Wednesday, August 01, 2007

GOOD OLD BOYS. The deaths of Antonioni and Bergman came to me as a double whammy from a great distance: I haven't watched their films in years, but both made a lasting impression on me. The astute Terry Teachout had a less than optimal experience revisiting Wild Strawberries in 2003, and it may be that either or both of these giants might look punier to me upon reconsideration than they did in my youth. But my memories of both director's films are clear and happy and I more or less trust them. It may be that I am less prone to disappointment than Terry, or more childish about old loves -- I enjoy Jason and the Argonauts on pretty much the same terms today as I did when I was a child; take that for what it's worth.

As for John Podhoretz' bizarre denunciation of Bergman in today's New York Post, I can only assume the 1970s were so traumatic for him that he feels it necessary to bear his grudges into the realm of excruciatingly bad taste. He certainly seems angrier at those of us who enjoyed Bergman's films than he is at the director himself, declaring that we think art "wasn't supposed to be easy to take or pleasurable to take in. It was supposed to punish you, assault you, scrub you clean of impurities." Well, The Virgin Spring ain't Star Wars, but there is more than one kind of pleasure, and Bergman's Medieval parable, rough as it may be, is well-built, stunningly photographed by Sven Nykvist, and deeply satisfying in its resolution. I don't think you have to be a snob to enjoy it, or to enjoy Max von Sydow's battle with the optical printer at the end of The Passion of Anna, or the recognizable conjugal truths of the contentious couple in Scenes from a Marriage.

For that matter, Antonioni's famous bleakness can be pretty funny, as in the first scene of The Eclipse, in which the most active member of the menage a trois is a rotating fan. I had many reservations about The Passenger when I saw it in re-release a few years ago, but I was never bored: even the misfired pairing of Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider was fascinating, and that last, long unbroken take at the end is exhilarating whether you think the film has earned it or not.

Rank them however high or low you like, but they applied themselves to their visions energetically and consistently and with undeniable craft. That's no small achievement.

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