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 © 2020 by James Clark

         I seldom remark upon the actors in the films I touch upon. Of course, many of them are geniuses in striking the tones to propel a cinematic vehicle. My interest, however, is the entirety of the work; and that is the domain of a screenwriter/ filmmaker.

Why I cite the actor, August Diehl, a protagonist in the truly majestic film here, namely, A Hidden Life (2019), is his resemblance to long-departed star, Henry Fonda, and specifically the Henry Fonda of the film, Twelve Angry Men (1957), directed by journeyman, middle-of-the-road, Sidney Lumet. That latter melodrama is light-years distant from Terrence Malick’s production of uncanny hiddenness; but they share the format of a solitary investigation daring to negate a fondness that is catastrophically wrong. The film today, however, casts Diehl not merely casting umbrage about the Nazism of Adolph Hitler, but (only feebly understood), all of world history. That a hidden life transcending the news could obtain here characterizes this film as a communication far from moralistic and sentimental dogma. (Fonda, bucking  relatively simple odds, wins over the hearts and minds of his fellow jurymen-detractors. Diehl, far from eliciting expertise in face of his challenge, tears apart not only himself, but his family and an encouraging cosmos.)

Before he became a filmmaker, Malick, as a young philosophical academic, had impressively attempted to deal with the disarray which was the edifice of the philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). In his, “Translator’s Introduction,” to the Heidegger essay, The Essence of Reasons (1969), Malick underlines the peculiar difficulty of the sense of “world.” In the text therewith, Heidegger comes to a showdown of sorts with the phrasing, “The decisive origins of ancient philosophy reveal something essential to the concept of world. Kosmos does not mean any particular being that might come to our attention, nor the sum of all beings; instead, it means something like “condition” or “state of affairs,” i.e., the How in which being is in its totality. Thus, Kosmos houtos does not designate one realm of being to the exclusion of another, but rather one world of being in contrast to a different world of the same being, eon (being) itself kata kosmon (in relation to the cosmos). The world as this “How in its totality” underlies every possible way of segmenting being; segmenting being does not destroy the world but requires it.” (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

 

By the year of 1973, Ingmar Bergman had crafted a remarkable wave of trenchant and thrilling films, not to mention an auxiliary career in theatre. He had no conspicuous need to produce a television series; but he did. Figuring out what possessed him to do that, becomes our job today.

The singularity (at that point), namely, Scenes from a Marriage, became a hit. But we must add that a television hit is not a Bergman film hit. He promptly pared that melodramatic jag into a feature film, of the same title; and something very strange and demanding came to pass. The two protagonists, Marianne and Johan, remain the patrician piece of work who ramped up those ratings. But, with Marianne’s caseload, as a divorce lawyer reduced to only one client to be seen, the Bergman we’ve come to know trains his concern about how a pair like Marianne and Johan (the latter being a professor of psychology) and their somehow lofty ilk manage to rule, not only modern life but all of world history.

