The Silence (1963)

Movie Blurb

The silence poster

Catching up on my Bergman. I’ve seen The Silence before, back in the 70s, when I first became acquainted with Bergman and he quickly became my favorite auteur. One benefits from the passage of time and the experience one gains from it. I watched The Silence again with new eyes and a new found appreciation. The Silence is a movie of visuals. Bergman strove to find a vocabulary of moving pictures with few words. There were 38 exchanges of dialogue in the film. He would have been happier with 28.

The characters are traveling by train home to Sweden and have to stop off in a strange city where they don’t speak the language making verbal communication impossible with the locals.

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Anna and Ester are sisters who are emotionally isolated from one another. Ester is ill and may be dying and she is the reason for the interruption of their journey. Anna represents the carnality of the pair and Ester is the intellectual component. Anna’s son, Johan, is along for the ride and keeps getting rejected and shunted aside as he first explores the corridors of the train then the empty hallways of the hotel.

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The Silence, was the final installment of his film trilogy, The Silence of God, which included, Through Glass Darkly and Winter Light. The word “silence” in the title of this film refers not only to the silence of God but also to the silence of the characters which represents a total breakdown in communication between human beings.

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When the film first came out in 1963 it was considered pornographic in some quarters. There are a couple of explicit scenes in the movie which are rather tame by today’s standards. During that time period however, Bergman, like always, was pushing the envelope.

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Pretty bleak stuff, but Bergman at his best.

Christmas Cheer

Last night I went to a party put on by the Third Street Association here in Louisville, Kentucky. It was in a beautiful old Victorian home. For while I thought I was lost in the Ingmar Bergman film, Fanny and Alexander or the Short Story The Dead, by James Joyce. Such was the beauty of the home I went to and the magical quality of the experience.

Both the stories were about a Christmas celebration among family and friends in spacious beautiful old homes decorated for the occasion. Both stories were a celebration of the love of family and friends and the human nature we are all heir too.

The House on Third was full of great Christmas cheer, fun, and laughter.

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Third Street Association – Photo by Benn Bell

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Fanny and Alexander a Film by Ingmar Bergman

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Third Street – Louisville

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Don’t shoot me I’m the piano player

Fanny and Alexander

From the Movie Fannie and Alexander

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Third Street

Fann and A

From the Movie Fanny and Alexander

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Third Street

The Dead

From the Movie The Dead Directed by John Houston

 

“His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

-James Joyce from his short story, The Dead

First Reformed (2017)

Movie Review

First Reformed poster

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that reminds you of why you love movies so much. Sometimes you forget because there is so much crap out there in commercial fare. First Reformed is just such a movie. Written and directed by Paul Schrader, it is a movie not to be missed.

First a little about Paul Schrader. He is now 71. When he was 24 and a film student he wrote a book, which proved to be very influential in the coming years, entitled, Transcendental Style in Film. He fell under the sway of esteemed film critic Pauline Kael and became a film critic himself. Two years later he was writing and directing films. He is best known for Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980). He has 24 screen writing credits and 23 director credits. Even though he is known for a particular style he has never employed the transcendental style in any of his movies. Until now.

First Reformed is shot in transcendental style which Schrader first defined as a 24-year-old film student. What is transcendental style anyway? A style of filmmaking employed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson, and Yasujiro Ozu. Transcendental style is an attempt to withhold certain cinematic elements the viewer might expect to see. Sometimes a static camera is employed, sometimes a kinetic camera. Slower cuts and fewer cuts. The camera might linger on a doorway a little while longer after a character leaves a scene, A static camera lingers on an empty room as characters enter then exit. The camera holds a little longer than expected. These devices are intended to make the viewer “lean’ in to the movie and to engage the viewer. It is a style that is intended to bring the viewer closer to the “other”, to the mystery.

It is called transcendental because there is a spiritual dimension that is sought after. This is achieved through style not content. Schrader later revealed in interviews that he realized what he was witnessing in some of the films he studied was an outgrowth of post WWII neorealism.

