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© 2021 by James Clark

Our protagonist, early on in this mammoth undertaking, and en route to a client, protests to an imaginary companion, “My dear, the world is so utterly boring. There’s no telepathy, no ghosts, no flying saucers… They can’t exist. The world is ruled by cast-iron laws. These laws are not broken. They just can’t be broken…” On reaching his customer, there is also a woman, in furs and with a cool sports car. He continues his rant, now addressing her. “Don’t hope for flying saucers. That would be too interesting…”She retorts, “But what about the Bermuda Triangle?” This annoys him. “You’re not going to contradict…” And she quickly declares, “Yes, I am.”/ “There is no Bermuda Triangle,” he insists. “There is Triangle ABC which equals Triangle A prime, B prime, C prime.” She yawns, “It’s all so tedious, so very tedious.” She might have added that it’s all very pedantic. It’s all very pushy, in a thrust that doesn’t yield power. Pedantic, to the point of desperation. Shifting back to his whimsy, he tells her, “In the Middle Ages, life was interesting. Every house had its goblin, each Church a God. People were young. Now every fourth person is old…” The client had placed his hat on her car; and, in the woman’s resenting the protagonist being so adamant, she races away from them, leaving his hat on the roof. That dogmatic display had been mitigated in several ways. Surrealism had landed with the hat. The triad of the Bermuda Triangle was also a breath of fresh air, a visit from a source to be seen soon. Telepathy, ghosts, flying saucers, all in the mix, somehow.

Beginning as we did, there requires now a more complete sense of the crisis. His career of being known as a “Stalker”—a term implying harsh measures—focuses down to his being a sort of pilgrimage tour guide. Whereas such a calling could be lucrative, one look toward our protagonist’s home makes very clear that money is scarce there. His bedroom and kitchen have been reinforced by a living room operating as a public bar. Could that polyglot become a manifestation of the passionate innovator himself? Whereas those typically doing pilgrimages rush to prove how old-fashioned they are, our Stalker finds a market (obviously not numerous) for those with a hankering of the rebellious. The saga of the missing hat would be a case of a lady’s man, a popular, wealthy writer purveying the chic and solid classical rational thought from many centuries ago. That he’s fond of “risk” is one thing; that he’s bought into the ways of the Stalker is a very different thing. The first visitor seen at that surrealist bar is the other client of the adventure, a scientist. Curiosity being smiled upon in that realm, where standard curiosity does not have a hope. Not about smidgens, but a new cosmos. Both would be proud to call themselves skeptics. Both would be impostors. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      Having tested the waters of the mysterious Andrei Tarkovsky, by way of his film, Solaris (1972), I feel obliged to settle matters that could test the patience of those seriously intent upon appreciating processes of great merit. Braced by the sophisticated genius of the work of Ingmar Bergman, Tarkovsky has chosen to maintain a mysticism—far from supernatural—but clinging to (perhaps confusing) tinctures of mainstream devotion. In the film, Solaris, he takes his directions from Bergman’s films, The Devil’s Eye (1960) and All These Women (1964), where the force of nature pertains to pathos. Not satisfied to contest the weakness at several points of science, Tarkovsky, by way of a form of sleight of hand, installs dead victims of a violence becoming life-like to those now-touched by guilt. A perhaps questionable (though intense) means of challenging the brutality of wayward captains of a small planet. An unbalanced touch in the service of deep pathos should not become a song and dance. Bergman, the kudos notwithstanding, would not be a fan.

Our second selection, here, namely, The Sacrifice (1986), mercifully desists from fantasy, though its cast of players tends to whimsy. (I’ve chosen this film, being Tarkovsky’s final work, a work by way of the young maestro’s  being stricken by fatal cancer, because this film administers most effectively the artist’s campaign, leaving the other films to supplement the rigors. Our study today recalls all those pedantic, bourgeois targets whom Bergman regarded as travesties. Whereas being “educated” appears to virtually everyone’s sense of virtue, Bergman [and now Tarkovsky] want us to see a very different form of action, and thereby a form of problematic reflection never being saliant, because the educational history of the planet has throttled a crucial aspect.) (more…)

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© 2021 by James Clark

Ingmar Bergman, not widely known to praise other filmmakers, was, however, on one occasion, drawn to remark: “My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film [Ivan’s Childhood, 1962] was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt as if I was entering and encountering a range of stimulation. Someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, as a dream.”

