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

  • Alex

    I’ve always marvelled that Bergman fans so often and intensely love FANNY AND ALEXANDER although it’s so uncharacteristic of Bergman and that Bergman detractors so often and like it a lot although it is, after all, a Bergman creation. The film’s final preponderance of exuberance over angst, of optimism (despite anxieties) over despair, and of sensual and lyrical feeling for life itself – not just precious but fleeting sensual and lyrical spells and epiphanies– strikes me as quite un-Bergmanesque. Moreover, the film’s so much a stock literary narrative — a happy, upbeat early stretch of a Bildungsroman nested deep in family life (or a family chronical off on a Bildugromanish stretch) that it’s hardly the expected Bergman original but instead an evocation of a stock pre-WWI literary type, a kind of Book I or II out of “Wilhelm Meister” or “Buddenbrooks” leavened with a tablespoon of Dickensian elan for every droplets of Stringbergian angst (though sweetened, I will admit, by Bwergman’s clearly very personal love for the enterprise). Are Bergman fans simply so pleased by the film’s accomplishments that they don’t miss the old sourpuss, and Bergman detractors so won over by the film that they forget to deride it as recycled literary artifacts?

    I suppose there’s magic and majesty in an exercise that though thoroughly rote in broad conception, is both masterful and personal every in every detail of execution.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Around these parts FANNY AND ALEXANDER is everyone’s favorite Christmas movie. I vividly remember watching it as a TV series around Christmas in the early 80s, and as a fan of 19th century novel story telling, TV series as a continuation of that, and a fan of many (if not all) Bergman movies, how could I not love it?

    My guess is that what wins over people who don’t normally like Bergman is the Wes Anderson (at his best) qualities: it’s deeply personal – everything you’ve seen in Bergman before is there, including – take note Barry – a reference to Stiller’s Swedish silent “Thomas Graals bästa film” – and at the same time it’s very charmingly seen from a child’s puppet theatre point of view. It’s Uppsala like Wes Anderson films New York in THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

    Oddly enough Wes Anderson’s Bergman favorite seems to be FROM THE LIFE OF MARIONETTES, from which, as Bergman saw it FANNY AND ALEXANDER was a kind of recovery:

    http://goop.com/newsletter/25/

  • Barry Putterman

    Johan, note has been taken. And if I ever watch FANNY AND ALEXANDER again (don’t hold your breath) I’ll be looking for the THOMAS GRAAL reference. But while I’m not a fan of that film, I can certainly understand why it is held in such high esteem in its native land. Awhile back we tried to give a working definition of Americana. Well, I would imagine that FANNY AND ALEXANDER scores pretty highly as Swedishana.

    And that, as the poet said, is cool. There is more to the movies than just high falutin’ art. If a movie hits you where you live, that’s a good enough reason for me. In fact, it would appear that with the marginal exception of Grey, everybody in Gwyneth’s circle is kind of semi-rubbish on film history. But there seems to be genuine pleasure being expressed regarding their selections and that kind of warms the cockles, if you know what I mean.

  • Brian Dauth

    I have always enjoyed Bergman’s films of the 1970′s. Fernando Croce detects a loosening of Bergman’s mise en scene that also seems to free up space for his female characters (see his review of THE TOUCH on his website). This later mise en scene does feel less precise — PERSONA has always seemed overly determined in its experimentations — like an Artie Shaw improvisation that was thoroughly composed in advance (or so some have asserted). HOUR OF THE WOLF and A PASSION seem like films that are able to happen once Bergman passed through the crucible of making PERSONA. The end of the cycle of 70′s films is FANNY AND ALEXANDER with MARIONETTES less a film to be recovered from, but rather Bergman’st clearest elucidation of the potential pathologies of heterosexual male behavior (again limned in a film where Bergman is “German”). Alexander’s narrative works as its positive dialectical counterpart. The old sourpuss seems a little less controlling and able to see possibilities if not explanations.

  • Alex

    “Around these parts FANNY AND ALEXANDER is everyone’s favorite Christmas movie.”

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    (And it’s a great Solstice tip!)

    It doesn’t seem to me that experimentation means improvisation on the set, but PERSONA — overwelming for me like many other in the 60s– did seem to me weakened in ways that were rline with what I take to be one of Dave K.s principal criticisms of Bergman — too theatrical. (Or are too theatrical and too controlled the same thing?)

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, I don’t believe that Brian is equating experimentation with improvisation. But rather he is saying that Bergman’s experiments are overly controlled. That the outcomes are pre-determined. Which kind of defeats the purpose of an experiment in the first place.

    By the way, I read Tom Nolan’s biography of Artie Shaw and I don’t recall anybody in it, friend or foe, claiming that his improvisations were composed beforehand. So it would be interesting to know to whom Brian is referring in ths case.

  • Blake Lucas

    No love here for SUMMER INTERLUDE?

    I ask this because after over fifty posts it’s only been mentioned in passing a few times and I do love it and don’t agree with Dave that it’s less mature. For me, it is a mature Bergman film and though I love SUMMER WITH MONIKA too I believe I’d say I love SUMMER INTERLUDE even more. It too has ties with the earlier traditions of Sjostrom as well as the theatre. I’d readily agree it’s not as cutting edge as MONIKA and doesn’t have the same modernist gestures. I deeply love the long held close-up of Harriet Andersson looking at the camera and at us in MONIKA–it’s a special and riveting moment of cinema that still resonates deeply for me.