Schrader breaks from that style twice in First Reformed. The first time is a tender scene in which Toller and Mary lie on top of each other while they try to match their breathing patterns. Schrader asks himself, what would Tarkovsky do? Levitate! So, he has the couple mysteriously begin to levitate. The other time is the film’s final scene, which is I won’t describe here.

Schrader freely admits who his influencers were: “There is a little Tarkovsky in there. The credits are from Rossellini. The barbed wire is from Flannery O’Connor (I knew it!). That’s the secret of creativity. You have to steal around.” Also, it is pretty evident that Winter Light (1963), directed by Ingmar Bergman, was the blueprint for this film.

Ethan Hawke, in probably the best performance of his career, plays Reverend Ernest Toller, a character in spiritual crisis. He is pastor at the First Reformed Church which is a spin off of a mega-church called Abundant Life Ministries run by Reverend Joel Jeffers, played very effectively by Cedrick the Entertainer (Cedric Kyles) in an unusual casting choice.

Toller’s church is small and has few parishioners. The source of his pain is that as a military chaplain he encouraged his son to enlist in the army who was later killed in action in Iraq. His marriage did not survive his son’s death. His ministry at First Reformed is sort of a penance.

One morning after service a young woman approaches Toller and asks him to counsel her husband. Mary (Amanda Seyfried) is with child. Her husband Michael is going through a spiritual crisis of his own. He is an environmental activist and is very depressed at the thought of bringing a child into the world that is undergoing the throes of devestating climate change. He wants Mary to have an abortion. During their counseling session Michael asks the question, “Will God Forgive us for destroying his creation?”

Toller is a drinking man and keeps a journal in his spare study. He continues to drink and slips further into despair. After his dealings with Michael he slowly starts to become radicalized. He moves closer to Mary but cannot overcome his despair. The movie progresses to a startling conclusion which leaves the viewer a little bit perplexed. It is an ambiguous ending and we don’t know for sure if what we are witnessing is reality. In any case this is a powerful film that one is not likely soon to forget.

 

 

 

Fanny and Alexander

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I had the opportunity to watch the wonderful Fannie and Alexander (1981), written and directed by Ingmar Bergman, last night at the Speed Art Museum Cinema here in Louisville, Kentucky. This is the first time I’ve seen it on the big screen since it first came out in 1981. It is a sheer joy to behold. It is perhaps Bergman’s greatest film, The Seventh Seal not withstanding. This is the most autobiographical of all of Bergman’s films and pretty well sums up his life and work.

Scrumptiously and lovingly photographed by Sven Nykvist, every frame is a visual masterpiece of beauty and composition for which he won an Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also garnered three other Oscars nods including for Best Art Direction, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Costume Design. Bergman was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director.

 

According to the film notes the movie turned out to be extremely expensive and difficult to make. In terms of scale Fanny and Alexander became Bergman’s largest ever production with a cast of 50 actors. He shot over 25 hours of film. A made for TV version was pared down to five hours in length then he set to work putting together the feature film. Bergman’s first attempt came in at four hours. He tried again and got it down to 3 hours and eight minutes. Still long but manageable. The film is shown with an intermission which we did not take at the Speed Cinema.

Bergman said in his autobiography that after Fanny and Alexander there will be no more feature films for him. Feature films are a job for young people, both physically and psychologically.

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According to Bergman the film had two inspirations. One was a picture from the Nutcracker depicting two children huddling together on Christmas Eve waiting for the candles to be lit on the Christmas tree. The other was Charles Dickens. The bishop in his austere and pure house and the Jew in his antique store filled with old furniture and magical incantations and creatures. The Children are depicted as victims.

Fanny and Alexander are brother and sister in a bourgeois Swedish theatrical family. The film starts off on a snowy Christmas eve and is perhaps the most lavish and beautifully filmed Christmas celebration ever. The movie takes place in Swedish provincial town in the early years of the 20th century. The two children, Fanny and Alexander, are growing up in the bosom of a large, happy, extended family.  Their father, who is the stage manager of the theatre the family owns, dies unexpectedly.  Later, their mother remarries a stern, authoritarian clergyman. The juxtaposition of the vivacious theatre family with that of the dour, cold, and authoritarian bishop’s family could not be more stark and has its roots in Bergman’s own history. His father was a clergyman.

