Archive for May 15th, 2019

© 2019 by James Clark

  What we see, right at the beginning of this characteristically amazing film, is a one-of-a-kind head’s up: “Not For Pleasure Alone.” That is to serve as an irony about the standard disclaimer that anything but mainstream diversion (“pleasure alone”) would be coming from opinions not held by the suits. There is, in our film today, Fanny and Alexander (1982), whereby a Jewish magician (in Sweden, at the beginning of the twentieth century) rescues two children from the clutches of savage villainy, by way of wailing and making fists, to an effect of the eponymous figures transporting from a chest on a first floor to a room on the second floor. And, after the display to the suspicious jailor, back they come to the chest and away they go, out the door, supposedly (to the meany) just an empty chest purchased by an antiquarian. Since when did Bergman go in for such deus ex machina naivete? Actually, never. The “spring,” in The Virgin Spring (1960), has been framed as self-delusion, while other eyes are not fooled. Here, however, within a torrent of complex, sensual conflict, that little stunt marks the matter as being peculiarly assailed by pleasure merchants and their devotees. Hollywood/ Disney deliberately polluting any rare, mature effort as to a rich and devastating line of creative crisis.

Our task, then, is to set in relief the thoroughgoing (and “punishing”) vectors which Bergman had, to that point, masterfully deployed in many previous films, in order to glean this, more recent, discovery. We begin, therefore, with the opening mis-en-scene, coming to us as branded by the phrase, “Not for Pleasure Alone.” In close-up, a young boy manipulates a toy theater (with a castle back drop) in the sense of an addition to a composition. The figure, now in question, is a woman in finery, perhaps a queen. The way the boy deposits his toy reminds us of a move on a chess board. His quizzical visage goes on to establish a little hedgerow, or a little forest, like the forest which Jof and Marie (in the film, The Seventh Seal [1957]) negotiated with much stress and courage, with madness and a cataclysm all around. Jof, a travelling minstrel/ dancer/ circus clown in the 12th century, had dedicated to his baby boy the rare essence of  becoming an acrobatic genius and a juggler putting forth an “impossible” trick. The couples’ odyssey would be in stark contrast to the knight, Block, riveted to a chess game, supposedly with Death itself, where the prize of winning would be entering “Pleasure Alone,” in heaven—the reward of the moguls like Block and like those assertive Hollywood types who would settle only for maudlin payoffs, pleasure alone! (more…)

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