31 July 2007

Checkmate Bergman

Ingmar Bergman, one of the greatest of all film artists, is dead.

I remember when I was a teenager hearing about Bergman from my elders, and I was intrigued by the almost hushed tones they used when speaking his name, as if coming into contact with one of his films was some kind of rite of passage.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached my first Bergman film - 'Wild Strawberries' I think it was. I had seen a few minutes of 'Persona' on television and what I saw perplexed and frightened me. It seemed deeply mysterious and even dreadful. So I was expecting something like a dose of medicine when I encountered 'Wild Strawberries', something that I might find painful but which was good for me, like swallowing cod liver oil.

But I was astonished by what I saw; by its warmth, its gravity, and its deep deep sense of humanity. How wrong I was. These are sensations I've associated with Bergman ever since, and I'm always deeply disappointed when stupid people use his name like a punchline for a kind of cinema they imagine to be pretentious and bloodless.

His seriousness and intellectual ambition is unfashionable now, which is a pity and a loss for the cinema. With any luck, now after he has gone, his name might be on people's lips again and it will be an excuse to get out the prints and show them to audiences and others might come away from the cinema feeling like their emotional range has somehow deepened just by seeing it, just as I did.

Now he has met Death, I can't help but wonder if He treated the director to a game of chess, for old time's sake.

No comments: