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.