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Bergman’s Bad Girls

Ingmar Bergman’s “Summer with Monika” was the first of his films to receive distribution outside of Sweden, though as the poster above suggests — from “America’s Fearless Showman,” Kroger Babb — it probably wasn’t Bergman’s sensitive direction that was bringing in the crowds.

Babb’s version was cut, re-scored (by lounge music legend Les Baxter, in his first work for the movies) and reportedly filled out with additional nude scenes shot by Jerald Intrator, the director of “Striporama.” Criterion has released Bergman’s original to Blu-ray and DVD, in a superlative restoration from Svensk Filmindustri, along with the 1951 film, “Summer Interlude,” that seems like a more theatrical, self-conscious first draft of “Monika.”

“Monika,” at least in its marvelous middle passages, remains the most fresh and open of Bergman’s films, a northern European analogue to the work Rossellini was creating in Italy at much the same time. As such, it had a tremendous influence on the budding filmmakers of the New Wave, and in particular on Godard, who quotes “Monika”‘s most striking moment — Harriet Andersson’s long, hard look at the camera, in which she seems to defy the audience to judge her — with Jean Seberg’s cold stare at the end of “Breathless.” My New York Times review is here.

120 comments to Bergman’s Bad Girls

  • David Cohen

    Funny, have never thought of George Stevens as a particularly personal filmmaker. Maybe I am alone in that regard …

  • Barry Putterman

    It really isn’t surprising that Walsh didn’t think of himself as an artist. He belongs to a generation of those who worked in the “popular’ arts (movies, swing music, genre fiction etc.) who hardly ever did. And, if they needed any object lessons as to why that was a good choice, they only had to look at the career paths followed by their colleagues who did, in fact, think of themselves as artists; such as Sternberg, or the recently discussed Artie Shaw.

    But was Raoul Walsh actually an artist? Well, who are you going to believe; Walsh or your lying eyes?

  • Marilyn Moss

    Certainly Walsh had a world view and a personal style. But he would not have meditated on it. Like Ford, he wouldn’t want to sit down and have a conversation about it. I’d believe my lying eyes, Barry!

  • Blake Lucas

    For Hollywood cinema, Barry made a great example with Josef von Sternberg–for maybe half a dozen years or so, there was no better American director, and he could even take an artistic posture and get away with it because he had commercial success going for him for awhile. But over the long haul, this doesn’t go well in the Hollywood studio system and his whole career–and all the movies he didn’t get to make later–confirms that. Whatever their thoughts, expressed or otherwise, about being artists, Ford, Hawks, and Walsh (to name three obvious and perhaps most ideal examples) understood this very well. I know how each of them expressed themselves about making movies and disbelieve all of them to a greater or lesser extent, especially Ford, who seems about as purposeful in being an artist as anyone could be and very consciously so, but in his work, not in anything he said about it. This may be less true of the other two, in that they didn’t go into the studio or to a location thinking “what shall I do today in the way of creating a work of art”–that doesn’t seem likely. But the actual nature of their work in its details itself shows the creativity and personal vision of artists, so whether this is conscious, unconscious or somewhere in between doesn’t matter. Art is after all always a mediation between what the artist does consciously and the things he or she brings unconsciously, and this can be done in so many different ways. Personally, I feel that “distance” is desirable in an artist, necessary because the art really is so close. Also, re movie directors, inflection in mise en scene can be a very subtle thing and often is. In studying a movie, I wouldn’t want to rely on the impression that has been given innumerable times of directors who didn’t talk much to collaborators, seemed to be doing little except showing up as the movie was being filmed and so on. And I’m talking about directors who are considered great. It’s a deceptive art, one reason why auteur theory took years to emerge and is still sometimes simplified, misunderstood, and argued over.

    I personally do not give any director more points for talking articulately about his/her work than if they don’t talk about it at all, or are inarticulate. I don’t take away points if they can talk about it articulately either (for example, Renoir in MY LIFE AND MY FILMS is very articulate in expressing at least some of the things he wanted to do in many of his films). But I do think the view we take of them should be taken only from what we see in their work. Even the most well-researched biography cannot know everything that is inside someone, when surely even that individual does not know it all, however expressively it may find its way into the works they create.

