Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Magician (1958) d. Ingmar Bergman

Max Von Sydow as Vogler the magician

Movie Review
The Magician (1958)
d. Ingmar Bergman
Criterion Collection #537

 I was intrigued by The Magician because the included visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie identified the relationship between Artist and Audience, specifically the hatred of Bergman for his critics, as a primary theme motivating the film.  Bergman's relationship with critics/Audience was formed during his decade long turn at the helm of the Malmo Civic Theater, where he directed plays.  Apparently, he wasn't appreciated quite enough and he took the lack of appreciation to heart.

  It's common to think of great Artists as having a quality that places them above such concerns, but that is a disingenuous fraud, and I'm always interested when Artists confront that relationship in their art.  That being said, The Magician is a bit of what I would call a "parlor drama" filled with characters in old timey costumes standing around inside and talking.  This isn't Bergman's best look, and all of his top line classics have a substantial outdoor component that is missing from The Magician.

  The Magician is also an unusual Bergman film because it has a bona fide happy ending, with The Magician be summoned to perform for the King of Sweden to the shock of all.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Forsyte Saga (1906-1922) by John Galsworthy

Edwardian fashion

Book Review
The Forsyte Saga (1906-1922)
 by John Galsworthy

  The Forsyte Saga is actually a series of three novels, 1001 Books counts it as a single "book" which seems inconsistent with their practice up to this point.  For example, they don't have every Palliser Novel (there are 6) by Anthony Trollope listed under a single heading, but simply put Phineas Finn (the third of six) on the list and omit the others.  But for that reason it took forever to make it through The Forsyte Saga- two weeks plus.

  Like other English novels of the 19th and 20th century, The Forsyte Saga is a novel about marriage and property, and quite explicitly at that.  The central unhappy marriage, between wealthy lawyer Soames and the younger Irene, influences the semi-incestuous relationships that percolate throughout all three volumes.  Once again, an unhappy literary marriage caused me to reflect on my own recent experience with divorce.

   Something I came to believe about six months into my separation/divorce is that it is unfair to be angry at a woman who makes what you consider an irrational decision to split up, when in fact, it may have been an equal or even greater level of irrationality that caused you to be together in the first place.  Men who have "done nothing wrong" to create a divorce- and here I'm talking about both my own experience and what I've read about in books- in marriage, always take the position that it is the decision to split that is the ultimate evidence of irrationality, but really it's probably the decision to get married that was more irrational, and the decision to break up less.

 In the Forsyte Saga the central motif is the Forsyte men as "possessors of property" whether they be inanimate (houses, stocks) or animate (livestock, women.)  It's clear that Galsworthy writes with a mixture of understanding and satire when he depicts the Galsworthy men. The women are more opaque.  Galsworthy does a better job with older/single women, but when it comes to Irene, the central female figure of all three books, we are left grasping for motivations.  Specifically, there is a decade plus long gap between the initial split between Soames and Irene and their divorce, and Galsworthy provides no insight as to what Irene actually did during that entire period.  She is literally shuffled off to stage right, and I actually imagined the character smoking cigarettes in the wings of the theater while time passed in the book.

 Aside from the frank depiction of happy and unhappy marriage, The Forsyte Saga is notable as a near compete portrait of the post-Victorian Edwardian period.  In my mind, the Edwardian's are like a coda attached to the Victorian, who dwarf the Edwardian's in every way, and who had the good sense to vanish before the onset of modernity.  Here, Galsworthy depicts modernity but in a very Victorian fashion.  There is none of the narrative experimentation that characterizes authors like Henry James (who were writing at the exact same time as Galsworthy.)

 The Forsyte Saga is a throwback to Novels of the prior half century, but seeing as that was absolutely the golden age of the pre-modern novel, it is not a bad place to be.  Please, note this series is very, very long and is to be avoided unless you have a ton of time to read or read very fast.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Through A Glass Darkly (1961) d. Ingmar Bergman

Harriet Andersson plays Karin in Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

Movie Review
Through A Glass Darkly (1961)
 d. Ingmar Bergman
Criterion Collection #209
Part of A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman (four discs) Criterion Collection #208

  There is A LOT of Bergman to work through within the Criterion Collection. The three of the four films I've watched thus far, The Seventh Seal(1957), Cries and Whispers (1972)& Persona (1966)are big hits, but I dig all of his movies. I haven't really dug into the non-hits but I am most eager.  I believe that you can divide Bergman into three main periods:  His films of the 50s are what you might call his "expressionistic" period, with ponderous medieval settings and heavy use of allegory.  In the 60s he made a transition to more "realistic" film making, with heavy use of natural lighting and plots that were typically contemporary.  And then in the 70s there was a late shift into more "modern" looks- using color and more graphic sexual material.

  So through A Glass Darkly is from the beginning of that second period, and it has a theme that resonates with other Bergman sixties films like Persona.  Through A Glass Darkly was part of a trilogy of films Bergman made between 1961 and 1963.  Through A Glass Darkly was the first film, followed by Winter Light (1962) and The Silence(1963).  Although none of Bergman is what you would call "light" all three films from this period are very "heavy" and did poorly at the box office, according to the interview with Bergman biographer/film scholar Peter Matthews, because they broke with audience expectations.

 Personally, I found Through A Glass Darkly, with it's theme of Artists cannibalizing their loved ones for material particularly appetizing because I actually spend a good amount of time thinking about the relationship of the Artist to his/her environment and how that impacts the resulting art.  In Through A Glass Darkly, Bergman seems to be copping to the fact that such a process is inevitable, and to a certain extent, simply unforgivable.  There is no redemption at the end of Through A Glass Darkly, only sadness.

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