Monday, July 30, 2007

R.I.P. Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman died at the age of 89 today. Considering how popular his films were on the "art-house" circuit of the 1950s and 60s, and the iconic status of The Seventh Seal, Bergman's films are held in remarkably low regard among film academics today. During my eight years in graduate school for Cinema Studies, I never once saw a Bergman film screened in my department. If he was mentioned at all in my classes, it was either dismissively, or in order to praise the post-modern appropriation of The Seventh Seal in Bill And Ted's Bogus Journey (which was admittedly brilliant).

This was in part because the discipline was moving away from interpreting films as works of "art" and placing greater emphasis on moving images as cultural artifacts. Studying film as art had become something of an "old-fashioned" avocation within the academy by the 1990s. In my department it would have been much easier to get a dissertation thesis on Madonna's music videos approved than one on Bergman's trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly/Winter Light/The Silence. But other directors from the international art cinema movement reputations' faired better: I never heard anyone badmouth the work of Kurosawa, Ozu, or Kubrick. Put simply, Bergman just wasn't fashionable.

It is no doubt well past time for a critical reassessment.


Anonymous said...

just wanted to bad mouth Ozu for you - i'd rather go to work than watch the boredom that is his work. some of Bergman's (and Kurosawa for that matter) films have always been amongst my all-time favs.

have been lurking for awhile now and then & really do enjoy your blog. keep it up
brettt from Oz

Pete Bilderback said...

Brett, I'm glad you enjoy the blog, but you are walkin' on the fightin' side of me badmouthing Ozu!

Back when I lived in NYC Film Forum showed all his surviving silent films, and Lincoln Center showed all his sound ones. I saw them all. Somehow I always managed to seat myself behind Susan Sontag and I would eavesdrop on her conversations about the films with her friend. They were not as insightful as I would have expected them to be.

In all seriousness, I can understand disliking Ozu, but if you are only familiar with his later work like Tokyo Story I would recommend you check out some of his silent films, especially I Was Born But.... His aesthetic was very different in the earlier films.

If you have already seen I Was Born But..., and didn't like it, when then I just don't know how to help you.

Kurosawa is also amongst my favorite directors. I once had a very interesting conversation with a homeless man whom I was sharing a jail cell with about Kurosawa...but I suppose that is a story for another day.