Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ingmar and Mike

Two years ago today death came for Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. Robert here, thinking back on the day when my two favorite living directors both died. Two men who had a huge impression on me. It was as a young budding movie lover that Bergman and Antonioni taught me how film could be more than popcorn entertainment... it could be art.

Of course one has to admit that Bergman and Antonioni are eternally entwined with the bad name that "art film" sometimes has... and for pretty good reason. After all, Ingmar Bergman directed an entire trilogy on God's silence. Antonioni directed an entire trilogy about the impossibility of love. What do you mean people think art films are needlessly depressing?

And so the reputation of the art film goes: If you want a good time... watch something else.

Still Bergman and Antonioni never really deserved that reputation. The Seventh Seal has always been more fun than people give it credit for (Andrew O'Hehir posted a nice article about it a little while back). And while Antonioni might fill your head with existential longing, he'll throw in a groundbreaking threesome scene to fill your eyes with too.

The films of Bergman and Antonioni aren't bowls full of laughs but these masters had such a good hold on the medium that I dare any cinema lover to watch them and not feel moments of pure joy. How can you not gasp in amazement when silent actress Liv Ullmann is tricked into stepping on a shard of glass and finally makes a sound in Persona? How can you not be seduced by Monica Vitti slowly putting on a stocking in Red Desert? Are there many shots in cinema as entrancing as the final shot in The Passenger? Are there many moments as joyous as the rescue scene in Fanny and Alexander?

These two men already sit among the giants of cinema history. They don't need me to defend them. But too often they're relegated to just that: history. As with many who directed the "classics" they live inside university and library walls and not beyond. Mark Twain said a classic book is one which everyone wants to have read but no one wants to read. Replace "read" with "watch" and the same rule applies to the movies.

So today, three years later, do yourself a favor... watch some Bergman. Watch some Antonioni. Go ahead. You might even find yourself having a good time.


Terry said...

Nice article! Bergman is undervalued as a comedic filmmaker... Smiles of a Summer Night is one of his best films.

Lasagna said...

It was TWO years ago. :)

Notas Sobre Creación Cultural e Imaginarios Sociales said...

I don't think there's anything wrong with them being associated with "sad films". While that is obviously not true I love their work because it takes me away from all those silly comedies and action movies people are so eager to watch nowadays.
Cinema doesn't have to be "enjoyable" in the popcorn sense of the word and for that both Bergman and Antonioni deserve all the praise in the world. With that said I'm now craving to watch "Persona".

adelutza said...

Nice post, Robert! I agree, people often get scared of these so-called "art-house" films because they think they are going to be boring end depressing. But really, the films of Ingmar Bergman are nothing but boring, if one just gives them a change. Scenes from a Marriage had a great success in Sweden when it first opened. It played like a series there, but I saw it in one sitting and , even if it's really long, I couldn't make myself turn the TV off, it was that good.
And that's just one example. I highly recommend Bergman to anybody, not only film buffs.
Antonioni may be a little more difficult but really, what's not to get in Blowup?

Robert said...

Lasagna - thanks for the correction, it's been made. That was a rough year, as Vonnegut (my favorite author) died too. It seems so hazy and far off now.

Jose - I agree. A line should be drawn between sad and enjoyable... as they are not opposites. It's not as if people (such as you and me) go to see sad movies with the expectation of not enjoying ourselves. Great film making is enjoyable whether the movie is happy or sad.

Cristhian said...

Thank you. Both are favorites of mine. Sometimes i even see Ingmar Bergman as a father figure that has shaped my view of the world and anytime somebody says a reverent word about him i get a knot in the throat.

Sean said...

Bergman is God. God is Bergman. End of Story.

I always like people to continue to mention Bergman, he's contributed more beauty to this world than I and most people can ever hope to.

I tried to watch Antonioni once...I didn't fall headfirst into love with his work as I had with Bergman's.

Janice said...

Robert, you made the correction at the beginning of the article but not at the end.

Brian Darr said...

My favorites from each so far (Bergman/Antonioni):

1950s: Monika / Le Amiche

1960s: Persona / L'Eclisse

1970's and beyond: Fanny and Alexander / Zabriskie Point