    But free of judgements of which film is the more modern and has more modernist gestures, it seems at least for me that we can appreciate both movies for what they are. I don’t believe I’m alone in considering SUMMER INTERLUDE as mature–even Bergman himself, who could be hard on himself, felt he has this time achieved what he wanted. While a more classical work (it reminds me at least as much of Sjoberg, a director I’m inclined to like for style and sensibility more than Bergman even if he has a less imposing body of work) than MONIKA, there is nothing stale about it. The integration of flashbacks within a drama of a woman in a transitional time may not be new but it is handled in a fresh, creative and always engaging way. Moreover, with its innate appreciation of time and space, so much a part of transience in life, cinema is just made for a subject like this one and I find it so moving. This remains for me one of the four or five best Bergman movies through all phases of his work and if pressed to choose one personal favorite, this would be it.

    So it’s great–and twice the reason to get this Criterion of two well-paired Bergman movies.

    This is not at all a criticism of Dave’s piece by the way. Even if we don’t agree about SUMMER INTERLUDE, I think he made a good decision to concentrate on the one film, SUMMER WITH MONIKA, given his preference and greater interest. His space in the Times is always more limited than we’d like it to be and just talking about MONIKA he was able to say a lot more about it, and subtly moderate his praise with a more equivocal position on Bergman’s whole career as it followed. So the piece was very interesting to me. I just wanted to throw in my two cents for a film I love since no one else has.

    I’ll add that a wider subject worth exploring is the extent to which more classical works can have more modernist aspects and modernist gestures, as has been true since Griffith’s Biographs (conspicuously) and arguably before that, while even the most New Wave modernist films can resonate with artistic traditions, as Dave points out is the case of SUMMER WITH MONIKA. Both things are true of so many films and I know we all could readily name any number in both groups.

  • Alex

    “But rather he is saying that Bergman’s experiments are overly controlled. That the outcomes are pre-determined. Which kind of defeats the purpose of an experiment in the first place.”

    Well, there does seem to be some association of experimentation with rough edges in film (e.g., Chien Andalou, Breathless, Faces)

    On the other hand, there’s Alfred Hitchcock, frequently experimental, almost invariably all planned out in his head, by filming time and utterly in control. I take him to be just one cinematic example of a number of possiblilities (Lang, Antonioni). In the literary amd musical arts, I think it’s customary to regard the modernist masterpieces as frequently both stunningly original inventions and flawlessly realized –”The Rite Of Spring,” “The Waste Land,” “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “The Magic Mountain.” (I can’t say that parts of the completed “Ulysses” and “Sound and the Fury” don’t seem a bit arbitrary or undecredited, but most of the high modernist masterpieces that have stretches of this quality are uncompleted works like “Lost Time” and “The Man Without Qualities.”

    There even even improvised works that convey a sense of complete control, like everything on Davis et al.’s “Kind of Blue.”

    (BTW, can Miles Davis,John Coltrane,”Cannonball” Adderley,Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly,Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb be an auteur — for THEY sure did ART?)

  • Alex

    “Citizen Kane” has, I think, that quality of a “stunningly original” i”nvention…. flawlessly realized.” So do “Intolerance,” “Battleship Potemkin” –and “Vertigo” if you don’t think that the senseless complexity of Gavin Elster’s murder scheme strains credulity.

  • Blake, SUMMER INTERLUDE (together with SAWDUST AND TINSEL) is my favourite Bergman film (I think that perhaps the best thing Bergman has done is IN THE PRESENCE OF A CLOWN but that’s not a film.) The sequence towards the end when Marie is removing her make-up and Stig Olin, in Coppelius make-up, comes in and talks to her, is extraordinary. Piercing and moving, and wonderfully edited. It is also the first film in which Bergman shows an embodied presence of death. One reason why it’s so good might be because he made TO JOY the year before, which can be seen as a sort of a dress rehearsal. Weirdly enough, after SUMMER INTERLUDE was made it was put on the shelf for a year, since the studio didn’t believe in it.

    I liked to include SUMMER INTERLUDE when I organised Bergman festivals because it would always meet with the same response “This was great, why have I never heard of this one before?”

  • Barry Putterman

    Alex, I would agree that experimentation is often associated with rough edges. But I would contend that that is a rather romanticized misconception. Just like the misconception that jazz improvisations are miraculously conceived at the moment of creation.

    Rather, as you cite, experiments come in many forms and varieties and don’t always announce themselves. Hitchcock, as you say, thinks it all the way through to the end even before he films. So he is not only not announcing an experiment, he is also withholding the “trial and error” and only showing the results.

    With Bergman, you usually get announcements. “Look, interviews with the actors breaking into the narrative in THE PASSION OF ANNA! It’s modernism!” But, as usual, it only serves to further instruct you about how you are supposed to interpret the film.

  • Peter Henne

    One thing this thread is making me wonder about is how the reputation for some artists goes on a trajectory. There can be a backlash when they become popularly acclaimed and it becomes hard to nonetheless hold out they are demanding on us. One person who comes to mind is Marc Chagall. He was an obscure emigre painter in France, became widely loved, then somewhat denigrated. A suspicion arose he must be “impure” because he worked in traditional motifs to his overall modernist, abstract style. I wonder if an excuse was sought to bring him down for having become widely popular, since other people like Fernand Leger also mixed classical and modern elements yet were celebrated for making those connections instead of downgraded. But now Chagall isn’t even spurned, he’s just largely overlooked. For that reason, it’s probably easier to like Chagall again for his classical references yoked to brilliant colorism.

