Thursday, August 2, 2007
Big Week for the Big Sleep
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, dead this week at 89, was unarguably one of the foremost figures in the world of International cinema, post -World War II. Essentially, along with fellow visionaries Welles, Fellini, Truffaut, Kurowsowa, and a perhaps a handful of others, he helped reinvent the basic visual grammar of film, and in the course of doing so became among the most influential and most parodied filmmakers ever. His barren physical and psychological landscapes, his penchant for harrowing close-ups, and long, static camera set-ups made his batch of classics—The Seventh Seal (’57), Wild Strawberries (’57), The Virgin Spring (’60), Persona (’66), Cries and Whispers (73), Scenes From a Marriage (’73) (and that’s just the front line)---instantly memorable, and brain-searingly unforgettable. Bergman utililized the language of film to bring the movies a mix of emotive, intellectual, and psychological charges heretofore-unseen in much of world cinema. While Bergman has passed, obviously his films haven’t, and here’s to further generations of eager, sweaty young film students shaking their heads over the Strindbergian dialogue, scratching their noggins at the dripping symbolism, and poking their own sleeping asses during the long silences and pregnant pauses that mark the standard Bergman film, before they make up their minds to get out there and write a screenplay for Porky’s 5.
How strangely convergent that Italian movie visionary Michelangelo Antonioni passed away on the same day as Bergman. Both were masters (and originators) of the very language of film, both favored landscapes and characters saturated with ennui, both suited up as decidedly highbrow filmmakers, and both help make the very concept of the prestige foreign film as a commercially viable one to American audiences. Antonioni’s series of audacious and bewitching films (including L’Avventura ’60, La Notte ’61, L’Eclisse ’62, The Red Desert ’62, Blowup ’66, Zabraskie Point ‘70) were all visually arresting and hypnotically paced (although many Americans viewers will swear to date that sitting through an Antonioni movie was exactly like watching paint dry), all depicting terrains dominated by a pervading sense of alienation and dissolution, movies that place more import on architecture and spatial relationships than actual ones, movies where the panoramic lens forced viewers to peer beneath the surfaces on display in order to even take a stab at what propelled the enigmatic characters depicted. Antonioni’s finest, and perhaps most accessible film, might be 1975’s The Passenger, a truly poetic treatise about isolation, despair, and contemporary disintegration, with the filmmaker as elegant visual stylist burrowing deep into the heart of darkness as personified by Jack Nicholson in one of his finest roles.
From the highbrow right to the so-called lowbrow, ex-Tomorrow (NBC, 1973-1982) talk shot host and longtime network figurehead Tom Snyder, was the kinda guy who might have had a hard time keeping a straight face when discussing the symbol-laden movies of arty filmmakers like Bergman and Antonioni. Notoriously cantankerous and unabashedly egotistic, Snyder was a breath of fresh air in the late night TV atmosphere, he could and would as easily poke fun at himself at he would engage a guest a spirited Q & A. For late night audiences during his heyday, many of us up late and well fortified by a wide variety of substances, Synder was a pure gas, his show a dynamic little headtrip, and he will always be fondly remembered for engaging the likes of Iggy Pop, the Sex Pistols, Sterling Hayden or Charles Manson. Snyder, and the show, could be a laff riot, theater of the absurd, or actual unvarnished riveting and compelling television. Snyder, who was only 71 when he died this past week, will long be remembered for his colorful rough-around-the-edges style and the indelible tribute/imitation turned in by Dan Ackroyd during Saturday Night Live at its early zenith.