Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007

ingmar bergmanIt was just announced that Ingmar Bergman, the director of such masterpieces as THE SEVENTH SEAL, PERSONA, and FANNY AND ALEXANDER, has died. He will almost assuredly be saluted as a visionary, and a pioneer in the art of auteurist directing, but he is just as often taken to be somehow irrelevant thematically to the culture of late modernity. Excessively somber, even melancholy, his exercises in exploring what the death of God means for humanity often seem rather oblique and all-too ethereal next to the intoxicating mixture of joi de vivre and political engagement of the French New Wave, or the more concrete and socially-minded efforts of the '70s American auteurs.

I find this unfortunate; I feel Bergman's seriousness (and he's not always so serious—do yourself a huge favor and Netflix SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) can be translated quite well into more contemporary terms and less directly theological themes. Woody Allen has tried to do this his entire career, to some extent, with mixed results (INTERIORS, not so good, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, brilliant). There has been recently, it seems, a renewed appreciation for the work of another Scandinavian bent on metaphysics (Dreyer) and from talking to some of my friends, Bresson, who may be less God-obsessed than Bergman but who is just as rigorously moral a filmmaker, still seems to be speaking very directly to contemporary concerns and sensibilities.

I suppose to some extent I have always loved and appreciated Bergman's films because they so clearly speak not to other films, but to literature. I even took a class at Dartmouth on Bergman's literary sources—it was great, reading Strindberg and Chekhov. I suppose this may not be very attractive to pure film scholars, but I think his success in reaching educated and fairly film-literate audiences (despite his reputation for dourness) over the years might suggest that his literariness is a legitimate alternative for auteurist filmmaking to the hyper-cinematicism of, say, certain Asian directors of the past ten years who are fawned over by outlets like ReverseShot. I am not, by any means, trying to denigrate artists like Tsai Ming-Liang or Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but I would like to argue that Bergman's very author-like auteurism be appreciated by film scholars in equal measure to the more image-conscious auteurism that seems regnant today.

More: Geez, now Michelangelo Antonioni is dead too. Please stop there, film gods!

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