More deadpan sketches from the Songs from the Second Floor creator. Seems more despairing than funny, focusing mainly on two terrible novelty salesmen, but it’s punctuated by some crazy and memorable scenes – like when King Karl XII’s entire army passes by a modern-day bar, and the king enters on horseback – then again a few scenes later, defeated by the Russians (which actually took place in 1709). Then there’s the one scene of generous warmth and happiness, set in another bar run by Limping Lotta, who sings that she’ll trade drinks for kisses from the soldiers.

M. Sicinski:

The final shot in Pigeon, and therefore of the trilogy, involves random citizens at a bus stop, trying to help a confused man decide if it’s Wednesday. “But it feels like Thursday,” he protests. After awhile, an older man in a suit delivers the final word: “You can’t feel what day it is. Yesterday was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. You have to keep track of these things. If you don’t keep track of that, chaos will reign.” This pronouncement, gentle but firm, is the voice of liberal democracy, avuncular but brooking no disagreement. Some of us take years to sort out what it means for us to be human. But this man knows. If Pigeon finds Andersson lost in a shell game where every move is the same, it’s probably because this voice, and others like it, are winning every time.

Won the top prize at Venice, where it played alongside Birdman, The Look of Silence and 99 Homes – and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain, which has barely been heard from since.

Great to watch this again in high-def. I remembered it being interesting, but not looking this spectacular. Morose knight (Max Von Sydow) and his charismatic squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand of Winter Light, hard to adjust to him not being the morose one) are heading home through the plague-ridden country, accumulating other characters along the way. It’s both very serious about life and death and also full of jokes and lighter moments, so maybe the first Swedish horror comedy? Along the way, Jons has folksy/philosophical conversations with townsfolk, and the knight has religious/philosophical conversations with Death.

First, Jons rescues an intense, silent girl (Gunnel Lindblom: Sydow’s servant in Virgin Spring, his wife in Winter Light) from a dangerous thief. “I’m a married man, but with any luck my wife is dead by now, so I’ll be needing a housekeeper.” Then they come across actor/jester Jof (Nils Poppe of The Devil’s Eye) with his wife Bibi Andersson, sexy maid in The Magician), who’ve just been ditched by their more serious companion Jonas and need protection. Jonas has stolen the blacksmith’s wife (Inga Gill of Miss Julie), but the smith (Ake Fridell, Monika‘s dad) gets her back and Jonas wanders off to meet Death.

It’s been established that jester Jof can see spirits, so he’s the only one who realizes that the knight’s solo chess games are actually with Death, and that the knight is losing, so he escapes with his wife. The rest of the gang continues to the knight’s castle where his wife Karin (Inga Landgre, recently in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Remake) is waiting. The six of them are just having dinner when Death catches up, and out in a field with their young son, Jof sees Death leading them all away.

Peter Cowie calls the actors “medieval ancestors of those troubadours, those traveling musicians who are still so popular in Scandinavia today.” I’ve meant to ask Trevor how often he runs across troubadours. Cowie also calls this “the high point of Bergman’s symbolic period.” I’m pretty sure the sudden parade of self-flagellating religious nuts was a Monty Python influence.

Woody Allen:

His big contribution was that he developed a vocabulary to work on the interiors of people. He would choose these great and gifted actors and he would guide them so they could project these inner states of extreme emotional intensity. He would use close-ups and keep those close-ups going longer and longer, and he never let up. Gradually the psychological feelings of the character the actor was portraying just sort of show up on the screen. He was so unsparing with the camera. Finally you start to see the wars that are raging inside the characters, these psychological wars and emotional wars, and it’s no less visual in the end than the movements of armies.

Not what I was expecting after the increasing despair of Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light – I mean there’s plenty of despair here, and more relationships falling apart irreconcilably and suicidal behavior and children being forever warped, but for the culmination of a “Silence of God trilogy” and a film that was originally entitled God’s Silence, there’s a curious lack of discussion of God.