With Bergman, however, being a tricky hand-to-hand brawler, you have to look carefully about such a homage. Yes, Tarkovsky comes on the field as remarkably brilliant. His instinct for dynamics and mis en scene is truly inventive and revolutionary. But where do you think that new genius learned his chops as an exhaustive challenger of world history as it has enjoyed total and disastrous power since societies on earth began? Tarkovsky’s film today, namely, Solaris (1972), is about space discovery, the wonder of the “new,” in the bright solar awakening. But the solar, if you look at it, is a fury, a visitation of intensity (emotion) having been censored from the entirety of life, of nature; while religion and science have carved up everything in sight, despite being possibly, however, having much to do with the new. The protagonist, Kris Kelvin (a surname redolent of “hard” science and control of heat), does not, at first blush, present any hope of becoming a paragon of emotive innovation. His father, on the eve of Kris’s departure—to a Soviet space craft having encountered disarray, and which he seemed to be the right man to straighten it out—far from a radical but aware that there is more in life than science, remarks, “He reminds me of a bookkeeper, preparing his accounts… It’s dangerous to send people like you into space. Everything is fragile. Yes, fragile. The Earth has somehow become disgusting to people like you, although at what sacrifice!  The Earth has somehow become adjusted to people like you. What, are you jealous that [someone else] will be the one to bury me, and not you?” (more…)

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© 2021 by James Clark

The endeavors of the films of Ingmar Bergman involve a remarkably wide range. Being a magician of dramatic forces, he puts into our hands myriad dilemmas, seldom, or never before, seen. Where the norms of drama set about, you can be sure that he’s not looking. For him, the norm of reflection has already done its damage, a damage which cannot be significantly altered.

Of course these actions take place on the basis of long-standing matrices. But the casts of his showdowns never fail to be nightmarish and crushing. Our film today, All These Women (1964), constitutes one of the more unusual directions, almost like one in a blue moon. But a blue moon deriving its power from its positivity, its twin. There is, in the world of Bergman, a pairing with this very bizarre entry, namely,  The Devil’s Eye (1960), where a couple, in an apparently happy marriage, find themselves millions of light-years apart. Their quiet, nightmarish efforts to reach cogent affection elicit the creative element of pathos, where all around there is crude bathos, quick and careless amity, in fact hell. Moreover, her once-in-a-lifetime unfaithfulness also attains to pathos, where the suitor/lover—even so briefly, even so finite—comes and then goes in a day. With all the elements having touched in that way, they form a singularity, being not only reaching an apex, but at the portal of becoming an associate in nature itself. Real magic! Real feeling!

Thereby, in the second form of this filmic couplet (being our film today), the gentle, small and amazing gifts pretty much quit the stage in favor of pedantry and advantage. What’s up? In fact plenty; but it will take  a while to clear it up. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      Early on, in my tenure with Wonders in the Dark, I delighted in the films of Jacques Demy. In those days, I guess I was easier to please. In time, I realized that only two of his films transcended sentimental melodrama. Strangely enough, the two I came to embrace were his first two. The first, Lola (1961), had deftly threaded the needle of wit, disappointment and gallantry. The second, Bay of Angels (1963), pertaining to gambling on the roulette wheel, is a diamond-hard saga of a woman, Jackie, plunging into seducing the universe itself. How, then, did Demy become a student of ontological reflection, only to quickly abandon it? His paradigm, filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman, was made of stronger stuff.

Jackie, being not only a pariah but a poet, can (somewhat) bring to the table much of the emotion of what is lacking in civilization as we have come to know it. “We’ll live the high life.” (That latter phrase, many years later, becoming a title of a film by Claire Denis, another—more tenacious player—in the orbit of Bergman.) “Happiness makes me versatile… No! Voluble…” (Both terms having their value.) “The mystery of numbers… I often wonder whether God rules over numbers… The first time I entered a casino I felt as if I were in a church… He got custody of the baby… Lucky Strike… This display of flabby flesh makes me sick… Why deny this passion.?”

“Versatile”/ “Voluble.” The latter term can mean, “rolling effectively,” clearly the sense of a mystery which Jackie clings to as her only purchase upon planet Earth. Her disinterestedness, however, has sadly underestimated threading a needle of wit and gallantry. Going the extra mile, and then some, we have, first of all, however, the makings of confusion in the form of satire toward Christian  foibles. We are nonplussed by an apparition purporting to be the Devil, dressed as a contemporary corporate leader, spending much of his time admiring his face in a mirror. Make no mistake, this presentation is a challenge to discover those who are alert enough to see something discreet, very rare and crucial. Bergman’s film, The Devil’s Eye (1960), is a filmic treatise of the phenomena of bathos and pathos, and its stairway to the elements. Let’s see if this daunting puzzle can open your eyes. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      The films of Claire Denis concentrate upon Herculean endeavors coming to grief with a deficit of consummation. For her, it’s the quiet notice that makes the difference. In that sense, she attends to sustaining the problematics of Ingmar Bergman.

