Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Summer with Monika

Hers Is the Body


In the ostensible high-school or college course devoted to Ingmar Bergman, it would not be unreasonable to open the syllabus on Summer with Monika [Sommaren med Monika, 1953], for it seems to stake its own claim as the mark-zero of the Bergman œuvre. With regard to those last two words, I will readdress them soon in the context of both Olivier Assayas's decades-long consideration of Bergman, and his recent State of Cinema 2020 essay and address for sabzian.be.

There are four main aspects of Summer with Monika I care to focus on. Before these treatments, I'm forced to think back to 2007 when Bergman died, which was the same day as the death of Antonioni, and as such when all the pussy nasty American critics who reactionarily peacocked their gladdest cinephilia of nothing more than the journeyeomanshipwork of the Old Stalwarts (I'm not going to mention names, because I myself love many of those directors) (but not as much as I love Ingmar Bergman) came out to shit on the face of Bergman's corpse — fat old white dazed American celibates all. I wrote an obituary for Bergman at the time — inadequate — why wouldn't it be, thirteen years... — I'm not going to re-read it but I remember something about a direct and pitiless mise-en-scène that I laid out... What I would say now, with regard to Bergman's films in general and Summer with Monika in particular, is that I am in awe of Bergman's unsparing gaze, that from a range of animal-judgment, which finds its formal capitulation within the back-and-forth between long- and medium-shots and close-ups, unsparing but not. In each Bergman close-up (here we note this as the essential technique, for once and at last, beyond the scenaristic flashback), there is the obfuscation of that which takes place in the depth behind the framed-head. (In France, "close-ups" are called "gros plans" or "fat/big shots.")

Anyway my point is that Bergman rides the two aesthetics as many modern filmmakers do too — hence Assayas's remarks with regard to the great number of (especially independent) directors working today in spite of and (un)consciously against the entire fucked-up business milieu — which are: (a) the static cling of a mise-en-scène-framing frozen in time by the "pause" of a remote and/or a screenshot grabbed; (b) the 'unanchored' kinetic anti-plan-séquence+. Let's assume all directors hate 2/3rds of other directors, as 2/3rds of you reading this probably hate Bergman and Assayas, which is not my problem, though they both embody this aspect in different ratios; — just as a woman hates another woman who infringes on something to which the former feels entitled despite having staked her individual and would-be purposeful claim against the latter who exists nonetheless unaware but likewise purposeful. That reconciliation should be possible nevermind advisable seems so far from the mark of Bergman if only to those who forswear him out of jealousy.

(1) The mirror. A screen of aging. In Summer with Monika the older laborers and drunkards shuffle back and forth, before (brilliant staging) this looking-glass attached to the outside of a porcelain shop, in the shabby crabbed alleyway where they crap and hail. The self-reckoning of the gazer, for Monika (Harriet Andersson), for Harry (Lars Ekborg), fixing, primping, staring, thinking. No plaudits from any Orpheus — this is almost a Swedish neo-realism after all. And yet:

(2) The gaze. Monika: her body a goddess of the earth, Bergman sends the invitation to look. Her figure is full maturation and the cusp of adulthood.

(3) Explicit space. The claustrophobic apartment, the liberated shore and the houseboat: the womb. The space of the mirror — a depth, but one ultimately falling back onto the Self/Ego. The celluloid and the camera. Kiarostami and the mirror: you stare into the lens, you are "reflected," as though gazing into a mirror, but it's really the lens, the objectif, and the metaphysical struggle between that which looks at the filmed and that which is filmed, — these go ever onward, with no solution... Infinite mirrors, mise en abyme like in Rivette's Out 1...

The ceramic works, the grocery basement, Monika's family's flat: sheer claustrophobia. They must escape from the civilized world, à la Pierrot le fou, an island of Arden: "Let's go away for a while..." "Let them scurry around like rats." The sky of The Seventh Seal, the barren shore of same and Persona...

(4) Meat. Monika's body and her bloomers. Pinched like a choreography by three men. One of whom will be the perfunctory one sees during the daring gaze-to-camera at the café. — "I thought she was a rat," castigating her with the same word that marked her grocery brethren, a class signifier she can't escape, gum-chomping at the fête, gnawing on the roast... — The gaze-to-camera at the café. Chews and sips and smokes. Turns, and "cinematically" all goes black behind her as the camera pushes in, and she stares outward at the spectator. All the critics say it's her, daring judgment; she is doing such. But her gaze engulfs and implicates the viewer beyond call to estimation, beyond, as the Cahiers of the era might say, a morality, rather knots and castrates the male viewer whose doom, not Harry's, is a fait accompli

Suppose you know someone famous, or of slight celebrity. There will come a time when their psychosexual identity will, whether in their lifetime or their biography or enough magazine profiles, become a known bundle; the most curious professionals will attempt to untangle it. To it will be ascribed multitudes, complexity.

Suppose you know the unknown (l'inconnu(e)). He or she whose psychosexual identity reads not only as surpassingly probe-able but a little more asymptotic, breathing toward the infinite... Poof, a dream, like Monika. • 


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]

Kvinnors väntan [Women's Waiting, 1952]

Sommaren med Monika [Summer with Monika, 1953]


Friday, June 26, 2020

Death in This Garden

Piccoli in the Garden

The following was written for Eugenio Renzi's Ciné-Club Hebdo where it appeared today, translated into French, in acknowledgement of the recent death of the great actor Michel Piccoli. This is the original English-language version.


In Luis Buñuel’s underseen feature La Mort en ce jardin [Death in This Garden], a French-Mexican color co-production from 1956, Michel Piccoli plays a missionary on the verge of setting out to convert an Indian tribe to the benefits of Christian salvation. The wider premise of the film involves a group of French nationals eager to flee the government (and the colonialists) when the latter interfere with the operating contract of a diamond mine; Piccoli, or Father Lizzardi, falls in with the capitalists. What his role lacks in the way of a psychologically fleshed-out characterization is made up for in its service as the component of a group-cipher (Buñuel’s film is less Hawksian than Kubrickian) whose goal it is to wind through the jungle and arrive on the other side of the Brazilian border: a world conceived across the fundamental gap between servitude and service, with Lizzardi’s fortunes dictated by innate calling. I’ve always sensed something of a Piccolian axiom, that fine thread which connects the actor’s roles evermore to a God (hence, as a servitor of the Entity and Its professed dogma) but which also symbolizes the thin line between the aforementioned impulse and the Luciferian “non serviam.” (Contrast his parts in Moretti’s Habemus Papam and Bonello’s De la guerre.) Piccoli’s was a (lower-case-C) catholic dimension, and we need look no further than La Mort en ce jardin to discover him in safari-surplice warning his sheep, “Don’t bring God into this.” Surely not, for despite the presence of the serpent (killed and prepared for alimentary sustenance), Buñuel’s company traverse no hellscape but simply the natural world: the serpent will ultimately be devoured by fire ants, and the stumbled-upon wreck of an airplane will at once with its dark and ravaged maw signify the manna of cargo-cults and the black abyss into which all calculations break down. “Hope,” to paraphrase Piccoli, Buñuel, and co-writer Raymond Queneau, “is all that's kept us on our feet.”


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Erased Arrays - New Radio Show

I have a new radio show starting tomorrow, June 25th 2020, on the great freeform station KPISS.fm. It's an hour long program called Erased Arrays dedicated to Aphex-flavored electronic, French popular song old and new, nunsexmonkrock, and a general smorgas of whatever else suits my fancy. Plus, of course, there will be cinema talk and content.

The show will run weekly, every Thursday at 2pm EST / 11am PST / 8pm Paris time at kpiss.fm, streamable from your device browser. Tune in, turn out, tune up, tune out, tune in once more, — black out!


Bob Dylan: “Black Rider” (ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS, 2020)
Squarepusher / Ceephax: “Ceephax Mix” (SELECTION SIXTEEN, 1999)
Mike and Rich: “Eggy Toast” (EXPERT KNOB TWIDDLERS, 1996)
Nina Kraviz: “IMPRV” (THE DEVIANT OCTOPUS compilation, 2014)
Neil Young: “What Did You Do to My Life?” (NEIL YOUNG, 1969)
Death Grips: “I’ve Seen Footage” (THE MONEY STORE, 2012)
Nina Hagen: “Dread Love” (NUNSEXMONKROCK, 1983)
Danny Brown: “Dirty Laundry” (UKNOWHATIMSAYIN¿, 2019)
Roni Size / Reprazent: “Railing” (NEW FORMS, 1997)
Front Line Assembly: “Outcast” (TACTICAL NEURAL IMPLANT, 1992)
Alizée: “Gourmandises” (GOURMANDISES, 2001)
Primal Scream: “Skull X” (EVIL HEAT, 2002)

Listen to the archive here.