The only adult on the screen being that client of Marianne’s—readily forgotten by the young and the restless in thrall to the seeming endless riot— a middle-aged woman who presents a need which Family Law (shored up by clinical psychology) does not touch, becomes a hit and run casualty, bound to self-remedy. (Later on, Johan makes an unintentional joke when declaring—bold as brass—“I don’t know anything about reality…”) The certified expert in the room (a room with Marianne’s beige apparel on beige décor) sits down with the client wearing black with a small yellow scarf. “In the first meeting we usually establish the issues and look at how to solve them,” Marianne explains. “I want a divorce,” the composed customer already concludes. The solver, with a process which may not avail itself to pat solutions, takes a statistical slant. “How long have you been married?” (The answer being, over 20 years.) “Do you have a profession?”/ “No, I’m a housewife.”/ “Why do you want a divorce?”/ (After a long pause, Marianne looks up from her notepad and sees the stranger twisting an envelope. Eventually, within a transaction she was perhaps not prepared to give reasons, she states, “There is no love in our marriage.” Cut to the lawyer, wide-eyed. “Is that the reason?” the far younger fixer asks. “Yes,” the somewhat nonplussed lady replies. Smiling professionally, our protagonist asks, “You’ve been married for a long time. Was this always the case?”/ “Yes, always.”/ “And now that your children have left the nest, you want to leave as well.” She nods, not looking directly at Marianne. “My husband is a responsible man. He’s kind and conscientious. I have nothing to complain about. He’s been an excellent father. We’ve never quarreled. We have a nice apartment and a lovely summer cottage we inherited from my mother-in-law. We’re both fond of music. We belong to a chamber music society and play together…”/ “It all seems idyllic.”/ “But there’s no love between us. There never has been.”/ Marianne in close-up and her notes, as she asks, not looking at the puzzling client, “Forgive me for asking, but have you met someone?”/ Cut to the lady in close-up, her candid eyes directed at the lawyer, measuring up Marianne. She smiles, more relaxed. “No, I haven’t.”/ With the lady onscreen, there is the questioner asking, “What about your husband?”/ “As far as I know, he has never been unfaithful.”/ Marianne in close-up, looking tired, says, “Won’t you be lonely?”/ “I guess… But it’s even lonelier in a loveless marriage.”/ Marianne, with pursed lips, and eyes down to her notes. “Have you told your husband you want a divorce?”/ The lady becoming quietly annoyed by the tenor of this interaction. “Of course.” Her eyes direct, and slightly ironic. She adopts a resolved smile. “Fifteen years ago I told him I didn’t want to live with him anymore, since there was no love in our marriage. He was very understanding.” (The lady’s eyes drift into a void.) “He merely asked me to wait until the children had grown up. Now all three have grown up and left home. Now I can have my divorce.”/ Marianne speaks while we still see the petitioner. “So what does he say?”/ “He keeps asking me what’s wrong with our marriage. And I tell him I can’t go on with a relationship that lacks love. Then he asks me what love is supposed to involve. But I tell him I don’t know. How can I describe something that’s not there?”/ Cut to a rather blasé, smug lawyer, lipped-pursed and pedantic. “Have you been on good terms with your children? Emotionally…”/ The lady now back onscreen. Her gaze at Marianne suggests that she knows she won’t be more than an item of cash-flow here. “I’ve never loved my children [her face being stricken by more than that]. I know that now [her mouth tight]. I used to think I did… You always do… But now I know that I never loved them. Still, I’ve been a good mother… I’ve done all I could, even though I never felt anything for them.” As she looks downward, the paradox of her discourse begins to bite. That standoff can’t continue. Her divorce and its solitude comprises a crucial daring, far from readily resolved. (She’s neither as severe nor as discerning as she likes to think.) She’s ready for the inevitable critique from a fat cat (late for the appointment due to a lunch with Johan being a bit prolonged due to her mooting an exotic trip, for the sake of doing something about her malaise, having been broached on the car ride into town; then dropped, as if nothing). The lady addresses the girl, “I know just what you’re thinking” (brief cut to Marianne, with a strained smile). The girl with the profession says, “Really?”/ “A spoiled woman with no sense of humor… She has everything she could possibly want—but still she goes on about love. What about friendship, loyalty, security?”/ Cut to a smiling Marianne. “Something like that, yes…”/ This elicits a hard look across the universe. “Let me tell you something. I have a mental picture of myself that doesn’t correspond to reality.”/ Being reminded that she recently made a short cut through that path [in the sprawling TV version—not to be too caught up in its soap opera; but not to be entirely ignored], Marianne wakes up a bit. “Pardon me if I ask you a personal question… Isn’t true love…” [She rubs her brow, looks down]/ “What were you going to ask?”/ “I’m not sure. Forgive me” [lips pursed]./ From the lady’s punishing depths to a precinct of control, there is the notice, “I tell myself I have a capacity to love [hands closed]… but it’s been [open hands] bottled up…”/ (Cut to a bemused Marianne)/ The errant lady oracle, invading a corporate sanctuary, recounts, “The life I’ve led has stifled my potential…”/ Clearly unimpressed now, Marianne wants this to end. The stranger—like those of the string of other oracles of past films by an artist so adept in weaving discursive presentation into scintillating film—knows intuitively that nothing avails with the Marianne’s of the world. But, for the sense of a semblance of intelligence, the payer continues, “The time has come to change all that. The first step is divorce. My husband and I cancel each other out.”/ “That sounds frightening,” the solver declares./ “It is frightening. Something peculiar is happening. My senses—sight, hearing, touch, are starting to fail me. This table, for instance… I can see it and touch it. But the sensation is deadened and dry…”/ (A very quick slide pan catches Marianne with a visage of fright.”/ “Do you understand?” the bidder for change asks./ “I think I do…” [at least while emoting, “I’m not certain I  know who I am,” in the simplistic version]./ The real thinker leaves us with, “It’s the same with everything, music, scents, faces, voices. Everything seems puny, grey and undignified.” (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

