Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ingmar Bergman
The great film-maker Ingmar Bergman died, aged 89, at the end of July, an event I can't let go unnoticed. What a life he had! 5 wives, 3 mistresses - including the beautiful and immensely talented Liv Ullmann, 9 children, 62 films, 3 Academy Awards and dozens of other prizes and nominations. On top of that he found time to direct 170 plays and operas, write numerous unpublished scripts, and get himself arrested for tax evasion, before finally retiring to a life of solitude on his beloved island of Faro. Bergman was one of the truly great artists of the twentieth century, and I'm sure he'll be remembered as such, but I couldn't help but notice the following 'damn with faint praise' passage in his Guardian obituary by the critic Brian Baxter:
"With his death a reassessment of his impressive output positions him among such talents as Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ray, Wilder, Visconti. These second rung, but never second rate, directors hover fitfully behind the handful of geniuses - Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, Rossellini - where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism. What Bergman and the others lack is the (seeming) simplicity of expression that belies inspiration: an inspiration which makes true what would not otherwise have been apparent. In short there is an over-emphasis, an over-weaning power of expression, that obscures the counter currents of emotion lying beneath the surface of the work of those five pantheon directors, in such of their masterpieces as Voyage to Italy (Rossellini), Gertrud (Dreyer), or Lancelot du Lac (Bresson) which are truly beyond criticism."
To be honest I don't really know what he's getting at there, but Mr Baxter is clearly a man with a high opinion of his importance as a universal arbiter of taste. Personally I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would attempt to demote Bergman to the 'second rung' of directors. I've seen Bresson's 'Lancelot du Lac' and Dreyer's 'Gertrud' and I don't think either can hold a candle to masterpieces such as 'Wild Strawberries', 'The Silence', 'The Seventh Seal', 'Smiles of a Summer Night', 'Persona' or 'Cries and Whispers'. Of the other great directors of that golden era only Andrei Tarkovsky (whom Bergman greatly admired) and one or two others, strike me as having produced such consistently profound, hauntingly poetic bodies of work.