Antonioni and Bergman

A&L has collected the obituaries. In one of those B-movie coincidences, on Monday two of the great directors of mid-century angst died – Michelangelo Antonioni, 94, in Italy and Ingmar Bergman, 89, in Sweden. Iowahawk reposts his tribute to Bergman. Podhoretz complains of Bergman’s pretentiousness – arguing that 1982 was the end of that era. Well, maybe. Rewatching several of both these directors’ works in the last year or so has reminded me of what we were when we watched them in our separate youths, and how much my husband and I have developed different pleasures, perspectives, and values in the time since. But these movies are often beautiful in the slow and quiet ways they develop character, in the perspectives of their images, of the gestures that are telling. The piled up photographs as we see Marianne’s self emerge in Scenes from a Marriage or the panic as well as listlessness of L’Aventurra still move me, still seem human. If the people make silly choices, well, don’t we all. Why and how we make them is the subject of the films. We hadn’t seen Autumn Sonata before this year and if it, too, remains as bleak as ever about our failings in our relations as parents and as children, the tangles were bleakly understandable. As implied by this, what I liked best was character in these works and the allegorical seldom holds its own against human complexity. But Podhoretz complains of how they told their tales of angst and fear of the void; I think it is the void that we turned from as the century went on.

I’m not so sure that Podhoretz isn’t reflecting the fact that some time in the eighties we said to ourselves, snap out of it, suck it up, do something. Of course, it might have taken some of us a few more years. And it seems to me an obituary is a time for gratitude: I (and I suspect many others) owe many pleasant moments in the theater to these two directors. So, most of us have found a way out of that hole as the century continued, though how strong the ladders we found may prove is not something we know – will know. In the mid-nineteenth century Matthew Arnold described a darkling plain, but love, domesticity, faith, nation, work, duty helped; the ways out were similar a century later. These two directors have taken similar themes, but the difference in their expressions also help us appreciate two quite different sensibilities, cultures.

More importantly, perhaps, we’ll always have (and love) “Dover Beach” and I suspect we will always have some understanding of these two at their best.

13 thoughts on “Antonioni and Bergman”

  1. I once saw Seventh Seal and Persona on a double bill. I don’t think I would want to do that again.

    That was about 40 years ago when I was an undergraduate at the U of C. It was run by the Doc Films group, that showed a lot of very weird, perhaps even excessively weird, movies on campus. No matter, unless you wanted to get on the IC and go downtown, which was quite a schlep, although we did do that occasionally, it was the only place in Hyde Park to see a movie.

    I think that, except for real hard-core film buffs, Bergman is not much watched anymore. I don’t think any of my 3 children, who are in their early 20s, have seen any of his films.

    Time marches on. One generation’s monument is another generation’s “I never heard of him.” Bergman now seems like a period piece, perhaps, like Bach and Melville he will be rediscovered, but I kind of doubt it.

  2. The first time I saw much of either was when I was young, too and in Chicago. And my children haven’t been willing to sit through them when we’ve had them on in the last year. But I still think there’s something to enjoy there.

    Anyway, I think I’ve asked before but does anyone remember the Clark Theater? It was only a few block from the stop & I think a block or two from the Civic Center. It did double bills they changed every day. The downstairs smelled of heavy strawberry cover up smells and it took a pretty tough or stupid woman to sit down there. (Actually, even in the woman’s balcony a someewhat unfortunate incident: a sailor wandered into the next seat during Barbarella – but then Jane Fonda’s faults do not extend to how she looked in that and one could hardly blame the guy, though he was pretty annoying. Anyway, it was 50 cents on cheap nights and 1.25 on expensive ones; even in those days that was cheap; especially since it ran 24 hours and watching someone adjust their bags for a night’s sleep with a background of Bergman, etc. had a certain charm that I haven’t forgotten. I was there 68-69; I heard the Clark was closed down soon after.

  3. “And it seems to me an obituary is a time for gratitude”

    Amen. The retrospectives with a full acknowldegment of faults and virtues can start later, but at the time of death there is usually family involved, and for a journalist or reviewer to forget that is unpardonable. It’s one of the reaons I won’t watch or listen to Garrison Keillor anymore -the cheers he led for his audience upon the new of Reagan’s death.

    When Carter dies, I’m not writing anything about him for 6 months.

  4. I always had trouble appreciating these director’s works in full because by the time I got the age I could enjoy I had digested so many allusion, satires and summaries of the works that I couldn’t simply see them as originally intended. I carried far to many preconceptions with me. I imagine others who saw the films long after their initial impact on the culture have the same problem.

    For example, there is now a children’s cartoon on the Cartoon Network called “The Grim Adventures of Bill and Mandy” in which two children challenge Death to a limbo (the dance) contest when he comes to claim the soul of their dead hamster. I can’t imagine that my son will ever be able to watch “The Seventh Seal” without being reminded of that cartoon show.

    It’s just like a generation of American’s cannot listen to “Ride of the Valkyries” without hearing Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Rabbit, kill the Rabbit!”

  5. Shannon – I’m only a partial intellectual, because my mental image includes someone shooting an apple off of the Lone Ranger’s head with a crossbow. ;-)

  6. JJ and Shannon: I think my 20yo out-intellectualize you both: he now knows for sure that Raphael and Mickelangelo are decisevely NOT ninja turtles!

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