  • David Cohen

    Blake, of course Ford, Hawks and Walsh were all famous as tellers of tall tales. (Haven’t read Ms. Moss’s book but I assume that Walsh didn’t really steal John Barrymore’s corpse and leave it in Errol Flynn’s living room.) Given that all were at least somewhat unreliable in providing information about their own lives, it’s not a surprise that perhaps their views on their own work seems at odds with our perceptions of them.

  • Gregg Rickman

    Let me extend a welcome to Marilyn Moss, whose highly informative biography of Walsh I am in the midst of reading. We need more women on this site (Junko can’t outnumber us men folk by herself), particularly one who “gets” the Walshian woman (as, based on my partial reading of her book, she does).

    Walsh, her book makes clear, made up a lot of things, so his making up his not being an artist shouldn’t surprise us. I haven’t read the part of her book about Barrymore’s funeral, so maybe that’ll turn out to be true.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Thanks so much, Gregg — and especially for noting Walsh’s women, a great subject. In my second book on Walsh focusing on his films (not enough room in the bio) there’s more to say about all those strong women who get slapped (in one way or another). You make a good point…that he made up his not being an artist. He never got over his deep disappointment after the boxoffice failure of EVANGELINE so early in his career.

  • Barry Putterman

    Gregg, I second your welcome to Marilyn, your appreciation of Junko and your yearning for more female voices in the discussions. However, leave us not forget Vivian. I never do.

  • Brian Dauth

    Marilyn: thank you for your comments on Walsh. I look forward to your next book, since even your brief comments have opened a window on Walsh for me. Much appreciated.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Just to let you know, Brian, that I’m a big fan of Joseph Mankiewicz. I recall reading your interviews with him (that was you, no?) and thoroughly enjoyed the book. There are too few books on JM on the shelves of the Academy Library out here in Los Angeles. PEOPLE WILL TALK always slips through the cracks…although it’s sentimental around the edges, it’s also full of wisdom and, I think, a gem.

  • Brian Dauth

    Marilyn: I am so glad to know that you enjoyed the book and that a Mankiewicz fan has joined the ranks (not a species of auteurist too often found). There is little written about JLM despite what I think is an impressive career (and French cinephiles still publish on him — was JLM one of the few directors liked by both Cahiers and Positif?). But in a way I understand: it took me years to discover (much like you with Walsh it seems) that Mankiewicz had a visual signature — one that a Cahiers critic called the cinematic virtue of the word. Words give rise to images in a fascinating way.

    I love PEOPLE WILL TALK, but I think becoming a director-for-hire helped preserve his career since Fox was not going to be hospitable much longer. He had to start wedding his approach to different genres.

  • Marilyn Moss

    What a wonderful way to look at JLM, Brian. I’ll look at that aspect of his cinema the next time a Mankiewicz film offers me more insight into a woman’s psyche!

  • Brian Dauth

    Marilyn: Anne Baxter said she felt as if she were made of glass to JLM, and he could see directly into her mind. His approach to the image is unlike a director who might be considered “painterly” — the word in Mankiewicz not only inspires the image, but remains linked with it. I love your conception of Walsh separating himself from the script — it captures an experience I had when I watched THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW — shot after shot seemed to possess optimal camera placement — maybe what you referred to as its “natural” position — and I was carried along from shot to shot on what seemed a wave of perfect positionings. It was an elegant and refreshing experience (and was the first time I ever felt I “got” Walsh on anything more than a rudimentary level).

  • Jonah

    I imagine Walsh might own up to something like a “sensibility”–a way of carrying himself in relation to the world that seeps through in many of his pictures, which to me is different than a “statement” or even a “style.”