    There can be an unfair slant against artists who are broadly loved, in particular the ones who are expected to provoke us to keep their modern master mantle, and that seems to apply to Bergman. It doesn’t make sense to me when people say he often insists on what the audience is supposed to feel. That might be true of some of the ’70s and ’80s films, and some scattered other films in a long career. Bergman’s characters are forever interrogating themselves, so naturally they toss out psychological theories to try to explain their feelings and experiences, relatively little of which however turns out having been demonstrably right. The most famous line in any Bergman film is probably, “You with your visions and dreams,” which ends THE SEVENTH SEAL on a note of ambivalence over the reality of Jof’s perspective. Instead of affirming Jof’s apocalyptic glimpses are objectively real and his fellows are simply too blind, self-interested or affected to notice what’s actually going on, the film concludes on the lightly chastising words of the character in the film who best balances virtue and pragmatism, his wife Mia. (Admittedly it’s been a couple of decades since I watched the film all the way through, but do we have to conclude that the Knight’s story is on the same plane of reality as Jof’s and Mia’s? The famous shot of the hillside dance, because it’s held in long shot, suggests otherwise.)

    Along with Brian, I especially like some of the films in the period following PERSONA, though PERSONA too still seems brilliant to me. Its narrative is perhaps more fragmented and abstract than some other films interrogating subjective point of view that are closely associated with it, like Antonioni’s RED DESERT and Pasolini’s TEOREMA, and that might be why PERSONA can come across as “stiff” and “coldly calculated” by comparison. HOUR OF THE WOLF, THE RITUAL, and CRIES AND WHISPERS all seem like part of the high points of a career dedicated to undercutting with precision the certainties at determining when and where subjectivity obtains.

  • Alex

    Well, I would say that consensus on an artist’s greatness will just breakdown because there’s a backlash provoked by her earlier reputation. Tastes differ; standards change; new perspectives and commentators arise. Dave K’s critique of Bergman, as I have cobbled it together from memories of a few writings, pointed to Bergman films as too theatrically acted, stylistically unimpressive or even clunky except perhaps for some striking shots and tableaux, and cruel/misanthropic/cynical/pessimistic and otherwise philosophically uncongenial (and theatrically derivative). This seems to me substantial, not mere emotional backlash, nor necessarily rooted in backlash. The theatricality and style legs of this criticism seem telling (if somewhat overheated) to me and have, I think, come to diminished my admiration for and enjoyment of Bergman films. The philosophical leg of the criticisms strikes me as weak, if only because I am prone to come to film in a philosophically eclectic frame of mind. (I find Swing Time and Full Metal Jacket, L’Atalante and Le salaire de la peur, mid-30s McCcarey and 50s Wilder all intellectually palatable and emotionally compelling.)

  • Brian Dauth

    Alex: Barry captures what I mean when he says the experiments are “overly controlled.” THE SEVENTH SEAL seems to me a beautiful and precise modernist film. But where does one go after that? Some artists (and not just in film) doubled-down on precision and made what I experience as over-determined works. For all its precision, TSS still breathes for me — there is elasticity in it.

    Bergman ups the precision ante in PERSONA and it feels airless – announcing itself as an experimental film, but not leaving any space for contestation (Peter may be right that its abstractness causes me to feel this way – BLOW UP made the same year and TEOREMA of two years later are just as precise, but have a tactile fleshiness that I do not sense in PERSONA). Also, I do not find in PERSONA the note of ambivalence that Peter talks about in TSS (which I also see). But I do feel that having made PERSONA, Bergman can then make HOUR OF THE WOLF which has elasticity in it. The scene I noted before where Johan Borg lights matches and talks about the “hour of the wolf” and its terrors is seriously whacked: both a solemn presentation of one man’s angst and a send-up of the same. I care about Alma and her carefully documented household budget, but also know that the beauties of the film come from the interior angst of an artist who could care less about domestic affairs. HOUR OF THE WOLF breathes in its discontinuities – it seems about as light-hearted as Bergman can get until F&A (it also shows what a fine editor he could be).

    I also share with Peter the confusion over how Bergman’s films tell a spectator how to feel. It is true he openly uses modernist devices, but how does that instruct the audience how to feel? In “The Play about the Baby,” Edward Albee uses direct audience address (which is also found in novels and poetry and is not only a theatrical device), but I never felt it as instructional. This device and others can make a spectator self-aware/conscious, but how a viewer will feel depends on her own relationship to the use of such devices.

    Barry: when the last recordings of Artie Shaw came out in the early 1990’s, there was much discussion about whether or not he composed his solos. He vigorously denied it, but it is a charge that was around even earlier. Later, going through his papers at the University of Arizona after his death, they discovered his ‘”Stardust” solo written out by Lennie Hayton. What Shaw played was a variant, but the architecture was there in Hayton’s hand. It will never be settled.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, possibly the confusion is in thinking that the claim is being made that the modernist device is instructing the audience (which I wasn’t saying) as opposed to the way that Bergman was employing it (which I was saying).

    I do think that Peter has a good point about critical fashion turning against artists at a certain juncture. Many of us began our serious film study at a moment when Bergman (and Fellini) were considered the indisputable masters. As such, they became representative of the royalty which needed to be deposed for the next generation of aesthetic thought to take hold. The same sort of thing happened to the Wylers and the Hustons when auteurism took hold here. If it hadn’t also happened to Freud in the filed of psychology, he would have probably taken pleasure in pointing out how well that Oedipal thing works in real life.