 

There are ghosts in the film which only Alexander can see. He is also prone to telling the most outlandish and imaginative lies for which he is severely punished at one point by his stepfather.  Alexander is also the master of the magic lantern with which he enchants his sister on Christmas Eve. It is not too far a leap to see the budding genius of Ingmar Bergman taking shape in the form of the young Alexander.

 

The movie is divided into three parts as in a three act play. We might remember Ingmar Bergman is as well known as a theatrical director  (at least in Sweden) as a film director. In a scene in the third section, Emily says to Helena. “I am reading a new play by Strindberg called A Dream Play and there is a perfect part in it for you.” Oh, no,” says Helena, not that misogynist!” “Oh but this part is perfect for you…” and off they go to talk about their next project and adventure.

I remember reading in Bergman’s autobiography how he struggled with A Dream Play when he directed it. He went on at length about the difficulty he had in staging a certain scene. When he finally found the key to his conundrum he was relieved but he also extolled the virtues of meeting the challenge. When I watched the above described scene I had to smile remembering that passage from his autobiography. I am most certain that no one else got the reference but me but for me it was another piece of the puzzle fitting together nicely and another dot connected.

Everything is here: Love, Sex, God, and Death. Now we know where Woody Allen gets it from. Actually, we knew all along that Ingmar Bergman has been a major influence on the films of Woody Allen.

This is the film against which I judge all others, a bench mark if you will,  and most others pale by comparison. That is why I am mostly disappointed with the current crop of films coming out of Hollywood these days.

Speed continues to bring to Louisville the best of the best movies and I couldn’t be happier.

 

 

Another Woman

Another Woman

“I realize you have been hurt. If I’ve done anything wrong, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I accept your condemnation.”

“You are a member of Amnesty International and the ACLU. And the head of the philosophy department. Impossible!”

These are two of my favorite quotes from the Woody Allen film, Another Woman. I like them each equally well but for different reasons. The first is such an outrageous statement by a phony pomposity of an ego so far gone as to defy augury and the other hits a little too close to home with the exception of being the head of the philosophy department. Woody Allen strikes gold here with his study of intellectual angst and mid life crisis. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to declare this film to be a mini-masterpiece.

I ran across this neglected, forgotten and, probably one you never heard of mini-masterpiece while scrolling through HULU one night looking for something decent to watch.  Oh, a film by Woody Allen! Let me check it out. Probably seen it before but what the heck? So I cued it up and started watching. Curiously enough I didn’t remember anything about it and was soon captivated and mesmerized by the haunting voice-over by one of it’s  stars and the brilliant cinematography of one of the worlds foremost cinematographers.

Another Woman was released in late 1988 and runs for 81 minutes. It was written and directed by Woody Allen. It stars Gena Rowlands as Marion Post, a middle aged philosophy teacher who is on sabbatical to write a book.  It is her voice-over we hear as the movie begins. She is describing her life as accomplished and reasonably well settled.

She rents an apartment downtown to work on her book without distraction and discovers that she is able to overhear the conversation between a patient (Mia Farrow) and her psychiatrist through the heating vents coming from the adjoining apartment. At first Marion blocks off the sound with pillows but later she starts to listen in. The patient is despondent, pregnant, and thinking of ending her life. Her name ironically is Hope.

This conversation gets Marion to thinking about her own life and through  series of coincidences, ruminations and, flashbacks, she encounters people from previous times in her life and she discovers she is not as happy as she thought she was.

This is a film of introspection and marvelous performances. A central theme of the film is that people can transform their lives to become more fulfilled. To say the film was Bergmanesque is rather stating the obvious. It has long been known that Woody has been greatly influenced by the Swedish master, Ingmar Bergman. Some say that this film resembles Wild Strawberries but I think it is more Persona like, which was also photographed by Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s favored cinematographer.

This is a wonderful film which I highly recommend.