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 © 2020 by James Clark

     Saraband (2003), carries much of the charges of a long filmic disputation; and it carries much of the charges of the very unique.

To enter this gigantic, swift and subtle construct, I’ve chosen the film’s moment which avoids direct presentation, while being at the core of its revelatory bloodletting, figurative and literal. That being the discipline of art.

The watchword of two of the major players here, reaching back thirty years, to the film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), was, “We speak the same language,” that is to say, the language of advantage, which  is to say, the language of pedantry. Marianne and Johan elect to follow two similar skills, she being a lawyer, while he being a medical researcher. They and their ilk live and die for information. They are typical in having a long family history of being committed to each of those disciplines. Their work requires heavy doses of pedantry, from which to earn large amounts of prestige and money. Soldiers of Fortune. The volatility of that action, that maximum of being masterly, had, in our players today, especially in the case of Johan, a pronounced leaning to promiscuity. Their divorce, in the face of that upheaval, brought about two changes: Marianne becoming far more cynical in subsequent couplings; and Johan, after several marriages, being involved with a woman (never given so much as a name in this story), having given birth to a son opting for music, instead of conclusions—someone not speaking his language! (“I never did like him. He looked so ridiculous. Overweight and meek. He surrounded me with a sickly kind of love. I admit I ignored that love. He was as devoted as a dog. I wanted to kick him. Figurately, of course.”) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Our film today, Brink of Life (1958), opens by way of a presence you might not notice. A muffled ambulance siren can be briefly heard. The credits chug along. And a murky way provides an endless underground cave. Periodically we can hear reports, as if from a mining concern. Panning through this terrain there are gentle, fleeting clouds, shadows from a source unknown. Why was such a configuration brought to bear upon a saga of a maternity ward? Somehow, the action becomes about something bigger than babies.

Coming one year after producing two of the giants of the Bergman goldmine, namely, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, this chamber drama here, though making a splash for a year, seemed to have become in total eclipse. Not only does Brink of Life deserve better; it is arguably even better than the panoramic two, inasmuch as its brink opens deeper dimensions.

Getting to the nub of this excitement involves, first of all, its surface of the everyday percolating into a magic of high caliber which tends to become stillborn. The woman in the ambulance, Cecile or Cissi, materializes in an Emergency Ward where, as early as three months’ time, her pregnancy were to segue to other fields. Indeed the pain and flow of blood at that crisis had its impact—a rather familiar impact. Cissi, and her entourage of a husband in a precious trench coat, elicit, from the other group waiting to see a doctor, a working-class family with a sick little girl, bemusement and vague hostility. The Hollywood dresser, calls out, “Be a brave girl and all will be fine… Remember, Cissi, Ellius [his family] expects his wife to do her duty.” (The preceding films of 1957 having been studies of pedantry and advantage.) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      At the mid-point of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s career (by then widely recognized to be superlative), he paused in his formidable march of theatrical dramas to do something else. First we’ll pin-point the change. Then we’ll try to understand what it means.

In the midst of his trilogy of assault and carnage, Bergman shot off (in nine days) his rendition of playwright, Eugene Ionesco’s classic of Theatre of the Absurd, namely, Rhinoceros (1960). Bergman named his film, The Rite (1969), whereby hitherto mainstream rationalists disappear in favor of crashing into the inscrutable. There a micro-second of the uncanny becomes haunting, more remarkable, to all the repositories of civilization as it has come to pass. A second form of this breakaway, namely, The Touch (1971), sets up a dead leady (and her flashbacks, and perhaps her granddaughter) as the wisest soul around. Having the right touch, eclipsing a long and lacking romance between two so-called “rebels,” and eclipsing world history itself.

Our film today, Face to Face (1976), could very well comprise an addition to that strange duet noted above, perhaps because, in spite of their audacity, more audacity has to be shown. Here the lion’s share of the film is a protagonist’s dream. That her cogitations go nowhere decisive reverts to the “lover’s” in The Touch and the judge in The Rite. But the protagonist’s dream has become so lengthy because she has a particularly intense undertaking to challenge the rule of pedantry. And in that undertaking, she has come, face to face, not with mere dialogue and dramatic action but with philosophy, wherein the whole universe  is the show.