    If it is any comfort, Bergman’s stock will likely rise again in time. Not to the level that it once held. But then again, maybe it isn’t healthy for any artist to be held in that kind of regard. Who knows. Maybe in a few hundred years a controversy will break out as to whether Gosta Ekman really made Bergman’s films. Or whether Artie Shaw composed them.

  • “Many of us began our serious film study at a moment when Bergman (and Fellini) were considered the indisputable masters.”

    And they were used as clubs to beat down “shallow” and “vulgar” commercial filmmakers like Hitchcock, Ford and Hawks by the anonymous Time Magazine critics and the Stanley Kaufmans of The New Republic and other journals. Not that either Bergman or Fellini were complicit with how they were used in this fashion, but it did create a backlash against them in certain quarters.

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: understood. So what is it in the way Bergman uses it that makes you believe he is trying to instruct the audience?

  • jbryant

    Tangentially to the topic at hand, last night I watched a 1966 episode of the TV series COMBAT! titled “A Sudden Terror.” Jan Malmsjö, who played the stern bishop in FANNY AND ALEXANDER, had a brief but very vivid role as a wounded German who comes upon guest star Brandon De Wilde as a American soldier trapped in quicksand. I was particularly impressed with the direction by Michael Caffey, a former assistant director for the series who became a prolific TV helmer (everything from WILD, WILD WEST and THE VIRGINIAN to BARNABY JONES and MACGYVER). Lots of interesting tracking shots and intense close-ups. Wonder if his extensive oeuvre has anything else this impressive?

    Count me as another fan of SUMMER INTERLUDE, and, indeed, Bergman in general. Still have to watch my Blu-Ray of THE MAGICIAN, which I got as a gift several months ago!

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, no doubt I would have to take another look at THE PASSION OF ANNA to be able to cite chapter and verse regarding the actor interviews in the film. And I’ll use the convenient excuse of the Rangers-Angels game coming on at 10 to explain why I just can’t do that right now.

    So, I will have to fall back on the moment from that film which best represents the way in which Bergman handles many such things in my estimation. It is where Erland Josephson is trying to show Max von Sydow that things are not necessarily REALLY what they seem to be on the surface. He indicates a picture of a smiling Bibi Andersson on the wall and says that she seems to be in a most happy state in this picture. But the reality was that at the time that he took this picture of her, she was in the process of getting a headache. And I said to myself; “Whoa dude, IRONY!!.”

  • Have wondered if the version of the Middle Ages in FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS (Rossellini) might have influenced how this epoch is portrayed in THE SEVENTH SEAL. Especially the parts with the crude warlord and his squalid camp & court. And if both films are in turn an influence on ANDREI RUBLEV (Tarkovsky).
    *
    jbryant,
    Have never seriously thought about Michael Caffey, and don’t have a feel for his cinematic personality. Your comments are very interesting.

    His episodes of THE VIRGINIAN seem to focus on young men who are troubled, disturbed and with a dark side. Best: THE ORDEAL, which has a more light-hearted look at a spoiled rich kid (Robert Pine pre-CHiPs).

    On WILD, WILD WEST, liked NIGHT OF THE KRAKEN, about an alleged sea monster terrorizing the San Francisco docks. Saw this decades ago, hope I have the plot right.
    And on MACGYVER, BRAINWASHED is not bad.

  • Brian Dauth

    Thanks Barry. I understand what you mean without experiencing it that way. I have always thought Elis was messing with Andreas and made the comment up on the spot — an improvisation if you will. A PASSION is a favorite of mine which develops the progress made with HOUR OF THE WOLF after the slight backtrack of SHAME.

    I also like its humor — giving Liv Ullman a limp and a crutch and having her character the killer of her husband and son. And the great transition spoken by Bergman: “Six months later everything had gone wrong.”. No preamble — no intervening scenes. Just a verbal jump cut. Bergman’s framing also is looser and more accommodating of human craziness — as if the previous precision and abstraction and theatricality were abandoned, with a sense of performativity replacing them.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, possibly Elis should have let Artie Shaw (or Lennie Hayton) write it out for him. Regardless of his intentions, the anecdote is equally lame and unconvincing to me whether it is true or false. It didn’t play with my mind. It just gave ME a headache.

  • jbryant

    Mike: Of course I can’t make a case for Michael Caffey based on one episode of COMBAT! (though it seems likely I must have seen more of his stuff–he was quite prolific, and I did watch some of the shows he worked on). This was only his second directorial credit, I believe, and it’s possible he was just feeling his oats after years as an a.d., before settling into journeyman work. I haven’t seen enough COMBAT! to know if the producers encouraged stylistic flourishes, or if Caffey was just precocious. He executes a very nice near-360 around the trapped De Wilde, and nearly all of his shots held visual interest for me. I mentioned the intense close-ups, but there are also a number of compositions in depth, with De Wilde in the foreground, a forest in the middle, and a German patrol in the distance. There are also some pretty impressive pyrotechnics, with huge explosions I don’t normally associate with a weekly series (I’m almost certain these are not stock shots–though there is some stock footage here and there in the episode, it’s rather easily spotted).

    All I know is if I see his name again in the opening credits of a show, I’ll pay attention. (Trivia note: He’s the father of Charlotte Caffey, guitarist for The Go-Go’s.)