Our return to an old Christmas blog, from 2013, must (due to corporate regulations)stand without  the YouTube referred to.  But the point of two great writers at this season can’t be denied.

    You might think that having the likes of Dylan Thomas (he of, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) drop by at Christmas would be tantamount to exclusively broaching Scrooge’s Christmas Eves prior to that special one. Just in case our unlikely courier of charm might, to some, fixedly and unwelcomely portend a variation of The Nightmare before Christmas, we also have in our sack the sure-fire James Herriot and his just-right reminiscence about The Christmas Day Kitten. I’ll keep my enthusing, about Thomas’ visit, to a minimum, whereupon there is the YouTube of the author’s 1952 reading; and, then, to some hints about Herriot’s doing so much more than damage control.

As good a place as any to reach the nub of Thomas’ going back to the ways of Christmas celebration when he was a boy in Wales is the moment—somehow still compelling to him as an adult—when he and his friend, Jim, “…patient, cold and callous… waited to snowball the cats.” This glimpse of cold-weather crudity striving for gratifying sizzle sets the tempo of every incident recalled. A fire breaks out from an errant bid for hospitality, and a maiden aunt asks the firemen, “Would you like anything to read?” Young Dylan brags to younger children there, about the unique wild side of winters past, postmen past, Christmas presents past and the uncles past (“There are always uncles at Christmas. The same.”), galvanizing a domestic, even ascetic celebration like that into a spectacle of slightly eerie departures from a long-standing sedateness. After the luncheon feast (where the uncles shone at over-indulgence), the boy-adventurer would go out for a walk with a few chums. A wiser Thomas describes such a moment as that in which the callow, irrepressible little show-off would tarnish beyond fruitful recognition the unembellished magic of life around him and within. “The silent one-clouded heavens drifted on to the sea. Now we were snow-blind travelers lost on the north hills, and vast dewlapped dogs, with flasks around their necks, ambled and shambled up to us, baying, “Excelsior.” On the “poor streets,” the children “cat-called” after the stuffed revellers, their cries, “…fading away, as we trudged uphill, into the cries of the dock birds and the hooting of ships out in the whirling bay.” At tea, Auntie Hannah “laced hers with rum… and the ice cake loomed in the center of the table like a marble grave.” And after that, “tall tales… we told by the fire.” And it is at this point, instead of the perennial standbys, that there is a once-in-a-lifetime encounter that can’t be forgotten (just as Herriot’s once-only and never-forgotten Christmas outsider). Carolling in the night, Dylan and his friends take into their head to go to the front door of a “large home” (a place bringing to mind the homestead of Edward Scissorhands). The kids decide against the ethereal “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” in favor of “Good King Wenceslas.” Soon after starting, they were accompanied by “a small, dry, eggshell voice from the other side of the door, a small dry voice through the keyhole.” They ran away until they arrived at Dylan’s house, where they hoped that some jelly was left. An even tipsier Auntie Hannah inadvertently reminded him of the recent shock that was too hot to handle, in singing about “Bleeding Hearts and Death” and singing that her heart was like a bird’s nest—causing the sated revellers to laugh. In bed and ready to sleep, Dylan looked out at lights in windows and the music rising up from them, but only seeing those “on our hill.” There was “moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow.” There was “close and holy darkness.” And there was a sweep of love that proved impossible to brave. (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