There is a plethora of familiar features attending to the outset of Face to Face. We can note them; but the clutter of this overture implies something more. Jenny, our protagonist, has a wedding ring exactly like the dead lady in The Touch. Plunges of a sea, maintain for the credits, a cue to dynamics you should not take lightly. A stark asylum anticipates, In the Presence of a Clown (1997).  Our central character has a home with a stain-glass window, which recalls the shocks of The Passion of Anna (1969). The motif is beige; her wardrobe is even more fixed in beige, as with Marianne, the bourgeois disappointment, in Scenes from a Marriage. Jenny phones to her grandmother, on the subject of a radical renovation: “It’s completely empty.” (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

We live in a time when there are many who bid to confound the orthodox. Great gobs of rebels roam the town, threatening to install jurisdictions putting an end to the easy days for what is left of a mainstream. Our entertainments, for instance, smack of concussion. All these game-changers never doubt that their look and ways are destined to happily rule.

There is the possibility, however, that all of that critique will slip back to the defaults of religion and science (and their minions of humanism). It’s one thing to feel that something very important is not in play. It’s quite another thing, it seems to me, to define and embrace what that elusive phenomenon is.

One remarkable effort in that area is the output of the films of Ingmar Bergman (1919-2007). The latter’s career was not without renown and homage. But looking for responses, in such a direction as we’ve mentioned, have not found cogent takers amidst film enthusiasts.

    There was a quite unique showdown, as to this silence—within the trilogy of three extremely violent films, namely, Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968) and The Passion of Anna (1969)—which embedded itself on the heels of the production of Shame and the overtaking of The Passion of Anna, namely, The Rite (1969), with its remarkable emphasis upon deploying the motions of hands and fingers to open the elements which have been imprisoned for so many centuries. The Rite was a prototype, and yet a rich study of the vagaries of depending upon exotic and flawed rebels. A subsequent film, having more completely delivered the imperative of taking upon one’s self to find the riches of sensibility, namely, The Touch (1971), our film today, runs a gamut for all to see, while being doubly ignored within its drama and being known to the world as the worst film Bergman ever created. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      The films of Ingmar Bergman present a double dilemma. First of all, their dramas pose a very seldom recognized alert. Moreover, when in fact recognized, the intimacy almost always proves to be unwelcome. Secondly, those players actually game for the dare, find themselves unable to maintain serious coherence. Our film today, namely, The Rite (1969), is somewhat unusual in as much as all four of the characters (of this cameo production) are significantly in-the-know. But they perform poorly amidst others, and also amidst their self. (That we have declared the film, In the Presence of a Clown [1997] to be Bergman’s swan song, does nothing to end more instances of absorbing volatility.)

Whatever blood feuds Bergman might have embroiled himself in, toward the bureaucracy of the theatre and the bureaucracy of the law, his raison d’etre here was to spotlight the care and carelessness of disinterestedness. He had had from the very early outset of his endeavors, in the film, Summer Interlude (1951), a deep concern for those few with an instinct for attaining to a sensibility of kinetic disinterestedness being trampled by hordes of selfish, cowardly brutes. Accompanying that debut was a galaxy of optics and sonics intent upon interrupting theatricals hitherto seeming unassailable. The church of Bergman, thereby, tasted with pleasure the atmosphere for its pristine spirit, while clutching, as if a mathematical truth, melodramas of domestic nefariousness and nothing else but scraps of integrity, because the “something else” would take real guts. Seeing that those early communications might as well be Hollywood, by the end of the sixties there came to pass another ingredient to open a closed door. On the heels of two films, now-homicidal, in their destructiveness (in the form of Hour of the Wolf and Shame [both in 1968])—and just before the mass murder movie of The Passion of Anna (1969) rounding off a trilogy—the helmsman saw fit to up the ante in the form of a strange and yet mundane touch, namely, silently pushing with hands and fingers. This could be called a form of rite, with the proviso that rites take many forms. The display of this action features three millionaire experts in making a splash, along with one bungler killed by the trio. The former wends its sort-of merry way. The bungler alone has lived, despite largely missing the boat. Here’s how it went, in a nine-day production hustle, that no one chose to take seriously. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Our film today brims with startling distemper. It also provides one of the most handsome instances of generosity to be found, in and out, of the once-called “silver screen.” A woman in Paris, Raphael, accompanies, one morning, her elementary school boy son to a carriage trade, very private institute. Then she walks by an antique clock and watch shop which attracts her. She asks to see a waterproof wrist watch which had now become important to her, on account of her becoming an underwater athlete and investigator during her summer with her family at their villa on the Cote d’Azure. She chooses an alpha-trade item, sturdy and designed with great taste. There is an inscription of dedication, which runs, “To my son who sails the seas.”