  • nicolas saada

    Barry if filmmakers today could control, feel and translate their emotions with the mastery of Bergman, I would be the happiest man in earth. The artificiality and irony you want to denounce seems harmless in regard to the growing amount of cynism and self awareness which pollutes most of filmmaking today. We live in the reign of the “smart ass”directors. PASSION OF ANNA is still a devastating eperience, with a use of colour and frame that had a major influence on Tarkovski. The book by Michael Baxandall PATTERNS OF INTENTION is a must read In the delicate field of art/intention/cynism.
    People who raved about WHITE RIBBON three years ago never stressed on the heavy intentionality of tbe movie. In comparison Bergman’s stellar sense oF control and letting go seem to my eyes incredibly deep and refreshing.
    I havealways considered Bergman a truly Exciting director : his films are sensual, provoking, in spite of their reputation. Pefhaps what Barry and Peter seem to question is how we look at works of art.

  • Alex

    x359594

    I think that your statement that Bergman and Fellini were at one point “considered the indisputable masters” because they “were used as clubs to beat down ‘shallow” and “vulgar’ commercial filmmakers like Hitchcock, Ford and Hawks by the anonymous Time Magazine critics and the Stanley Kaufmans of The New Republic and other journals” that these directors were not complicit with how they were used in this fashion,” but that “it did create a backlash against them in certain quarters” is a very accurate and statement of perhaps the most general character of whatever broad historical backlash against the two there was.

    nixcola saada,

    I know Baxandall’s PATTERNS OF INTENTION pretty well. but I have two questions about your use of it.
    One, whwhar does the “cynism” in “art/intention/cynism” mean and, if it is a typo, what was …intended?
    Two, what do you mean by “heavy intentionality” in WHITE RIBBON and, more specifically, your seemingly perjorative use of “heavy intentionality” in the film. (As I recall Baxandall sees intentionality as everywhere present in art — and in no sense a negative trait– and writes of how you are to recover an artist’s intentionality from observation of his or her work of art. (I do, by the way, like WHITE RIBBON a lot and consider it far more socially and historically well informed and, thus, sociologically and historically deep, than Bergman ever was except perhaps in plumbing world directly within his experience viewed fromn close up with a hint of the bird’s eye view.)

  • Blake, Fredrik, Jbryant: let me join you as an admirer of SUMMER INTERLUDE, one of my favourite Ingmar Bergman movies along with PRISON, SUMMER WITH MONIKA, THE SEVENTH SEAL, WILD STRAWBERRIES, THE MAGICIAN, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, WINTER LIGHT, THE SILENCE, PERSONA, CRIES AND WHISPERS, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, and AUTUMN SONATA. Bergman’s best films are usually dark, but one can discover his happy, tender, and humoristic side from his interviews and memoirs. With FANNY AND ALEXANDER Bergman achieved a beloved popular success, and it is an essential work, especially the full long tv version, but I find Bergman’s greatest gravity elsewhere. Bergman was also a good writer, and for instance THE BEST INTENTIONS is worth reading. As is LATERNA MAGICA.

    Further about SUMMER WITH MONIKA: I think the greatest achievement of Ingmar Bergman and Harriet Andersson was the creation of the figure of a modern young, independent woman who is wild and free, no longer the object of the look, but the subject of her desire. In the history of the love goddesses SUMMER WITH MONIKA was a new kind of a celebration of female desire, ignoring the clichés of the madonna and the whore. Soon we got Jeanne Moreau (LES AMANTS) and others, but American stars still struggled with the Code.

  • Barry Putterman

    Nicolas, I would imagine that if we all looked at art the same way we quite likely would all see the same results. Personally, I’m quite glad that such is not the case since that holds out hope that our understanding is not necessarily complete as it currently stands and may yet increase in the future. For that, and many other reasons, I find no cause for alarm that Peter and I see Bergman in different lights.

    I’m not quite sure what is supposed to be meant by “heavy intentionality” within the context of current conversation. However, it does serve as both a very accurate and aesthetically pleasing description of my response to much of Bergman’s work. The fact that we could most likely agree about the presence of many things which are worse than Bergman in cinema both past and present seems like a rather weak point in his favor.

  • Alex

    “the greatest achievement of Ingmar Bergman and Harriet Andersson was the creation of the figure of a modern young, independent woman who is wild and free, no longer the object of the look, but the subject of her desire.”

    Film had long presented such women in the form of the highly autonomos, sexually empowered femmes fatales like Hayworth’s Gilda and Elsa Bannister and many Dietrich character, and (starting a little latter) the hyper-talented professional woman in the style of Hephburn’s protagonists in her films opposite Tracy. And there were also powerful wealth-empowered dominatixes in the manner of Davis (LITTLE DOXEWS, DECEPTION), Crawford (HUMORESQUE)and Bacall (mAN WITH A HORN). But, of course, Andersson’s Monika, unlike, les femmes fatales AND rich dominatrixes, is not villainized as a desructive force, and she is more of an everywoman — at least an emerging variant of everywoman– than the Hephburn-like dynamos were.

  • Brian Dauth

    I watched A PASSION again last night — my Saturday night Late Late Show — and I was struck once more by Bergman’s mastery of looser framing and color after years of black-and-white controlled framing. As I watched the film, I kept thInking “Bergman cannot get this good, that fast.” This was especially the case after watching SHAME recently and thinking how it seemed a bit of retreat from the freedom of HOUR OF THE WOLF.

    I also think that the terorizer who is killing animals works much better than the tanks of THE SILENCE or the war planes of SHAME. A PASSION feels like a perfectly scaled movie, where the personal is political.

