farewell bergman, farewell antonioni

In the last week in July, we lost two of film’s greatest artists, Ingmar Bergman (July 14, 1918-July 31, 2007) and Michelangelo Antonioni (Sept 29, 1912-July 30, 2007), whose films I grew up with when many appeared in the film festivals of my younger years and reliably unnerved and exhilarated me with their personal insights and formal boldness.

With Bergman it’s very much as Hamish Ford describes the work in Senses of Cinema: “Bergman’s mature cinema provokes the viewer into an intimate engagement in which a range of uncomfortable feelings are opened up, shared and laid bare. And this often occurs, quite literally, face-to-face.” He cites in particular Bergman’s “extraordinary use of the close-up” describing it as “a formal and thematic key to [the] work. In these frequent, almost embarrassingly close and radically elongated moments the viewer can see, think and feel existential sureties in different states of crisis-—as we watch subjects reduced to pure flesh, bones, mouth, nose, hair and eyes” (Hamish Ford, The radical intimacy of Ingmar Bergman, www.sensesofcinema.com).

This mirror-like confrontation was realised with the haunting clarity of Sven Nykvist’s (1922-2006) cinematography and wonderful performances elicited from Bergman’s long-term ensemble of performers by a director-writer who, although often working in the theatre, truly understood and explored the intimacies of cinema.

Bergman undoes time and space psychologically (most extremely in the psychotic transferences of Persona [1966] or the horrors of Hour of the Wolf [1968]—recently made available on DVD). So too does Antonioni, himself a cinematographer, warping time and space with the eye of a great modernist visual artist, often with minimal story-telling in his wonderful films of the 1960s. L’Eclisse (1962, cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo) evokes the complex lucidity of the great black and white photography of the 20th century; blocks of colour, as if out of Color Field painting, are used with devastating psychological effect in The Red Desert [1964, cinematographer Carlo di Palma); and, later, Antonioni revels in the painterly colour mutations of video.

Bergman and Antonioni realised their idiosyncratic visions through film while making works about film, drawing us deep into their worlds while keeping us at a distance, reminding us of the mechanics of film and film fiction (Antonioni’s ‘dead time’ of stopping the telling and simply looking), of the importance of surfaces and the experience of time, real and unreal, unfolding. Along with a handful of others these directors made cinema great in the 20th century. KG

RealTime issue #80 Aug-Sept 2007 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2007