The love in that missive means nothing to her. But with that good will, the writer, a skilled entrepreneur in the field of premier women’s shoes, has found himself, in his last days, without a valid successor. The shambles that follow are showy, but not terribly unique. What does take our breath away is the father’s benevolence. Claire Denis does not want of a compass, for her intense offerings. She finds all the work in the world in the filmic cataclysms of Ingmar Bergman. With the film, Bastards (2013), that stream of clannish patricians which became disturbing in the film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), and followed even more violently (in subsequent films) when unity failed, transfigured to venomous proportions pertaining to clinging for generations to murderous advantage. Whereas the disinterested father, Mr. Silvestri, who had  left Italy for the opportunities of Paris, had become a cosmopolitan, his daughter, Sandra, had remained a lead-pipe savage, not to be dealing in nuance when the going got rough. (Denis’ early experiences in Africa now putting on the table another range of clannish perversity to complicate an already challenged discernment.) (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      In 1997, at the age of 80, Ingmar Bergman saw fit to return to his 1980 film, From the Life of the Marionettes, in order to disclose the further range to be found in its turmoil and small triumph. That would have been long after those “in the know about films” had figured out and concluded for others that the maestro had nothing new to show. But those very small numbers ignoring their “betters,” could be beneficiaries of exciting times, far surpassing our many masters of the viral.

From the Life of the Marionettes, telescoping, in fact, back an eye-opener of a film from the days when Bergman’s numbers were not meagre, namely, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), the crux of the matter becomes “speaking the same language.” Most invested in that action would be the language of patricians (white-hot pedants), not nearly as bright and constructive as they think they are, but knowing where the money and dominance are. The 1980 blood-bath studies what can happen when couples dare not to speak the same language.

In the film, In the Presence of a Clown (1997), there is dissonance so massively distributed that clarifying its true conflict becomes quite a struggle, a struggle worth mastering. One way of cutting to the heart of our work is the Bergman standby of optical, dialectical apparitions, wielded marvelously by a remarkable roster of great cinematographers, in this case, Tony Forsberg. The first moment gives us a murky setting and a hand moving  a stylus to a vinyl disc. Two agencies awaiting magic. The label is a rusty-red. In the Bergman film, Dreams (1955), the first scene involves a hand, in semi-darkness, pressing upon a sheet of paper immersed in a photographic solution, by which to disclose a large image of a woman’s lips. Coming into play with this nocturnal effort is Salvador Dali’s creation of, “Mae West Sofa,” a surrealist icon. At the outset of, From the Life of the Marionettes, a prostitute in a brothel, showing pronounced red lips in close-up, dies horribly, but not before disclosing a surprising gift for beauty and verbal expression. You’d think each film, therefore, might implicitly be about not speaking the language of sharp advantage, daring to have a go as an innovator of sensibility. And yes, it does. But, oh, what tiny steps being made! In the film, In the Presence of a Clown, we have permission to untangle the death throes of those being imprisoned by cowardly partners, and their own backsliding. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    The films of Ingmar Bergman have elicited from his loyalists a bemusing history. At the point where a consensus about the remarkableness of his skills and heart was at full tide, there also began to occur some battle fatigue in face of waves of other demanding presences of his. A pantheon readily arose, by way of influential critics who jumped to the idea that the mother lode had been reached and that the latter flood was secondary and not worth the strain. That Bergman began to produce films by way of television, also seemed a sign of losing it. (Also a sign of the viewers’ easily losing it, was the myopia about films predating 1957, regarded, if at all, as quirkily overreaching.)

For what it might have meant, the television series of Scenes from a Marriage (1973) became a last hiccup before finding other entertainments to go with popcorn. The soap opera (with a difference), in question, displays a couple of patricians and their on-again, off-again liaison, ad nauseam. But Bergman-being-Bergman, he inserts another couple, very different from the silver spoons. The protagonists host a dinner party for their friends, Peter and Katarina, who proceed to humiliate each other. After the hosts are rid of them, they stage a rededication to their superiority. “Peter and Katarina don’t speak the same language. We speak the same language…” Peter and Katarina, played by different actors, in German rather than Swedish, resurface in the 1980 film, From the Life of the Marionettes, in order to elaborate what heterogeneity can look like and feel like. Peter, another silver spoon, manages to remain another Peter Pan. His malaise with a Katarina drawn from one of his staffers, drives him to butcher a prostitute, perform necrophilia upon her and end up in a mental hospital holding his teddy bear. His wife is left to be an adult. Few of the original loyalists would have seen this film. Too bad, because it’s easily as brilliant as Scenes from a Marriage and any of the other films thought to be great.

