Sunday, August 5, 2007

Antonioni & Bergman

Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman

Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman both died on Monday, July 30. Antonioni was 94, Bergman 89. These two revered directors were part of a kind of golden age of “foreign” films, both of them tremendously creative, imaginative filmmakers, and each of them had a reputation (not always undeserved) of being a dealer in angst. Yes, there was angst-a-plenty, but so much more besides.

My favorite Antonioni movie is The Passenger / Professione: reporter, with Jack Nicholson (giving his most understated performance ever) and Maria Schneider. It is visually amazing and just full of cinematic and narrative goodies. It has one of my favorite exchanges of dialogue, ever, between David (Jack) and The Girl (Maria):

“People disappear every day.”
“Every time they leave the room.”

I’ve seen all seven features that Antonioni made between 1960 (L’Avventura) and 1975 (The Passenger), but none before (he made his first documentary short film in 1943), nor since (his last work was a segment of the 2004 compendium film, Eros). Now I’d like to see everything.

I showed Blowup to one of my classes about four years ago. I thought, it has sex, nudity, mystery, a little violence, a photographer as the main character (a bonus for art students, you’d think), and some live, classic rock – The Yardbirds. Not to mention the fact that it’s a totally original piece of work, and so on. Plus, I’d prepared my students for it very well. They hated it. They were numb with boredom within half an hour. You could see it on their faces. Not one of them liked it. They’d have preferred Weekend at Bernie’s II, I’m sure, or, anything cheesy that they could have laughed at. I wasn’t disappointed in them. I was disappointed in where we were, in where this culture was.

I’ve seen a whole lot of Bergman’s films. I don’t have a favorite, although I’d name Shame / Skammen, if I had to pick one. It’s a very dark film in every sense, about war. There was something about its (physical and psychological) landscape that resonated with me, maybe having to do with the world into which I was born. I saw his last film, Saraband (2003), which was made for television, an unacknowledged sequel to Scenes from a Marriage (1973), which originally was a Swedish television miniseries. It was a perfect epilogue to his extraordinary career.

I have a great sentimental attachment to these two directors, and I value their works to no end. I am sorry that they have departed from this life.

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