After a train trip through a country at war, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom, suicidal Sydow’s wife in Winter Light) and sickly Ester (Gunnel Lindblom, Winter Light pastor’s no-longer love-interest) land at a hotel, sit in their room deteriorating while Anna’s son Johan makes the hotel his playground, spying on the porter (I loved him, a friendly old man who only speaks his fictional home country’s made-up language) and cavorting with a roomful of dwarves. The sisters hate each other – Anna tells some uncomprehending hookup that she wishes Ester were dead, finally takes Johan and abandons her sister to the hotel.

Quiet and mysterious movie full of ambiguity – hard to tell much about the relationships or history, why they are here, where is here (a place that Ester, a professional translator, knows none of the language), what Ester and the boy are thinking.

L. Braudy:

Anna and Ester form two sides of a whole person, a theme Bergman would go on to further explore in Persona. Anna is defined almost entirely through her physicality — washing, anointing herself with perfume and lotions, getting dressed and undressed, having sex, watching others have sex. Ester, the translator, with her typewriter, paper, and pens, is instead a creature of language — suffering from the lung disease that suffocates her, masturbating, smoking, drinking, and thinking of sex as a mechanical matter of “erections and secretions” that disgust her. Her body in ruin, only words seem to keep her alive.

Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963, Vilgot Sjöman)

Extremely good, five-part doc on the making of Winter Light, which I’m obviously watching one movie too late, but I didn’t realize it existed back in February. Sjöman, who hadn’t yet made it big with the I Am Curious films, interviews Bergman at every step of the filmmaking process. Amazing to me how open Bergman is about his script after just having completed it, his intentions for filming before beginning.

Bergman:

“This is what we suffer from so terribly in watching American films, where everyone walks around acting so desperately natural, talking in this damned monotonous way. It makes it so dead and dull. It’s important to keep the dramatic contour. It’s not about just keeping up a naturalistic level of chatter, but actually playing a part, conveying a certain impression. And as you get towards the end of a movie – and the director must keep a careful eye on this – it’s important to raise the energy level in the actors. After having watched the film for an hour and a half, the audience is so tired that they need more energy. They need to understand the big picture.

Sven Nykvist:

Segments of process (except for scriptwriting) are interspersed with interviews discussing why things are done the way they are. For one Winter Light scene fragment, we see all the angles shot, then the first edit, then the final. Bergman gives this doc strict attention, not playing it off as PR fluff but maybe a chance to seem less forbidding to audiences as his films were turning more serious. And of course, he’s more conscious of his public image and the reception of the doc than he appears.

Vilgot for Criterion:

Bergman avoided some things, though. He was afraid of letting me read the first sketches he put on paper. These were later published in Bergman’s book Images: My Life in Film. So here we find the embryo for the film: the minister alone in the church, trying to force God out of his silence. Bergman was also afraid of letting the TV crew into the studio while he was working with the actors, so what I got for the TV series is an arranged rehearsal, made on a separate day after the real shooting was finished. … When time was ripe for the last interview, he didn’t approve of the result. “No good,” he said. He was blaming himself for being too superficial. “We have to do it once more, Vilgot.” So we did.

Bergman’s Dreams (2013, Michael Koresky and Casey Moore)

A Criterion-produced DVD extra without a DVD, stuck onto their blog and youtube, about dreams and dreamlike atmosphere in Bergman’s cinema – curiously without directly mentioning his film called Dreams or his TV adaptation of Stringberg’s A Dream Play (a major influence, Bergman closes Fanny & Alexander with a reading from it).

Set in one day, almost a real-time portrait of the failings of local pastor Gunnar Bjornstrand (bad father from Through a Glass Darkly). He gives his sermon to a sparse, unattentive congregation then has a series of disspiriting meetings in his office. Gunnel Lindblom (servant girl in The Virgin Spring) wants him to speak with her husband, a depressed Max Von Sydow, never looking more sad and powerless. Local atheist teacher, friend and off-again love interest Ingrid Thulin (Sydow’s secret wife in The Magician) writes the pastor a an attack/analysis letter, delivered as a speech to-camera.

