Monday, July 30, 2007

R.I.P. Ingmar Bergman

As some of you know, Comrade Kevin is a major film buff. Thus, I found it very sad to hear of the death of what I consider to be one of the greatest directors of all time, Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman.

Let me qualify the statement by saying that I am not a fan of everything Bergman directed. He sometimes fell prey to the sort of mental masturbation that is common in art and in academia, but no one can deny that he was a master craftsman and a truly original presence in cinema. And I find pretension and over-reaching far more forgivable sins than sloth.

In these days of digital cameras and YouTube, I often yearn for the sort of craftsmanship that characterized many of Bergman's works. It used to be that to be a director, one needed to learn the trade of filmmaking the same as any skilled artisan. Nowadays, any yahoo with a camera can make a movie and try to pass it off as great art. It used to be that every major player on a set went through rigorous and extensive training as well as personal study to perfect his/her craft. The cinematographer and director particularly, honed their craft because they were committed to making something fresh and original. Many studied under the tutelage of their betters for years before daring to step out on their own. Nowadays, it seems to me that directors and cinematographers only learn the cursory details necessary to direct films and spout forth a million popcorn films for the masses, each designed for the implicit purpose of making money. Digital filmmaking is so easy that it cuts out the need to strictly structure a film.

To an extent, Hollywood has always been this way. The star system of early Hollywood, particularly in the silent era, churned out many a potboiler. I am reminded of the example of Clara Bow, who in her heyday released six to seven pictures a year, all of which stuck to the same saccharine, fluffy, hackneyed plots. It just seems to me that true auteurs such as Bergman and Kubrick are becoming increasingly rare these days.

Digital filmmaking is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that it greatly simplifies the process of making a film. It's a curse in that it greatly simplifies the process of making a film. My personal opinion is that I'd much rather leave art in the hands of the professionals and I fail to appreciate the kitsch factor that characterize so many films that come out these days.

Bergman's films remain fresh to these eyes even some fifty years after their conception. This is a testament to his hard work. For every Ingmar Bergman there are a million dilettantes whose works have a shelf life shorter than milk.


DJD said...

I'm a Woody Allen fan, and I know Allen was a fan of Bergman. But I've never seen Bergman's work. Maybe I should. Do you have any recommendations?

Comrade Kevin said...

Wild Strawberries is my favorite and I think it's the most accessible from his classic period.

I am deeply ambivalent about The Seventh Seal. Some find the pace plodding and the premise a bit much to swallow. I qualify it as one of those art films that no one really understands but everyone raves about because it seems like the thing to do.

Start with those two films before you dip into anything else he's done.

Bergman's impact on Woody Allen is shown in his later '70s work, particularly in Interiors and Manhattan. I must admit that I like the "earlier, funnier films much better".

FYI, don't watch Bergman unless you're prepared to think and you're in a halfway decent mood. Most of his stuff is intensely cerebral and very dark.

Alex said...

I enjoyed from the life of the marionette.

However, it is very intense and probably not a first time Bergman choice.