Magazine article The New Yorker

Smorgasbord; the Current Cinema

Magazine article The New Yorker

Smorgasbord; the Current Cinema

Article excerpt

The social life of the moviegoer, rarely effervescent, is about to lose more of its sparkle. Film Forum is presenting a six-week retrospective, through July 1st, of the work of Ingmar Bergman. Not to plan a pilgrimage to Houston Street would be graceless, although we should resign ourselves to the fact that, like many of Bergman's characters, we will make the journey alone. There may be a way of persuading casual acquaintances to come along for a festive double bill of "Frenzy" and "Crisis," but, if so, it's news to me.

Bergman, happily, is alive today, although viewers hoping that he might spring a surprise appearance, bounding onstage after the screening, should prepare to be disappointed. Publicity has never been his forte; if you want self-revelation from Bergman, go to the work. He was born on July 14, 1918, into a well-to-do Swedish family. His father, Erik, was a pastor in the Lutheran church; Ingmar was raised in the company of women--his mother, Karin, naturally, but also a fond maternal grandmother. He himself has been married five times. Among the most striking measures of his art (rivalled only, in this regard, by the Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi) is the prominence that Bergman gives to women in his films. We are left in no doubt, as man after man reveals himself to be a fool or a flounderer, that the world is electrified by the fervor of female intelligence. Behind this tendency, as behind so much in life, lies an aunt. It was Ingmar's Aunt Anna who, in the late nineteen-twenties, gave his brother Dag the Christmas present of a cinematograph, which Ingmar soon acquired by swapping it for a hundred toy soldiers. That was the sparking of his passion for motion pictures.

Bergman studied at Stockholm University and directed his first play in 1938. Since then, his industry has been unflagging; last year a two-hour film, "Sarabande," showed on Swedish TV. He long ago earned the nickname of the "demon director," such are the demands that he makes on his performers. There is no mistaking the look of a Bergman picture, or even the sound of it. Close your eyes, or avert them from the subtitles, and you find yourself swept up afresh in the sway of his dialogue. It may be unintelligible, but, like the libretto of an opera in an unfamiliar tongue, it makes a mysterious music of its own, and the blend of clucking and lulling in the Swedish voice seems wonderfully apt to Bergman's mood.

That sound is one of the constants that cause Bergman's movies, in all their variety, to bind themselves into a compendium. Another is the repertory company that, like Woody Allen, he has loyally gathered around him. As the films unfurl, the delight of finding the same players--Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, and, less heralded but no less vital, Gunnar Bjornstrand--grows ever more consoling, surviving even the bleakest plots. All of which means that, rather than interleaving your Bergman-watching with other pictures, you should think about taking him neat--denying yourself the new Harry Potter movie, for instance, until you have plowed through two hundred and eighty-two minutes of "Scenes from a Marriage" (1973). The Film Forum season is not complete: there is no room for two of the films that Bergman made in Germany, "The Serpent's Egg" and "From the Life of the Marionettes"; or for a lost-looking Elliott Gould in "The Touch" (1971); or for the nine soap commercials that Bergman directed in 1951. Still, with thirty-three films on show, even scowling skeptics will be forced to concede the breadth, as well as the intensity, of his achievement.

And what of a novice? Were you to wander, without any warmup, into the double bill of "Summer Interlude" and "Summer with Monika" on June 10th, how would you respond? For a start, the titles might come as a shock. Bergman is so instantly linked with the Nordic landscape, and with the daunting demeanor of those who suffer there, that these buoyant films, dating from 1951 and 1953, are liable to bliss you out with their spasms of uncowed defiance. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.