Gunnar and Ingrid:

Then Von Sydow is back (mentioned: “a spider God, a monster”, direct callback to Through a Glass Darkly). He is feeling suicidal and the pastor so completely fails to help (“I’m no good as a clergyman,” he even admits) that Sydow promptly wanders outside and shoots himself in the head. Ingrid goes with Gunnar to inform the widow, and along the way he discusses their lack of a relationship. “I don’t want you. Once and for all I have to escape this junkyard of idiotic trivialities. And I don’t love you, because I love my wife. When she died, so did I.”

Widow Gunnel:

Off to the next church service in another town, joined by the hunchbacked sexton, a thoughtful man and the best character in the movie. Each tormented by their lives’ lack of meaning, Gunnar begins the service, which is attended only by Ingrid.

Sexton Allan Edwall, later in Fanny & Alexander and The Sacrifice:

A strong contender for Most Depressing Film of All Time. Made the same year as Frantisek Vlácil’s The Devil’s Trap (“an allegory regarding science, religion and secular power”) and The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Timothy Carey renames himself God and defies the other God to show himself. Max von Sydow would follow this up by playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

The ending, in Bergman’s words: “Irrespective of everything, you will hold your Communion. It is important to the churchgoer, but even more important to you.”

P. Cowie from the DVD extras:

When it came out, I remember certainly being very shocked that this did not look like a Bergman film. It didn’t have that spectacular technical expertise which we associated during the 50’s with Bergman. But looking back I think it was very deliberate on his part. It wasn’t a budget problem or anything like that. He just wanted something very, very wintry and very, very severe.

P. Cowie:

Film buffs who know Bergman’s earlier film Through a Glass Darkly will note the organist’s scornful dismissal of that work’s conclusion: “God is love; love is God.” Indeed, Winter Light stands as a bridge between Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence, as well as Bergman’s farewell to his own religious upbringing. Some might call it an exorcism.

Ebert:

The sexton, the little twisted man, alone has a face that is alive with wonder at the mystery of faith. He has been reading the Gospels, he says, and thinks the emphasis on Christ’s suffering on the cross is all wrong. Christ only suffered a few hours, he says, while he, Algot, has suffered more and longer, and it is not so bad. No, the real suffering of Christ came when his disciples betrayed him at Gethsemane, and when he cried out to a father who seemed to have forsaken him. He suffered because he feared no one had heard or understood his message. Christ suffered because he, too, was dismayed by the silence of God.

Ruka/The Hand (1965, Jiri Trnka)

Potter just wants to make pots and keep his little plant alive, but a fascist hand keeps intruding wanting him to sculpt fascist hands instead. Potter is kidnapped by the hand and forced to create hand progaganda but escapes only to die back at home. Banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia, naturally. Trnka’s final film – I will have to find more.

Johann Mouse (1952, Hanna & Barbera)

Jerry is a mouse in Strauss’s house who waltzes uncontrollably when the master is playing. The cat learns to play in order to set a trap, but the two are discovered and are invited to perform for the king. Cute enough, but I don’t know about oscar-winning. It beat a not-too-great Tex Avery, two from UPA and one from Canada, the same year McLaren’s Neighbours won best documentary (!?) short. Hans Conreid narrated.

Magoo’s Puddle Jumper (1956, Pete Burness)

Blind Magoo buys an electric car (!) and drives it into the ocean. Somehow his idiot son Waldo survived the bear short and tags along. People must’ve thought Jim Backus was hilarious. All three oscar nominees were UPA productions, so producer Stephen Bosustow could not have lost.

The Nightmare of Melies (1988, Pierre Etaix)

A fun Melies tribute incorporating the earliest cinema techniques, scenes from King Kong, an alka-seltzer commercial and late-80’s computer animation.

D. Cairns for The Forgotten:

Etaix additions to the source script make Méliès a prophet of the whole history of film, from the greatest special effects film of golden age Hollywood, up to the computerized visions of the present day (1988), and taking in the true nightmare of the television commercial. I love how the ad breaks in, hideously colorful and cheery, disrupting what is already a rather stylistically disparate piece .. almost to the point of disintegration.

