Daily Archives: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

  • Bergman Season At The Star And Shadow

    on the Bergman Season at the Star and Shadow: 1st Sept 2014 to 21st Sept 2014

    retrospective season at the Star and Shadow of four of Ingmar
    Bergman’s films, the Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Through a glass
    darkly and Persona was a chance to view and to appraise a director
    who is regarded as one of the foremost film makers of the twentieth
    century; an opportunity to understand what he offers today’s
    audience in the age of the iphone.

    reputation is huge. But he has also been mercilessly parodied as a
    gloomy scandinavian whose films for the most part trail dark despair
    about the human condition.

    views of human nature and the incapacity of humans to communicate have
    been criticised for their emotional and spiritual bleakness.

    seeing the films my feeling is that these negative reactions to
    Bergman are understandable. However they are unbalanced and less
    than fair to Bergman as an artist film maker and thinker. Of course
    much his work will not be what some cinema goers are looking for.
    Bergman’s films are not about entertainment value although they can
    certainly be entertaining. The films are personal. They represent
    Bergman’s own understanding of world.

    one key quality stands out in relation to Bergman’s work. He is not
    selling anything: a belief system or a justification. Although
    Bergman made films before 1951, in 1951 his financial situation
    forced him to work for a year making cinema advertisements. And this
    year seems to have been critical in developing his film making
    technique and also in shaping a personal resolve that his films would
    not sell anything. Like the man in the Leonard Cohen song, he would
    not be a dealer in solutions, and this had a defining effect on both
    the form and content of his films, and the way Bergman shot and
    composed his scenarios, in particular his use of the Close Up of
    which more later.

    to be a wheeler dealer in cinematic snake oil remedies was a
    fundamental moral imperative for Bergman. He could only work from
    the position in which he was truthful to himself. To thine own self
    be true. Bergman’s being truthful is an overwhelming and
    fundamental impression gained from viewing his work. They come
    across like a casting of the shadows of his own inner dialogues, onto
    the complex exterior form of his films.

    these dialogues questions arise that are part of the weave of daily
    life; the nature of our relations with and communication with others,
    the reality of our aloneness, issues of our identity and place in the
    fold of life. These questions emerge in the films through the
    interplay of script character and image. Bergman not only refuses to
    answer the questions, he states unequivocally, that for us, there are
    no answers: Karin in Through A Glass Darkly says she has seen God and
    that he was a large hairy spider; when the Knight in the Seventh Seal
    asks about the existence of God, the after life and all that, Death
    replies that he has no secrets to reveal. Something the knight
    already knows.

    you might say this is bleak stuff. But my impression from the
    audiences is that they were
    overwhelmingly appreciative of Bergman’s moral stance. The AP people
    understood that Bergman was an artist prepared to say that: life,
    communication is hard – that we have to understand that there are
    often no answers – that in some respects life comprises problems
    not challenges. These may be unfashionable notions but some audiences
    find a moment of black and white honesty, more positive than the rose
    tinted philosophical twaddle, wrapped in High Definition cosmic
    reassurance, peddled by directors such as Terrence Mallick.

    there is honesty about our condition, at least we’ve got our feet on
    the ground. The elements: the sea the sky the earth, are always
    present in Bergman’s cinematography almost as reminders. The knight
    as he progresses across the plague ridden Medieval Sweden, is framed
    by earth sea and sky. For Bergman these elements surround us
    externally, as do our memories and dreams internally. They are not
    answers but resources for individuals to understand.

    in a Trial at Law when an attorney finally asks a key question and the
    witness responds with an actual answer, there is a palpable shock in
    the Court room; so likewise there is shock in the cinema seat as
    Bergman without flinching asks questions; and his films, as crucibles
    sweat out the responses.

    to the earlier point I want to look at the particular use that
    Bergman makes of the close up. In film, it is the face, above all
    that characterises the close up. As social beings we are face
    readers, we read faces not just of others, but we see faces in
    flaking paint, clouds and patterns in the sand. The face is a sign
    that we interpret. A face always suggests a possibility. Bergman’s
    facial close ups define the experience of viewing his films and are a
    key element in the relationship between the films and the audience.

    characterising feature of Bergman’s close ups is that they are
    uncompromising: they are shots of long duration, they are mute and
    within them there is little or no movement. They present as a pure
    quality, an unindividuated affect, a passivity. Bergman’s close
    up’s: Death’s face, the Wallpaper in Glass Darkly, Liv Ullman in
    Wild Strawberries and Persona all have an impersonal quality, as if
    they do not belong to the actors but could be masks taken on by
    anyone. The way they are shot and edited into his films gives them a
    quality that can absorb the viewer. In their immobility their
    muteness and duration the close ups draw the audience into the shot
    giving the audience the space to contribute something of themselves
    into the fabric of the film, a sort cinematic short circuit of the
    near and far. Absorbed by the close up, which is pure possibility,
    the audience become the interpretants of the film, actively engaged
    in its unravelliing.

    the technical means of communication proliferate and multiply in our
    society, perhaps there is also an increasing awareness of how
    difficult it is to communicate. The thin wavering dieing signals
    that we get from our friends, the notices of unavailability and the
    ansaphone messages never returned, are like the signs from God at the
    waning of the Middle Ages. A warning that we need to start and think
    differently. Perhaps that’s a message Bergman still gives out to the
    iphone generation of movie goers.