The immediate shock, so unlike Bergman’s usual sophisticated procedure, signals, I think, a new form of traction bidding to surmount the dilemmas of a perverse planet. Doing something that new, the project would suggest, might occasion a rich departure. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    There are Bergman films that seem to be like ancient frescos, disappearing the moment they encounter our atmosphere. Thanks to a few devotees, such apparitions reappear by way of streaming and deep space, allowing us to confirm that everything he touched was very important.

The film, Dreams (1955), is not only a beautifully crafted and powerfully ironic evocation; but it is at the apex of a clutch of early 1950’s filmic gems with a strange and wonderful weave about actors, names, habits, habitats and humiliation. (The concentration there would spread out into many of the factors of later Bergman films.)

A brief description of this patterning can get us underway with the specifics being buoyed by a universal frenzy, however masked. Our protagonist, Susanne, owner of an haute couture concern, first comes to us as stressed and morose, putting much use to her opera-length cigarette holder aflame and asmoke. Less than a year before, in the film, A Lesson in Love (1954), we saw another frustrated Susanne. But whereas the latest to have that name is played by actress, Eva Dahlbeck, the Susanne of A Lesson in Love is played by actress, Yvonne Lombard, while Eva Dahlbeck portrays there, “Marianne,” a flakey, violent and patrician wife to one, “David,” a patrician gynecologist, played by Gunner Bjornstrand. In Dreams, Bjornstrand portrays Otto, a multi-millionaire, who picks up one of Susanne’s models, played by Harriet Andersson, a cynical, infantile gold-digger. In A Lesson in Love, Andersson portrays “Nix,” daughter of David, far more balanced than her parents. Andersson also portrays, Monika, the eponymous protagonist in Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), who plays an unbalanced crocodile. Life going round and round; but going nowhere anytime soon.

(more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

The film we’re about to come to grips with, namely, Ingmar Bergman’s, A Lesson in Love (1954), has by all and sundry, maintained that its action amounts to  be a “comedy”—a whimsical romance confirming a matrimonial imperative. That would be a validation of mainstream life.  Where, pray, comes the idea that Bergman strives for such an outcome? I think I know.

A Hollywood film, from 1940, namely, His Girl Friday, under the auspices of Howard Hawks, a figure nearly as talented as Bergman (though nowhere near as profound), became a “screwball classic” for an era needing some laughs. It had to do with an ex-wife still tangled up with her newspaper editor, being so adept and delighted with the work as to be indispensable. Notwithstanding, she’s about to remarry and leave the job, a prospect the boss can’t contemplate. The ensuing skirmishing, between the incomparable, Cary Grant, and likewise, Rosalind Russell, are an epiphany of old-time, rapid-wit and cynicism. With their barrels of charm, they end up staying together, and the customers applaud with gusto.

Had the customers, of Bergman’s film here, taken a look at the three preceding Bergman films, they might have curbed their zeal about A Lesson in Love being an effort to live up to Hawks’ His Girl Friday. The newshounds are already in their heaven of advantage. Hawks was as flush an adjusted giant as Bergman was as flush a maladjusted giant. (A bit closer, though, to our helmsman, was Howard Hughes!) Though Hawks was, in addition, a daring sportsman, for sure, he would not have wanted any part of the rigors which Bergman faced all his life. As such, Bergman assembles an action with many formal aspects of the 1940 film, but only to display how very different such domestic conflict can careen into long-term emptiness. Gunner Bjornstrand and Eva Dahlbeck, though handsome enough, are not built for swooning, but instead for bloodless self-mutilation. Once in a while a bit of mirth escapes, but only to emphasize the loss of real sustenance. (This seems to be the moment to take to heart how badly served the commentary of Bergman films through the years have been left. A few ridiculously overrated pundits have managed to disfigure the work beyond recognition, to be followed by the quick and the dead. One of the more egregious and destructive faux pas along this slope is the daft reflex to the assumption that early works [like the one here] are minor and dispensable. Bergman was ready to shoot out all the lights from the outset. A Lesson in Love is as brilliant and indispensable as Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal and Persona.) (more…)

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