    Following up on what Nicolas said: the immediacy of the emotions in dialectic with miscommunication among the characters (despite their articulateness) is wondrous. Bergman (whatever I thought of individual films) was an example to my younger self of what a work of art could be.

  • Junko Yasutani

    ‘what do you mean by “heavy intentionality” in WHITE RIBBON and, more specifically, your seemingly perjorative use of “heavy intentionality” in the film.’

    Not answering for Nicolas, but there is Japanese word ‘hakarai’, meaning calculation with negative connotation in art. Too much calculation is without sincerity, that is how I understand about heavy intentionality.

  • Fredrik and Blake, I have to say that the scene with Stig Olin in his Coppelius make-up in “Summer Interlude” pretty much sums up my problems with Bergman — it’s a blunt, heavy-handed intrusion on the narrative, reeking with “intentionality” (“you are now about to experience art and profundity!”) and yet is ultimately shallow and trite in its second-hand, rather sophomoric philosophizing, expressed without nuance or grace. How much more difficult it is to do what Renoir, Rossellini, Hawks, Walsh and so many others do — which is to express a world view through style and storytelling, without recourse to transparent symbolism (“the embodied presence of death,” by which I assume you mean the old woman playing chess with the parson — surely not the most refined of metaphors) or laboriously spelled-out “meanings.” Look at how subtly Walsh handles the disembodied presence of death in his films — the sense of existential dread that drives his hyperkinetic heroes. It’s always there, pervasive and powerful but expressed through mise-en-scene and narrative rhythm, rather than anything as obvious as Death Knocking at the Door — well, with the possible exception of Jack Benny in “The Horn Blows at Midnight”!

  • Nicolas Saada

    Dear Alex, I have no particular use of Baxandall except in the pleasure of reading his work. I find his writings fascinating. I sometimes feel that writers like Durgnat (and many others whom I certainly haven’t read) approached film in a very demanding way as well. I have no particular grudge against intention in art. But I was responding to a previous argument against Bergman’s films. And yes, even if intention is of course constitutive of creation, it sometimes overwhelms it, and the work can collapse under intention. It is true of many art forms. I used WHITE RIBBON as an example because, to me, its “flawlessness” works at times at the detriment of accidents. I DO agree with you on that point Alex: there should aubtle and delicate balance between control and what i define as “letting go”. (Forgive the poor English everyone). And strangely enough I will use your sentence on Bergman to describe my impatience with WHITE RIBBON : defintely “viewed from close up with a hint of the bird’s eye view.”.
    But we are opening another pandora’s box here.
    I sometimes do not care about whether a film is sociologically relevant when it can provide me with a specific emotional experience.
    I will add though that, some works manage to convey both an historical/sociological relevance and an extraordinary emotional force. I would refer to, since we discussed WHITE RIBBON, Edgard Reitz’ HEIMAT, a work which scope, feel, and ambition seem to me unsurpassed.

  • Nicolas Saada

    Dave, I try to understand your poblems with Bergman. But, don’t you think he is, above all, an expressionistic director ? One of the last really. To me he was making “Silent talking pictures”, and the ambivalence, that can be sometimes confused with heavyhanded approach to story or imagery, seems to disappear, or at least, evolve, in other directions : the first silent scenes of SAWDUST AND TINSEL, the tre in VIRGIN SPRING… etc..

  • Marilyn Moss

    Dave,
    Your words on Bergman and Raoul Walsh are well-taken. Still, a comparison of these two filmmakers feels somewhat forced. Apples and oranges, for lack of a better phrase. Different world views, different histories/apprenticeship years. Walsh is not the personal, hyperconscious filmmaker Bergman is and “Natural” mise-en-scene was his tongue. Also, there is a pervasive kind of humor in his characters’ situations, postures, expressions, and in his own narrative rhythm (often resulting from the distance Walsh put between himself and a scipt). The humor never steps back — it co-exists with the existential angst (he would have had a great quip about our using such an expression) we find in his heroes (and heroines). I have no doubt that Walsh thoroughly enjoyed the Jack Benny extravagance.

  • Dave, I was thinking about the sequence when Marie arrives at the island and sees the old woman in black walking along the footpath. To emphasise the mood the sky is cloudy and there is a raven making ominous sounds on a barren tree. I will not argue against you, Bergman has very strong tendencies to be obvious. Once at a Bergman film festival in Milan I spent a breakfast with Leif Zern, a distinguished Swedish Bergman scholar, listing all Bergman’s weaknesses, and having a lot of fun with it. For example the characters are often not really characters but types. This is THE ARTIST and this is THE SCIENTIST. But there is more to Bergman than that. I can still enjoy the acting, the emotional tension, the visual artistry, the narrative games. It’s the same with late Kurosawa, at least from the mid-60s and onwards. He is hitting the audience over the head with THE MESSAGE but I still like the films (most of them). What I don’t like is those critics and scholars who (unlike yourself) fails to see that the likes of Walsh or Siegel can be equally profound, without having to hold up signs telling us what the images mean. I’m always baffled when critics who considers themselves sophisticated needs the equivalent of a teleprompter to grasp the meaning of a film.

    Incidentally, one film where the obviousness and the blatant disregard for the cognitive capabilities of the viewer is too much to handle is Bertolucci’s 1900.

