Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Summer Interlude


No Accounting for Taste


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Summer Interlude [Sommarlek, 1951] was one of the first Bergmans that Godard critiqued, featured in English speaking lands translated by Tom Milne in the anthology of JLG's writing up to 1968, Godard on Godard. In his text "Bergmanorama":

"[M]ore flashbacks than decency allows. [...] An Ingmar Bergman film is, if you like, one twenty-fourth of a second metamorphosed and expanded over an hour and a half. It is the world between two blinks of the eyelids, the sadness between two heart-beats, the gaiety between two handclaps. Hence the prime importance of the flashback in these reveries of solitary Scandinavian wanderers. In Summer Interlude, a glance in her mirror is enough to send Maj-Britt Nilsson off like Orpheus and Lancelot in quest of paradise lost and time regained. Employed almost systematically by Bergman in most of his films, the flashback ceases to be what Orson Welles called one of those 'poor tricks' to become, if not the theme of the film, at least its sine qua non."

Following an inspired comparison of Bergman with Visconti, Godard concludes: "I admire White Nights, but I love Summer Interlude."

Bergman's film almost unfolds out of nothingness: no real story, merely a sketch, like one of those short stories Chekhov exemplifies, before, suddenly: drama: Henrik (Birger Malmsten) dies following a diving accident. Marie (Nilsson) devotes herself to the ballet completely.

Summer Interlude is like Marie's small cabin — a 'tiny-house' of a film, before the imposing structure that is Summer with Monika, a keep encircled by thunder.


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Other writing on Ingmar Bergman at Cinemasparagus:

Kris [Crisis, 1946]

Skepp till India Land [Ship to India, 1947]

Hamnstad [Port of Call, 1948]

Törst [Thirst, 1949]

Till glädje [To Joy, 1950]

Sommarlek [Summer Interlude, 1951]

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Monday, May 18, 2020

To Joy

Music in Darkness


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I remember To Joy [Till glädje, 1950] as the film that impressed me the most years back in that very first Criterion Eclipse set, Early Bergman. It still strikes me as very good, and perhaps the strongest film Bergman had made up to this point in his career, although Thirst is close behind. Admittedly, I say this without having seen a few of the other early films, which for whatever reason (probably rights issues) were not included in the Criterion Ingmar Bergman's Cinema mega-box: It Rains on Our Love, Music in Darkness, and the oft-Histoire(s)-cited Prison.

The title "To Joy" is at once ironic and sincere, and the movie makes good on both: abject marital misery, and a grand reconciliation; a deus ex machina of tragedy (revealed in the opening moments, as the film plays out as a flashback: a portable kerosene oven explodes and kills Marta [Maj-Britt Nilsson] and her children, widowing Stig [Stig Olin]), and of the exalted revival of hope, contentment, and the internalized digestion of experience. "To Joy, in the double-sense of "to" in both Swedish and English: a gradual movement toward, and a salute to the prospect of new unity.

I'm always interested in the idea of films that take place against an occupational backdrop. There are two rationales: (1) The author is interested in exploring the process of the occupation or its milieu, in addition to a separate dramaturgical movement. (2) The author constructs the dramaturgy with the occupation itself as one of its central tenets. Bergman opts for the latter in To Joy: Mendelssohn, Rimsky-Korsakov, and of course Beethoven embody the visceral expression of the emotion at play in the drama. (In zenith and nadir: When Stig's violin falls out of tune [a chance happening for which he owns no immediately evident responsibility] during his solo in the midst of an orchestral performance, a newspaper critic remarks — shades of Susan Alexander in Citizen Kane — that as soloist Stig's was a "premature debut", and deems it an "unnecessary suicide.")

The great Victor Sjöström, in his first of two roles for Bergman, concludes the film to note of Beethoven's Ode to Joy: "It's a joy beyond grief and despair. It's a joy beyond all understanding." Two modes of 'climax' — two modes of joy — two stunning endings: To Joy and Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I subscribe to both visions, neither so distant from the other, as I suspect did both Bergman and Kubrick.


Another Bergman cameo.