Those ironical dramatic actions, of course, do not attain to the full depth at his command. But, on the other hand, Denis has brought the alarm to the new century. The fine classical musical gems and associations do have a perennial freshness. But Denis, to her credit, has an instinct to freshen up a new (crushingly rare) era of lovely toil, pertaining to a more persistent sensuality. The contrast is less about quality than about quantity. Bergman was a genius about the forces of dialogue shaking the universe, even when no one on earth was paying any attention. Denis, in an era of anything goes, wants to train effective emotion. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      Our film today, Waiting Women (1952), will forever be understood as only a “minor” effort due to being an early film in Ingmar Bergman’s history and therefore supposedly lacking in the full sophistication of those titles having convinced the ‘experts’ to be the best. Here’s the difficulty of that position. There is no evolution of his gifts. They began exploding world history from day one, and have marched across many decades in hopes that his dramas would find those aware that a catastrophic myopia has left planet earth to remain a “minor” phenomenon.

Within such strictures, the artist has shown that even a dying planet can supply light years of fruition. The way of such supply is truly majestic. As we touch upon our early hope today, we soon realize that one of Bergman’s most rich manifolds has spread its dark and persistent invitation to us at this site. Three women, waiting in a fine Swedish summer cottage for the annual arrival of the spouses, they being Marta, Rakel and Karin, have a mind to entertain their friends with vignettes of their past. (Before hearing this remarkably candid series of earthquakes, we have, for the asking, other such women occupying those names, in other films by Bergman. Another Marta, having been a professional symphonic musician, and going on to [feebly] transcend the pitfalls of showy skills, appears in the film, To Joy [1951]. Another Rakel, having been a professional actress on the stage, and going on to declare that the theatre is shit and sees fit to commit suicide, appears in the film, After the Rehearsal [1984]. A Karin, having resisted heavy pressure from her family to become a solo cellist, opts for being a very small-town classical orchestra player, which leaves her a pariah and seen to be responsible for her father’s suicide, appears in, Saraband [2003]. All three films are discreetly shot through with incest.) Waiting Women, deletes the arts in favor of big business. But incest races apace  there, and its malignancy brings corporate advantage and pedantry to a fresh critical perspective. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      One could say there isn’t really “a Bergman film;” inasmuch as each constituent episode weaves into a very large and a very challenging reflection. Long before he began to produce films, the enormity of his concern had overrun his careerist attention.

However, within the corridors of that cosmos, several alarms flare up to concentrate an angle of dilemma. One of the most demanding and generous of these clusters involves three films separated by three eras, namely, To Joy (1950); After the Rehearsal (1984, our film today); and Saraband (2003). The first, To Joy, strikes the tone that professional musical absorption is a deadly disease of oversight, not to forget, however, that, as in many arts disciplines, there could be (but very seldom) an intent to counter mere “impressiveness.” Slightly more current there, was the bid to find a footing by which to stage counter attacks on the run against casual pedantry and reflexive advantage. The third film, Saraband, also about the perils of professional musicianship, reveals someone who has a remarkable clue about performance, transcending poisonous commonness.

Not only does the second of the deck, namely, After the Rehearsal, by and large lack the hopes just mentioned, but its principals act on the macabre premise of being herded into an act of incest. (All three of these films aptly being described as the “incest allegory.”) As such, we must be on alert for the magic we know will not entirely fail us. (The overt factor of rebelling here coincides with an extraordinary entry having been produced two years before our film today, namely, Fanny and Alexander [1982]. There, a well-to-do woman, Emilie, after the death of her husband, Oscar, who was the owner and director of a theatre, after much Sturm und Drang, takes up Oscar’s passion, and displays a sense of perspective, seeing more beyond a pedantic workload, beyond the snag of the workaholic. [Though workaholics come in many forms, it is only when artists stray that true disaster occurs.] Emilie chooses for her debut, the August Strindberg work, A Dream Play [1901], a forerunner to the visions of Expressionism and Surrealism. It is in the preparation of a performance of that play which constitutes this television-com-film of, After the Rehearsal.) (more…)

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© 2020 by James Clark

The genesis of Ingmar Bergman’s thrilling final film, namely, Saraband (2003), consists of a film few have seen and few will ever see, namely, To Joy (1950). Fifty-three years is a long span; but the matters in that long-ago gem include sensibility in such a way as to expose an obligation untouched by Saraband, and any of the other films in that chain of pearls.

Before getting down to the reason why this hidden treasure is particularly important, let’s enumerate what Saraband did so wonderfully on the recommendation of that lost classic. There we find that the effete couple in the film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), are even far more tedious in Saraband, in their craving for advantage, than when they were younger. The protagonist, Karin, therein, soldiers on to introduce an overtaking of advantage in the music industry while aiming for a career of a classical orchestra player finding gold in the form of sharing with other players attentive to the infrastructures of intention, not the pedantry of being perfect, supreme in that discipline, and mowing down one’s inferiors. Moreover, To Joy, not explicitly but readily understood, moves apace—53 years before, in one Henrik, becoming a practicing incest opportunist until Karin brings equilibrium to her métier—presents a 30-year-old siren sporting a wedding ring pretending to be the wife of a 60-year-old when in fact his daughter, and doing tricks at the homestead. (more…)

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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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