The films of Ingmar Bergman are all of a piece. They endeavor, from many angles, to make sense of the powers that be. This concern is particularly pressing in regard to the work today, namely, The Serpent’s Egg (1977). On the basis of many vicissitudes of Bergman’s history at that production, a whole industry arose, of delighting in what seemed to have been a weakening of confidence—on the very flimsy basis of punitively catching Bergman straying from his vigorous roots. Were the wags to have troubled themselves to comprehend those roots (well disclosed), they would have dropped that childish game and got down to business.

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, we must turn to recognize our guide’s commitment to taking on a field of very complex physicality. At the outset of his career—in the film, Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), with the figure of Alma and her brief but impressive ecstatic balance; and in the film, The Seventh Seal (1957), with Jof and Marie, and their child hopefully one day excelling in acrobatics and juggling—we have an invitation to a party of unending carnal delivery.

If you think that tax problems; turning away from a homeland to resettle in Germany; and linking with a Hollywood bagman (Dino De Laurentiis [in fact, at that time, only recently based in the USA]; and with involvement in La Strada, Nights of Cabira, and Blue Velvet] could destabilize the resolve of Bergman’s interests, you don’t know what this priority entails. Moreover, there was cinematographer, Sven Nykvist, still in place and game for risking new visuals with unusually big bucks.) (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

      Why do the films of Ingmar Bergman concentrate upon difficulties so few people care about? Some might rush to claim that his genius was all over the most pressing dilemmas of modern life. But although the works do touch upon well-known malaise, what, I think, he was driven to show has never been a serious concern for very many.

Though I recently claimed that all three of the films in the “Island Trilogy,” comprising, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, and The Passion of Anna, could appear with no damage being caused in released or viewing at any order, there is about the third entry, namely, The Passion of Anna (1969), which does go significantly even further into the savagery of cultural venom than the other two. There, Bergman’s dramatic depth finds a hitherto hidden dimension of perversity to imbue us with an added weight going forward. And as we unravel this difficult construction, let’s face the facts about how many viewers are apt to find it compelling; and, therefore, what comportment is valid for these few and besieged seers who do find it riveting.

Andreas Winkelman (“winkel,” denoting a “corner” or “being enclosed by woods”) is a protagonist who, when we first encounter him in the opening scene, we could say that his name is very suitable. He lives in a farm setting, with neither crops nor salient livestock. (A few sheep is all we glimpse.) A voice-over gives his name, and his age, 48. Also, we hear, “He has lived alone for a while in this house on an island out at sea. His roof has been in bad repair for a long time.” (The metaphorical involvement here should not be ignored, particularly as a matter of invasion is about to spring forth.) We find him on that roof, with slate and mortar, clearly not being a gifted roofer. His face is contorted; and then another demand brightens his day. The winter sky delivers to his unsteady perch a sun comprising the fireball, but also a complementary flare involving a small cloud of rose and grey hue. We never again see him appreciating such a mystical moment. But we’ll have myriad opportunities to understand that Andreas, though a middling construction worker, is a devotee of the uncanny—unlike the easily distracted musician couple in Shame and the painter in Hour of the Wolf. (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

      Although this film, from 2018, proceeds with an English lexicon, it is most important to comprehend the French title. Une Vie en Hauteur, translates as, “a haughty, superior, arrogant approach toward others.” What sort of intransigence could be in play within our film today? There is, as we all know at some level, a distemper underway between amateurs of reality and those professionals regarding the former as having failed to digest the ultimacies already in full flower, namely, religion, humanitarianism and science. (All of which, seemingly, despite little tiffs, well embarking unconditionally all three of them at once.) With her film, High Life, filmmaker, Claire Denis, has squarely ventured into that latter buttress, science, whereby she stands (in many eyes) to be embarrassed by the “hauteur” of her betters. Moreover, let’s not kid ourselves that such “ladies” pastimes will be merely met with droll tolerance.