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Other writing on Ingmar Bergman at Cinemasparagus:

Kris [Crisis, 1946]

Skepp till India Land [Ship to India, 1947]

Hamnstad [Port of Call, 1948]

Törst [Thirst, 1949]

Till glädje [To Joy, 1950]

Sommarlek [Summer Interlude, 1951]

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Thursday, May 07, 2020

Go to Hell, Bastards: Detective Bureau 2 3



The Last Standard



(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing from the Arrow Blu-ray.)

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Yes, it's the Suzuki film with that title, which is somewhere between a direct translation and a finessed translation from the Japanese: Kutabare akutō-domo: Tantei-jimusho 2 3 [Go to Hell, Bastards: Detective Bureau 2 3, 1963]. And yet, as Tony Rayns puts it in the video program produced by Arrow Films, "a very standard Nikkatsu film, of its day and of its type." Sell the picture with its title. Incidentally, the bastards who are to "go to hell" are the gangsters who keep trying to verify the true identity of Shishido the infiltrator.

The premise has something to do with arms being smuggled off a US base. The first shot: close up of a G.I. in olive green, and all the olive green surroundings... The color palette of the film takes the cast of these drab greens and muted greys in complement, suggestive of the collusion between the occupiers and the occupied. (Like a Melville resistance-film but without the steel glimmer.) The yakuza at the center of the plot, the Ōtsuki and the Sakura gangs — and the secret third gang who robs from both of the gangs — typify the playact, or pastiche, of bands of American gangsters...

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More writing at Cinemasparagus on the films of Seijun Suzuki:

8-jikan no kyōfu [8 Hours' Terror, 1957]

Ankokugai no bijo [Underworld Beauty, 1958]

Fumi hazushita hara [Trampled Springtime, 1958]

Kage naki koe [Voice Without a Shadow, 1958]

"Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van, 1960]

Kemono no nemuri [The Sleep of the Beast, 1960]

Mikkō 0 Line [0-Line Stowaway, 1960]

Subete ga kurutteru [Everything Goes Wrong, 1960]

Tōkyō knight [Tokyo Knights, 1961]

Shotgun no otoko [The Man with a Shotgun, 1961]

Tōge (w)o wataru wakai kaze [Youthful Wind Crossing the Mountain Pass, 1961]

High-teen yakuza [Late-Teen Yakuza, 1962]

Kutabare akutō-domo: Tantei-jimusho 2 3 [Go to Hell, Bastards: Detective Bureau 2 3, 1963]

Yajû no seishun [Youth of the Beast, 1963]

Akutarō [The Bastard / The Badboy, 1963]

Akutarō-den: Warui hoshi no shita demo [Stories of Bastards: Even Under a Bad Star / Stories of Badboys: Even Under a Bad Star, 1965]

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Friday, May 01, 2020

Thirst

Trapped



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Rarely depicted in the era, a Swedish Jew: Ruth (Eva Henning), here married to chill Bertil (Birger Malsten). The couple travels on a train back to Sweden from a holiday abroad, and as the cars speed homeward Ruth experiences a succession of flashbacks from her previous life: an abortion of the child belonging to a married lover, following the discovery of their affair by the icy wife. We also recognize ballet as Ruth's special avocation, only shared in images around twenty minutes from the end despite its numerous mentions: a beautiful, kinetic rehearsal where the girls stomp and tap to a fiddle and a drum before finishing showing off their culottes.

A side-plot in cross-cut: Bertil's ex-lover Viola (Birgit Tengroth, who wrote the source short-stories): first she escapes the claws of a vulturing shrink, then the sapphic seduction of dark-christened Valborg, a former ballet colleague of Ruth's who proclaims: "Let's not get autobiographical. It only ends in sentimentality."

A boy presses his palm against the car window from the outside of the train, an unfulfilled wish to escape the poverty of his hometown: exact reverse foreshadowing of similar shots (taken from over the boys' respective shoulders) in Bergman's later masterworks The Silence and Persona. More than the simple symbol of a water bottle, this is the title Thirst [Törst, 1949]: the acute feeling of the absent ability to communicate one's soul, the desire for general fulfillment and contentment, the curious quench.


The filmmaker himself makes a cameo during a quick pan as the camera tracks a porter.


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Other writing on Ingmar Bergman at Cinemasparagus:

Kris [Crisis, 1946]

Skepp till India Land [Ship to India, 1947]

Hamnstad [Port of Call, 1948]

Törst [Thirst, 1949]

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