many of his films as you can.   I look forward to discussing them with you!


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Guilt Trip (Anne Fletcher)
  2. American Hustle (David O. Russell)
  3. Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale)
  4. An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu)
  5. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman)
  6. Gate Of Hell (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  7. The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa)
  8. Romance (Clarence Brown)
  9. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman)
  10. She Done Him Wrong (Lowell Sherman)

1- Sometimes I feel like a big-game hunter when it comes to watching movies. There are films that I track for years but never quite bag.  McCabe & Mrs. Miller was such a movie.  I had been trying to see it ever since I went nuts for Nashville when that masterpiece came out in the 70s.  I finally caught up with McCabe & Mrs. Miller and it made very little impression on me.  I wonder if my viewing of it suffered from the ‘checking it off a list’ mentality? Can one watch too many movies? Possibly.  The Burmese Harp was another title I had been tracking for a long time. I made more of a connection with it than with McCabe & Mrs. Miller and I don’t know why, since it is far from a great film and the consensus is that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a great film.  Perhaps the Altman style hadn’t crystallized yet? Perhaps watching a master hone his craft not as interesting as watching him at the top of his form. I would be interested in hearing pros and cons concerning McCabe & Mrs. Miller .

2- An artist who always seems to be on the top of his form is Yasujiro Ozu.  An Autumn Afternoon  is his final film and it is just beautiful.  It stayed with me for days.

3- The Virgin Spring holds up as well as I hoped it would. I hadn’t seen it in perhaps 20 years and since I have been playing around with a Bergman piece for this blog, I thought it would be good research. It is even more powerful and stunning than I remember.  I was struck by the similarity of this film to Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, not because of plot or style, but in the brutal single-mindedness of the conception and execution of both works.

4- I wonder how such a stunningly bad movie like Romance could have been made. Greta Garbo was one of the hugest stars of the time, and she had just made a sensational transition from Silents to Talkies just recently with Anna Christie. This looks like it was slapped together from some creaky, mid-Victorian potboiler just to get Garbo in front of the cameras again quickly.  The melodrama is laughable and I am sure it was laughable in 1930.  I am all for melodrama (see my rhapsodies on Sirk) but this was excruciating to watch.  But try it, you might have fun!