By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall August 10, 2007 at 4:41AM
I am a married man.
Thanks to everyone who sent their best wishes along to the Mrs. and me; The event went off without a hitch and was really special for us. We were surrounded by friends and family and while it was a whirlwind of work to get everything in place, the day itself blew by even more quickly. I will sneak a photo or two on here when we get them, but again, the hiatus was a wonderful time for us and we do appreciate all of your kind e-mails, comments and thoughts. Thank you. Now, all I have to do is finish planning the honeymoon (October in Paris. Meow!)...
That said, it looks like I picked the wrong two weeks to get married. Antonioni and Bergman both gone? How can it be? I was in Michigan when I read the news, and my first instinct when I heard that both great men had died was to commune with them again by watching their films; In truth, that is the only way I knew either of them. Unable to make the time and far away from my DVD’s of L’Avventura and Cries and Whispers, I was left with only my sadness and my own memories of their movies. I have a different relationship to each man’s work (they are such different filmmakers), but at the same time, they both represent (for me, anyway) an idealized era in the cinema; That time when New York City art-houses were plentiful and full of people who were committed to seeing challenging, foreign films and then spilling out onto the sidewalks and discussing what they had just seen.
Of course, like any ideal, I assume this is partly a fiction; I am sure as many people went to L’Avventura in the hopes of seeing Monica Vitti naked as went to understand the post-war existential crisis among wealthy Europeans. That said, there is something comic and deeply sexy about a theater full of lustful moviegoers reading subtitles and taking in the psychological duel at the heart of Bergman’s Persona, their voyeurism rewarded by the heat of grief shared by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann, their lurid hopes dashed across the rocks of great art. That is a film culture to which I wish I belonged, and both Antonioni and Bergman are essential to that fantasy for me.
Woody Allen introduced me to Ingmar Bergman. I was watching Manhattan and the classic scene where Diane Keaton’s Mary is walking with Woody, Mariel Hemmingway and Michael Murphy while trashing some of history’s great artists touched me deeply; I love Manhattan and was already a huge fan of Woody Allen at that time, so when he piped up in defense of Ingmar Bergman, I made a note of it and rented Persona on videotape. I wasn’t ready for the film in any way, but it truly blew me away; The scene where Bibi Andersson discusses her great sexual awakening was deeply intimidating and profoundly affecting to me. Here was a movie that seemed to be a cliché of a foreign film (the silences, the morphing faces, etc) and yet, it was certainly no cliché at all; I became instantly distrustful of people who would mock a film like Persona as pretentious because it was a film that utilized these techniques for a precise (and absolutely truthful) psychological purpose. This is what art should be.
I went on to see many of Bergman’s films, including Saraband, his final film. I remember when it came out that Bergman announced it would be his last film, and so I was curious to know why he chose to revisit Scenes From A Marriage for his final work. That said, it certainly makes sense; A bit of closure and forgiveness at the end of things. My favorite film among his works is Smiles Of A Summer Night, simply for its lighter tone and exquisite storytelling, but no one made me feel closer to Bergman as a man than Liv Ullmann in her amazing film Faithless (written by Bergman himself). Erland Josephson plays Bergman, an old writer living alone on his Swedish island who contemplates his failures and achievements against the rocky backdrop of the sea. It seems to me that this character is as close to cinematic autobiography as we will see from the man, and I can only hope that Ullmann continues to make movies as, based on Faithless, she is the absolute heir to Bergman’s work. I will miss his films, but I feel I have so much left to discover, so many unseen, that it is ridiculous to complain. Ingmar Bergman left behind a corpus of films that will be discussed for an eternity, and I don’t think we can ask more from our work.
(My thoughts on Summer With Monika can be found here).
Antonioni, well, I discovered him in college, when I saw Blow Up in a Gender In Cinema class. I am a little disappointed by that fact, since I don’t think of Blow Up as the proper place to start digging in to Antonioni’s films, but I do have to say, despite my love for L’Avventura, I feel a much cooler distance to his work than I do to Bergman’s. That said, when I look at films from around the world today, I see filmmakers ripping off Antonioni all the time; Scenarios, pacing, tracking shots, fractured narratives, images. From a technical point of view, Antonioni is a definitive artist, and in terms of his influence on today’s movies, I would rank him right alongside Bresson. He was also a pioneer; It is hard for me to imagine living as an adult in a world where Alain Resnais and Antonioni were making their early films at the same time, but there was certainly a time when the cool detachment and narrative innovation of those two artists shaped the cinema in a wholly new way.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you have Monica Vitti, Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Marcelo Mastroianni, Jack Nicholoson and Vanessa Redgrave populating the screen; Antonioni worked some seriously talented and beautiful people. And let’s not even get started on Zabriskie Point, which has undergone plenty of revisionist appreciation since it was misunderstood and under-appreciated upon its release (although I often think people admire the movie more because it was somehow, someway made at a Hollywood studio more so than their simple love for the film itself). Last year, when I was in desperate need of a good evening at the movies, I walked down to the Burns Court Cinemas in Sarasota to see The Passeneger and I found it revelatory; I think the coming years will only be kinder to Antonioni, as his existentialist style and his technical innovation grows more and more entrenched in the cinema. That can only be a good thing.
While I am sad that neither Bergman nor Antonioni will produce another film, I also realize that both men lived tremendously fruitful and important lives, living to a ripe old age and working until the end. As a model for artists of all stripes, both men grow in my estimation not simply because of their artistic gifts, but equally so because of their commitment to working, to formal exploration and to living lives unapologetically dedicated to their artistry. I have no doubt in my mind that their work will live forever. A fine example for all of us.