    The Cahiers bunch did film criticism a service by noting that directors can imbue films with their interests and favored themes without having necessarily written the screenplays (although I should note that this is only one inflection of the politique des auteurs). But that observation can turn sour when the “personal” becomes the primary or sole basis for judging a film’s merits. This causes observers to underrate craftsmanship, and to lapse into unflattering critical contortions in order to define their favored films as “personal.” I have to admit that Dave’s frequent paeans to Bob Zemeckis strike me as falling into this latter trap. Zemeckis is an extremely accomplished filmmaker, but (his interest in new visual technologies as a means of transcending traditional representations of the human aside) characterizing his work as “personal” in the sense one might apply to Ford or even Tarantino misrepresents his accomplishments. That’s not to say that his greatest film, Back to the Future, isn’t “personal” in some sense (for both Zemeckis and Bob Gale), but that isn’t really where I’d locate its particular greatness. Same probably goes for Me and My Gal and Objective Burma, both of which I love without reservation.

  • Barry Putterman

    Jonah, the over-reliance on what is “personal” in the way that auteurism has evolved over here may have something to do with the centrality of individualism at the heart of our culture. In any event, I am in agreement with you on the general statement, and will let Dave (or others) contend with your views of Zemeckis.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Brian et al…I’ve always considered SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW a terribly underappreciated Walsh picture, where you have a master of the western genre poking fun — and doing so with a cracker-jack sense of humor, which I think is his great trademark. But then the idea of the “personal” gets muddled, especially on those films when Walsh joined the project very late in its development. I always remember the time I was working with Richard Brooks’ papers at the Academy library. I found a letter a film student sent Brooks psychoanyalyzing the meaning of a particular blue lamp that was used in a scene in one of his films. The student received a letter back from one of the prop people on the film saying that the lamp was the only one available to them that day. That’s why it was used. Reading that letter changed everything for me from that day on…

  • Barry Putterman

    Marilyn. THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW is a wonderful film which should be much better known and appreciated.

    If that story about Richard Brooks changed things for you, I would hope that it would be in the direction of regarding not whether Brooks chose the lamp, but rather how he used the lamp once it was given to him. That is really the crux of auteurism.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Barry, even as a true believer of auteurism, it makes me wonder if we can ever know the extent of Brooks’ concern over the lamp. I can’t help but repeat, with some distortion, I’m sure, the story Mitchum told of Walsh walking away from the camera during the filming of a fight scene in PURSUED (the interview is on the internet). Walsh characteristically walked away to roll a Bull Durham. When he returned he asked Mitchum how the scene went. “Fine…we knocked over a lamp,” Mitchum told him. Walsh replied, “Did you put it back?” Then he yelled, “Print!” Most enticing is what we won’t ever know: how Walsh (or any director) did the set-up and what happened after. We’re apt to know much more about what Zemeckis did than what Walsh or Brooks did.

  • Barry Putterman

    Marilyn, I’ve referred to that wonderful clip of Mitchum and the story myself. Of course, Mitchum was as much a fabricator as Walsh was But it seems essentially true to me. Walsh, like Hitchcock, knew what he was going to see before the filming even started. He famously walked away from scenes in order to better hear the rhythm of how it was playing.

    Of course, we don’t know what was going on in Walsh’s mind. But how important is that really? How aware are any of us of what is is going on in our minds? How many times do we do things without understanding why we did them? How often does our motivations only become clear much later? Or never? How deep is our capacity for self-denial even when we suspect that we do know?

    All that we can be sure of is what is up there on the screen. And, as a committed Hawksian, I believe that we reveal ourselves in what we do and how we do it, rather than how we explain it.

    In addition to the Mitchum story, there is the always told one about the (fill in the blank) jazz musician who is shown written out the solo he had played earlier in the evening. He looks at the paper and says: “Man, I can’t play that!” But that was, in fact, exactly what he had played.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Barry, I can only hope that Mitchum wasn’t fabricating too much of that PURSUED episode. I’d love to think Walsh actually asked him if he put the lamp back! Speaks volumes about RW. I’m with you in your explanation of Hawks…Walsh would also drink to that!