Bimbo’s Initiation (1931, Dave Fleischer)

Bimbo is kidnapped by a cult that keeps attacking him with sharp things and spanking instruments then asking if he wants to be a member. He always answers no until confronted with dog-eared Betty Boop who dribbles her ass like a basketball. Maltin called it Fleischer’s darkest work, and Jim Woodring reveres it, naturally.

Tord and Tord (2010, Niki Lindroth Von Bahr)

“I felt my need for coffee becoming more and more apparent.”

Clearly somebody watched Fantastic Mr. Fox and David Lynch’s Rabbits then imagined a meeting of these two worlds. Sort of a less-violent stop-motion Fight Club, as a fox named Tord finds out his next-door neighbor is also named Tord, so they start hanging out and exchanging coded messages, until rabbit-Tord disappears and may not have ever existed.

The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello (2005, Anthony Lucas)

Cool silhouette animation, watched with Katy. Narrator/Jasper (Joel Edgerton, villain of Gatsby) is a disgraced navigator in an airship-steampunk future, whose ship stumbles across deadly creatures whose blood can cure the plague affecting Jasper’s home planet (and more specifically, his wife). Sort of an Alien meets Little Shop of Horrors, with an unresolved ending.

Director Lucas followed this up with a 3-minute rabbit short and worked on new anthology film The Turning. Writer Mark Shirrefs does lots of Australian sci-fi television. The Australians gave this a best-short award, but Oscars picked The Moon and the Son and Baftas the great Fallen Art.

Bobby Yeah (2011, Robert Morgan)

The story of a murderous kidnapper with a predilection for pushing red buttons. Possibly the most grotesque stop-motion movie ever – kudos to Morgan! Reminds of Symbol at times, with a confused-looking guy in a room pushing mysterious buttons with varying consequences, but this one also has elements of murder-spree crime drama, with much sexual imagery.

This might be the beginning of Late-Period Bergman – I’ve seen none before except Persona. He was the son of a major pastor, and the DVD extras say he was “coming to terms with religious baggage of his past” in this thematic trilogy. He “renounced a lot of the expressionism of the 50’s that he’d been known for,” but the compositions, in less stark black-and-white than before, are still striking.

Karin (Harriet Andersson: Monika, Petra in Smiles of a Summer Night) is on Bergman’s beloved island of Faro with younger brother Minus (Lars Passgard, who would not be a Bergman regular), husband Max von Sydow, and father Gunnar Bjornstrand (self-important Egerman in Smiles, Sydow’s challenger in The Magician). Things start out on shaky ground – she’s just back from psychiatric hospital where she got shock treatment, and when dad gets a moment alone he sobs in his office – and only get worse. An hour in, I was wondering which one of them would commit suicide – each seemed pretty likely – then a moment later Gunnar started speaking of his suicide attempt.

Karin finds her novelist dad’s diary about her illness. Minus gets caught looking at dirty pictures, always seems on the edge of panic, has incestual complications. Max is getting no love from his crazy wife, starts a bitter fight with Gunnar over his creative bankruptcy and exploitation of his daughter’s illness. But Karin is worse off than they realize, starts standing in an empty room staring at a crack in the wallpaper and insisting that God is going to come through.

“Your faith and your doubt are very unconvincing. All that’s apparent is your ingenuity.” Harsh words spoken by a character within a film series about faith and doubt. “Don’t you think I know that,” Gunnar responds, a bit of Bergman self-criticism, doubt about his own doubtfulness.

“The door opened, but the God that came out was a spider,” Karin says, resigned to a horrible fate just before the ambulance takes her away again. “Papa spoke to me” are the movie’s final words, a glimmer of hope from poor Minus.

P. Matthews on the Euro-arthouse films of the early 1960’s:

The denuded purity of its sacred texts was an implicit rebuke to Hollywood budgetary decadence, just as their oracular obscurity challenged a feel-good escapism whose meanings were only too pat.

A reprieve is nonetheless granted through earthly love – a coda shows the aloof father chastened and struggling to bond with his neglected son. That the director himself found this optimism facile can be judged from the diminishing spiritual returns in the trilogy, culminating in the almost total cosmic nullity of The Silence.