  • Brian Dauth

    When I started to watch A PASSION last night, I had not turned on the subtitles, so for a while I just had the images. I was amazed to see just how much emotion Bergman was able to convey through color, light, editing and framing — more than I had realized and I like the film. So Nicolas, your comment really registers with me. Paying such close attention to the images also made me realize something else: the red scarf Anna wears in the scene when Andreas attacks her — I had always seen it as connected with the red of he sheep’s blood, etc. But in actual experience, however, I found that Bergman had severed the signifier from the signified — Anna still wore the scarf, but Bergman’s mise en scene up until that scene made interpretation of the symbol difficult — suddenly interpretation was ambivalent — an ambivalence that seeped to other parts of the movie. I had taken for granted what the scarf meant/symbolized, but when I honed in on it, I found that my understanding was not as well grounded as I believed it was.

    In some ways, isn’t this disagreement along the lines of termite art vs. white elephant art? Bergman is in-your-face sometimes, but it is just as hard to be in-your-face successfully as it is to be subtle and successful (if you do not believe me, I will introduce you to some drag kings and queens I know and they can tell you about in-your-face realness). Walsh’s powerful and pervasive existential dread is no less intentional than Bergman’s transparent symbols. Preferring one approach over the other is a matter of taste, and good mise en scene is not inherently subtle, but I would say it is inherently expressive. Bergman is sometimes painfully blatant — the ill daughter and Liv Ullman’s schoolgirl braids and eyewear in AUTUMN SONATA are symbols-too-far), but he can make powerful films, even if they are not as modest as those of other directors.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, I agree that it is hard to be in-your-face successfully. And I don’t need drag queens to convince me, Sam Fuller will do. But Fuller’s is an in-your-face surface which contains the subtlety of multi-dimensions and endless contradictions. It would be hard to argue that the surface of Bergman’s films have much in common with Fuller’s. The in-your-face there is all within the presentation of the content.

  • Blake Lucas

    Dave, I appreciate your comments re SUMMER INTERLUDE because I was trying to figure out why you thought so little of it and now we know. Just want to point out that while I am fine with that particular scene you dislike (Stig Olin in Coppelius make-up), Fredrik was the one who singled it out. There’s a lot in what you say about Bergman within context of the scene that I would agree is generally true of him but looking at that scene in context of the whole, it works fine for me. I said the specific things I love most about the movie and I do stand by those.

    Bergman is not in my personal pantheon, but more on a level of a lot of people for whom I have respect even if I have mixed feelings about them. The people you mentioned and reasons for preferring them in instance of Renoir, Rossellini, Hawks, Walsh (and probably others you might have named too) are ones I agree with. But a general view doesn’t take everything into account, and sometimes something blatant in the way of a symbol or metaphor can work powerfully for a movie. How about that figure of death bursting through the door as Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone go into an embrace in THE TARNISHED ANGELS?–a high point of what is for me Sirk’s greatest film and it is surely his doing (definitely not in Faulkner’s novel); I actually think Ingmar Bergman would have been glad to have directed that scene.

    Some things have been said in this discussion that I think are true about reputations of directors. I saw most of the films that made Bergman’s reputation early on and it didn’t take me long in the 60s to begin my own appreciation of mise-en-scene and then take a long, hard look at some of these celebrated art house directors. It was natural then to rebel against their often inflated reputations. But over time things sort out–I will say in all honestly I’ve never come back to where I’d defend Fellini at all after a few earlier films from his black-and-white days like I VITELLONI which is a solid achievement and influential though not one of the greatest films ever for me; I rate him very low among directors, even if he is personal and cuts an auteurist profile. But even though I got after Bergman a lot at one time for some things and to some extent still would–the dream sequences and more portentuous things he tends to do–I always felt it was hard to ignore the things he does well. He does care about cinema, even if he isn’t the most fluent and spontaneous of directors generally; a mark of this is the careful and beautiful cinematography and equally careful and beautiful soundtracks. And within his mise-en-scene there are ways in which he compares well to some of the greatest directors–give him a less pretentious scene with two actors sitting at a table and he will often get the most out of it. It doesn’t mean that the characters are the best–I always feel that the women are who he might like to be while the men, whom he tends to think less of, are who he thinks he is (HOUR OF THE WOLF is a good example of this), but his gift with actors tends to make up for it.

    And hey, you’ve got to like a director who keeps a stock company, something Bergman has in common with no less than John Ford, someone I believe he himself admired.

    And that reminds me of another point I wanted to make about the rise and fall of director reputations. There was a long period, perhaps beginning before the end of his career–a phase in which he was at his most commanding as a mature artist–in which John Ford, who had once been considered the greatest American director (I’d say this is definitely true 1939-1941 especially) was considered a fallen figure, a once overrated filmmaker who could not have any real interest for a contemporary audience. Through this period, I always felt this would change and that the original judgement of him had been right and it would come back, only with much more understanding than there had ever been. Now I think that has been happening, but it has taken a long time. So it’s not just the case that the best are always underrated and the lessers are always overrated and that this is then corrected.

    In the fullness of time, I just have to say this about Bergman–he had ups and downs and there’s perhaps as much you can say against him as for him, but if there were many directors with that rich a body of work in world cinema today, I’d still be going to theatres to see movies. Meaning all the time and not just occasionally when something like DAMSELS IN DISTRESS comes out.

    Remarkably, some of Bergman’s films that in theory I feel I’d want to attack for pretentious philosophizing hold up well as films just in terms of the beauty with which they are realized. I’m thinking especially of that early 60s “Absence of God” trilogy, which I personally believe is misunderstood, perhaps even by its maker, and should more accurately be called the “Presence of God” trilogy–see my piece on WINTER LIGHT in DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES on this point.

