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Archive for August 28th, 2019

 © 2019 by James Clark

      With many Bergman films now having thrilled us by their confrontation of distemper and ecstasy, we could conclude that a standoff has reached its outer limits. But we would be far off the mark. Our film today, Shame (1968), has something very new to impart. But it doesn’t come in a straightforward way.

As we’ve often found in these treasures of semi-theatrical drama, the very endings turn out to divulge the marvel, and here again it brings to light our foothold in a slippery terrain. A former musician, Eva, finds herself, with civil war rampant, in a small fishing boat crowded with escapees (including her husband, Jan), where the seas are strewn with corpses. She tells Jan of a dream she’s just had. “I was walking down a very beautiful street. On one side were white houses with flowering arches and pillars. On the other side was a leafy park. Dark green water flowed beneath the trees lining the street. I came to a high wall overgrown with roses. Then an airplane came and set the roses on fire. But it wasn’t all terrible, because it was so beautiful. I looked down into the water and watched the roses burn. I held a baby in my arms. It was our daughter. She snuggled up to me… and I could feel her mouth against my cheek. And the whole time I knew there was something I should remember. Something someone had said. But I’d forgotten what it was…”

Neither ecstasy nor distemper has enveloped her. What that was is the heart of this very strange film—a vision ripping the constraints of not only cinema (the first seconds entail a reel of film shredding), but also theatre and every kind of art. In many ways, this conundrum looks to Bergman’s early film, Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), where physical triumph is a drug and machination and advantage have saturated the landscape. (However, the death march there would be a Rose Bowl Parade beside what’s in store here.) A second ingredient to consider is the aura of goofiness and malignancy being a specialty of the suspense films produced by Alfred Hitchcock. (Hitch, however, would be Violence Lite in light of Shame.) To cast some light upon this virtually incomprehensible phenomenon, we should remember that the term, “shame,” covers many degrees. Mainstream morality is never at a loss to hammer a roster of the “shameful.” Mainstream morality and the reflections of Ingmar Bergman have nothing in common. Maybe someone had suggested to Eva (that name being about the primal) that the crowning shame of world history, a factor reducing social and scientific action to childishness, is the fakery of immortality and its compensatory  assaults in lieu of fully creative power. (more…)

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