Ah, the mid-to-late 1960’s, when sex was freer and racism was lessening and students protested things and art was weird and you could have nudity in movies. Sjoman made a long movie (broken up into yellow and blue halves) combining fiction and documentary elements (including much behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s own making) featuring sex and protest and weirdness and nudity, successfully challenging censorship laws.

Vilgot and Lena:

I think Yellow is considered the classic important film and Blue its less-important little sister, but I enjoyed Blue more, maybe because I was used to the movie’s tricks and could pay more attention to the content. In both movies, Lena Nyman roams Sweden, escaping a cheating boyfriend, visits different national institutions, interviews passers-by about current social issues, hangs with friends and worries about her family but never seems comfortable anywhere, finally returns home and tells her cheating boyfriend that she has scabies.

Yellow has more of Vilgot, who is sleeping with Actor Lena (not Character Lena – though presumably neither is the Real Lena). Actor Lena starts dating the actor playing her boyfriend, which pisses off Vilgot, who latches onto a different young female film student at the end. A highlight is Lena’s imaginary discussions with Martin Luther King Jr.

Vilgot:

I was trying to introduce a Utopian idea about nonviolence: Sweden changing its military defense into one of nonviolence… Then I started to embellish that theme, and suddenly discovered that the girl was surrounded with symbols of aggression. She had knives in her closet, and a rifle. This is really a strange adherent of nonviolence!

Vilgot predicts his own death, quite incorrectly:

Blue opens behind-the-scenes with some public reaction to Yellow in the form of hate-mail to the studio. Lena will escape into the fictional film then Vilgot will break in and discuss character motivation. She hitchhikes to a prison, then stays with (and spies on) lesbian friends Sonja and Elin, and hangs with violent Hans and his apologetic girl Bim.

The crew sings a song about prisons:

G. Giddins:

When the crowds actually saw the picture, however, they felt cheated; pubic hair was in short supply, the sex was unerotic, and the running time mostly given over to a droll, Brechtian-Pirandellian, mock-vérité exploration of the chasm between the political and the personal.

Within a year or two, suburban theaters routinely programmed nudity-filled potboilers about nurses and stewardesses, soon to be followed by Deep Throat. Never again would audiences have to put up with socially redeeming values in the pursuit of pornography. Yellow triggered the sea-change that resulted, ironically, in the subsequent indifference towards Blue. It altered the American moviegoing experience, pointing the way to a post-code cinema.

Lena, curious:

On a Bergman kick lately, so I meant to watch this and Hour of the Wolf for SHOCKtober, but only made it to one. The beginning of Bergman’s extensive work with cinematographer Sven Nykist, brilliant looking but with less of the extreme blacks of Smiles of a Summer Night and The Magician. Supposedly this was stylistically influenced by Akira Kurosawa, after which Sven and Ingmar created their own style.

Pure and flowery Karin with dark, suspicious Ingeri:

Karin (Birgitta Pettersson, a housemaid in The Magician) is the beautiful daughter of Tore (Max Von Sydow, The Magician himself) and Mareta (Birgitta Valberg of Port of Call), sent to church to deliver candles one Sunday wearing her nicest dress. Pregnant dark-haired servant girl Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom of Winter Light) comes along. The parents are devout Christians (especially mom, who whips herself in atonement) but the girls aren’t – Ingeri prays to Odin and Karin seems to only care about being spoiled by her parents and looking pretty for boys. Along the way Karin flirts with a boy whom Ingeri knows, and the two flee from an icky bridge keeper.

Commentary says the raven represents Odin

The raven appears right after the old man at the bridge, an Odin supporter:

While Karin is alone she comes across a grotesque gang of acrobat goat-herdsmen brothers, and shares her lunch with them, but the two older ones chase then rape and kill her, while the youngest watches, afraid.