Our helmswoman here does have up her sleeve the resources of a guy who posthumously maintains a filmic action as far from “ladies concerns” as you can get, namely, Ingmar Bergman, an avatar of very high problematic. She has deployed for our considerations a film which, on the surface, has nothing to do with science, namely, The Seventh Seal (1957)—a biblical concomitant which leaves room for heresy during 12th century Sweden, bristling with witch-burning, flagellation and a far-reaching plague. A couple, Jof and Marie, itinerant circus entertainers, choose to be not fans of the regional leadership (just back from a crusade), who obsesses about living forever, by somewhat odd but actually usual means. The couple—but Jof definitely in the lead—see in their infant son a budding acrobatic genius and juggler the likes of which the world has never seen. Those latter gifts will reappear in our matter before us, in a scenario millennials’ into the future, whereby the march of (bored?) science has dreamed up travel far beyond the Solar System to transport death-row killers into the range of the nearest black hole, and others’ beyond, in hopes of some miracle. During this time-bending amazement, one protagonist, Monte, the highest flyer, another Jof, but very different, what with the bloody Jacobean melodrama blazing, encounters another such craft from that site of inspiration, but this time with a crew of dogs. (more…)

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 © 2019 by James Clark

      The films of Quentin Tarantino are arguably the gold standard of amusement while indirectly excoriating the history of reverence. His recent shot, Once upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019), attends in a rather special way toward his enmity regarding pious foot-soldiers on guard for the sake of half-truths, at best. The target of Hollywood might seem to be a rather minor concern, not to mention that nearly everyone intuits its flaws already. But do they?

We take a ride with Cliff, a movie stunt man/ and double, for actor, Rick, in Rick’s cream-colored Cadillac convertible. While the actor attends to his well-known métier of Western adventures, overblown, underwhelming but passionately popular, Cliff, not being needed to spare the daring in this outing, takes up his other functions as chauffeur and handyman at Rick’s mansion in the exclusive hills. This day, there is the insupportable collapse of the perhaps, sinking brand’s television antenna, the year being 1969. Two magical events occur during Cliff’s hiatus. The first is the remarkable agility of his reaching the roof—sheer acrobatics in leaping from purchase to purchase. When on the irregular roof, his panache is not only bankable but poetry. The second surprise occurs on the freeway with the top down, of course, and music on the radio, to a tune called, “Gamblin’ Man.” The pitch and volume of the sound inundating the fast car can be discerned, with the driver in closeup, that intensity of this degree is, however unspoken, a field of grace. Much remains to be explored regarding Cliff’s solitary day off; but this film invites disparate, rare and desperate action to coalesce. Some months later, and late at night, with the sidekicks about to go their separate ways (and making a last-ditch party of the crisis), Cliff and his pit bull, Brandy, take a walk in the vicinity of Rick’s opulent (but now financially threatened) castle. The acrobat, saying nothing of the earthquake but feeling much, evokes another ecstatic song, far more explosive than the treacly film productions which made the actor affluent, namely, far from matinee-idol, Chris Farlow’s, one-hit-wonder, “Out of Time”—“Baby, Baby, Baby, you’re outta’ time…” And it’s freeway-time again, because the Stones (far more explosive than the earnest writer) know their Hollywood-Rare. The latter’s, wisely distorting the phrase, “Baby, Baby, Baby, you’re outta’ ooaa” [connoting, both “time” and “sight”]. The fateful musical presentation penetrates the mansion next door, the short-lease range of the now-pregnant starlet, Sharon Tate, where a dizzy anti-climax is about to unfold, which obliges us to consider a step far more demanding of nuance than Hollywood can afford. Back to Cliff, on the rich man’s roof, who couldn’t miss hearing the neighbor’s music, a bemusing effort by the laughably named, “Paul Revere and the Raiders.” (more…)

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