  • Alex

    nicolas saada,

    Actually –as my typing is doublessly more flawed than your English– I meant to write ““viewed from close up withOUT a hint of the bird’s eye view.” This probably alters your use for my sentence.

    Personally I found WHITE RIBBON enormously moving — but not until the flood gates of the Great War, so consonant with the social order on the Prussian Estates, breaks in the final scene or two. Until then i found it more engaging than moving — but intensely so.
    :hyat regency Cambridge onf #:325we286 1 617 492 1234
    Delta 2236121147

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: I am not sure that multi-dimensionality/complexity and contradictions are hallmarks of subtlety. Rather they are indicators of complexity and contradiction. A work of art can be complex/contradictory without being subtle.

    I or anyone can make all the arguments they want about what they experience below the surfaces of Bergman films, but a viewer’s actual exprience will trump them.

  • Barry Putterman

    Brian, what exactly is the difference between “what they experience below the surfaces” and “the viewer’s actual experience?” Am I missing something subtle here?

  • Regarding Bergman’s trilogy, it should be remembered that Bergman said in an interview in 1961, after having finished the making of THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, that he had just made the last film in a trilogy, with atonement being the link between them. The two other films in that alleged trilogy were WILD STRAWBERRIES and VIRGIN SPRING. Then that trilogy was forgotten and instead the faith-trilogy appeared. I think that in GLASS DARKLY God is present but that in WINTER LIGHT God has disappeared. There is that astonishing moment when Tomas acknowledges this and then is hit by sun light, the same way as many who have died in Bergman’s films are often hit by a magic light, such as in PRISON/THE DEVIL’S WANTON or CRIES AND WHISPERS or THE SEVENTH SEAL. Light as a saviour, and death (or God’s death) as a liberating occurrence.

  • Alex

    nicolas saada,

    Well i guess that errant hotel and flight information is dramatic testimony to typing.

    On Heimat, I’ve never seen more than little stretches of it. I imagine its chronical of life in Schwabach, a center of craftspersons and small independent peasantry, is very different from one of Prussian estates like WHITE RIBBON would be. My vague impression is that HEIMAT might show more sympathy for Volkische pieties and solidarities than I could stomach.

  • Brian Dauth

    Barry: i do not think you are missing anything. I get the impression that you do no experience anything below the surface of Bergman’s films. That is your experience. I can argue otherwise, but if you do not experience what I do, then your experience will trump my argument. Just like Dave and Fredrik engage the same element of mise en scene and experience it differently. They both made their argument, but I doubt either is going to be convInced by the other’s words, even though both are cogent.

    In the same way, I can argue that the red scarf is a transparent symbol undergirded by ambivalence, but if someone else does not experience it as such, then my argument fails for them. I can see the link between Fuller’s and Bergman’s surfaces since in my experience both men’s surfaces overlay ambiguities. The argument you say is hard to make is easy for me since I experience commonalities.

  • Barry Putterman

    I see Brian. Well certainly your experience is yours and mine is mine and we exchange views on the blog here. I just don’t understand the purpose of “trump” in this context. We’re both Yankees fans, but I’ve never seen what we do here as being a competitive sport.

  • nicolas saada

    Alex, you will love HEIMAT for sure.

  • Alex

    nicolas saada.

    Well, you’ve already gotten me to order it from netflix, where, to my pleasant surprise, it’s to be rented (though not, alas, streamed).

    Looking forward to it!

    On films about life on landed estates, I guess Regles de Jue is the one to beat, although I personnally like 1900, despite its excesses (facistic who are sadistic to kittens or cocaine heads; Communist peasant activists who are nearly as romanticized as Ford’s cavalry troops). And, of course, it’s hard to beat Tree of the Wooden Clogs.

  • Marilyn, it’s a pleasure to hear from the author of the recently published biography “Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director,” but I am surprised that after spending so much time with him you don’t consider him to be a “personal” filmmaker. Walsh was certain subject to commercial restraints (as was Bergman), but I’m hard pressed to think of a single film of his that doesn’t reflect his view of the world, if only through his choice of camera placement. It’s unlikely that Walsh could articulate his themes or analyze his style in the way that Bergman could, but that is the work of film critics, not filmmakers.

  • My web-book on Walsh documents in gruesome detail recurring aspects of Walsh’s mise-en-scene:
    http://mikegrost.com/walsh.htm

    This includes Walsh’s interest in “geometric environments”: locales full of geometric patterns.
    Plus a deep interest in circles, as well as octagons, star shapes and diamond lozenge patterns.
    As well as revolving objects.

    Three types of camera movement get heavily used by Walsh:
    Pans
    Camera movement along a row of people
    Tracks following heroes walking, often with architecture and steps

    Walsh has his own personal visual style. It is NOT some sort of generic Hollywood approach.

  • Marilyn Moss

    Dave, it was only after spending so much time with Walsh that I understood the distance he (consciously) put between his films and himself — and I learned to respect how important that was for him. Films did not constitute a personal statement for Walsh the way they did for Bergman…or even for a director such as George Stevens. That goes without saying. If Walsh expressed a world view (and we’re the ones deciding that he did), he would never admit it or even want to talk about it (he didn’t sum it up in any such way). If he put that camera where he did, it was because he believed that it was the best place for the camera…the most “natural” place. He (again, consciously) would have nothing to do with the word “art.” Hate to say this: it was business, it was fun, but not personal…even if we interpret it as personal. I always keep in mind Rouben Mamoulian’s wonderful comment: “A film for a director is always autobiographical.” But that doesn’t always mean he/she plans for it or even knows it.