The herdsmen:

Karin, first realizing she’s in danger:

The brothers continue on their travels, ask refuge at Tore and Mareta’s house, and in private offer to sell Mareta a beautiful dress – the one Karin was wearing when she left that morning. So the parents already know Karin is in trouble, possibly dead, when Ingeri comes along and confirms it to Tore. “Kill me first. My guilt is greater than theirs. I willed it to happen. Ever since I became with child I’ve hated her. The very day I prayed for it, he did it. It was him and me, not the herdsmen.”

Sad parents:

Tore puts himself through a purification ritual, wrestles a tree to the ground, then waits for the brothers to awaken and kills them all (knife, fire, and throwing the young boy into the wall). Ingeri walks them to their daughter’s resting place. Mareta: “I loved her too much, Tore, more than God himself. When I saw how she favored you, I began to hate you. It is me God meant to punish by this. I bear the guilt.” When Karin’s head is moved, a spring bubbles up from the ground beneath it. Tore senses God is speaking to him, knows he went too far killing the boy, and swears to devote the rest of his life to building a church on that spot.

Von Sydow, out for blood:

Earlier when Ingeri is preparing sandwiches for Karin’s lunch, she puts a live toad between slices of bread, which falls out just before the murder. The DVD commentary: “in ancient scandinavian folklore, toads were thought to be the devil in disguise.”

The movie won an oscar (against Clouzot’s La Verite), but the American and French critics who’d been Bergman’s biggest champions trashed it. Bergman later said it should be regarded as an aberration in his work, and never made another film in an historical setting.

Tree wrestling:

A decade later Wes Craven took the same story and made reprehensible trash out of it with Last House on the Left.

Just before midnight of the new year, a salvation army sister named Edith, “stricken with galloping consumption,” sends for David Holm. Meanwhile across town, Holm (played by the director) gets in a fight with his fellow drunks and is killed. Many flashbacks ensue, including one inside another – the second movie I watched this month where that happens.

Firstly, the last person of the year to die must serve Death driving the phantom carriage for the next year – and time moves slowly after death so one night driving the carriage can seem like a year. So said Holm’s drinking buddy George just over a year ago (the movie points out that George knows such things because he went to college), and now George drives the carriage, passing the reins to Holm.

L-R: David Holm, David Holm, George:

Also a year ago, Edith opened her salvation army branch. Holm was her first guest, and she prayed he’d have a good year, asked him to return next new year’s eve. She stayed up all night patching his disease-ridden coat, catching the tuberculosis that would kill her. He stands up the next morning and tears out all the patches in front of her. So it’s the story of the most selfless angelic woman and the worst, drunkest, cruelest motherfucker (Holm also chases his wife with an axe Shining-style – commentary says probably inspired by a domestic violence scene in Broken Blossoms). Edith’s life (and death) and the phantom carriage both exist primarily to reform Holm, get him to drop the bottle and come back to his family – sort of a grimier It’s a Wonderful Life, a prohibition morality tale.

The whooshy ambient music seemed nice at first, but was perhaps too ambient. From the commentary: “Few, if any, previous films had been enveloped in the darkness of the night the way this film is” – and – “Sjostrom tends to avoid compositions that look too balanced, often shooting into the corners of rooms rather than straight at a back wall.” I appreciated this, as well as the great editing and unusual storytelling, making the movie seem decades more modern than the 1910’s tableau style. Also good acting and fun superimposition effects, overall a hundred times better than the contemporary Murnau film I watched this week. Also came out the same year as Lang’s similarly effect-heavy death-poem Destiny, the year before Haxan, and thirty-six before The Seventh Seal. Remade by Julien Duvivier after twenty years, and again back in Sweden after another twenty.

Holm’s wife vs. Sister Edith:

P. Mayersberg:

The film is surprisingly disconnected from Swedish Lutheranism. It is closer to Bergman’s demonic Hour of the Wolf than to the religious crisis of Winter Light. David’s sudden conversion at the end is not altogether convincing. He is given a last chance by coming back from the dead to save his wife from poisoning herself and their children out of hopeless desperation. But it isn’t God the Father who intervenes. It is his dead predecessor, coachman Georges, who is touched by David’s loving wife and the devoted Edit, who have fought so hard and long to save the man.