Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bergman – A Year in a Life – continued: Bergman and Women

Nära livet / So Close to Life (1958). Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin as mothers-to-be. "For the contemporary audience this drama of childbirth came as a shock. Nevertheless, it was successful and won three awards in Cannes in 1958. / För dåtidens publik kom detta förlossningsdrama som något av en chock. Framgångsrik blev filmen hursomhelst och prisbelönades trefaldigt vid filmfestivalen i Cannes 1958." © Nordisk Tonefilm / Folkets Hus och Parker. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman. Please click to enlarge the image.

In Jane Magnusson's documentary film Bergman – A Year in a Life there is a tendency to insinuate that Ingmar Bergman abused women. I wish Magnusson would state this outright and examine the evidence pro and contra. I'm not sure whether she really thinks that Bergman abused women but in this year of the Me Too movement it is a lucrative insinuation to make.

I am myself a supporter of the movement. Ingmar Bergman did not participate in movements but I'm sure he would have supported the Me Too movement whole-heartedly. Real cases of abuse and harassment in society are widespread and devastating, and one should focus on them. The movement is weakened by unfounded insinuations.

Bergman was no angel. His personal life was in turbulence before the 1970s. But abuse and harassment were alien to him. His relationships were based on mutual love. His affairs with women were not particularly numerous. He had ten major relationships, all serious. He was discreet about them.

Mikael Timm who interviewed all the women for his Ingmar Bergman biography was astounded by the fact that they spoke well of Bergman and of each other. Those whom he had treated worst called back to Timm to ensure that the biographer would not speak ill of Ingmar.

Timm asked Bergman how this is possible. Ingmar laughed happily. "Look, it is more important to have a good relationship with your wife after divorce than during marriage!" With the exception of the first one, Karin Lannby, Bergman stayed in touch with everybody and learned to know their new partners.

"I am a very good friend with all my wives. We have always tried to surround ourselves with love and proofs of tenderness after divorce. When the duties and the roleplay disappear, all the attributes one once fell in love with emerge again. Then even the original feelings return and one can have extraordinarily interesting discussions of the shared life".

This is the special and perhaps unique feature in Bergman's relationship with his women.

Women were Bergman's prime inspiration. His portraits of women are among the most exciting and versatile in the history of art. He ignored stereotypes and portrayed interesting, modern, and independent Swedish women. He encouraged his actresses to grow, and many, as we know, rose to their wings in brilliant, independent careers. It was a fruitful collaboration in many ways. Bergman never belittled women, on the contrary.

Magnusson cites a remark on sexual violence which Bergman had deleted from his manuscript for Laterna Magica. This act happened in the Karen Lannby relationship in 1940. It was a stormy one. Not only was Karen older but she was more experienced. Because Ingmar was discreet, and quick to admit his own weaknesses while not blaming others, we will never know the whole story, but evidently they were experimenting the full range of sex, including S/M.

There is a "dark side of genius" in the Bergman story. He did neglect his children, as discussed by Margarethe von Trotta in her documentary In Search of Ingmar Bergman.

P.S. 20 Aug 2018. Magnusson also insinuates that Bergman abused women by inserting nude scenes in the beginning of his career.

In fact discreet nudity was not unusual in the Nordic cinema of the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s. (The world changed in the 1960s but that's another story). Bergman was not different from the rest. In Nordic summer films young people tend to wear bathing suits, but that is realism, and it seems that such films were popular with men and women alike. There is very little nudity in Bergman's early films, certainly not more than in films of other Nordic directors.

Bergman's films were good and they were exported, and their realism was abused in U.S. marketing, but that was hardly Bergman's fault. The same thing happened with Arne Mattsson's films. (And also with some Finnish films).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Bergman – A Year in a Life – continued: Bergman and Nazism

William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice / Köpmannen i Venedig (1940), school play production at Norra Latin directed by Ingmar Bergman starring Gösta Prüzelius as Shylock and Erland Josephson as Antonio (top left). Teater, 1940: Köpmannen i Venedig. Bergman och Erland Josephson samarbetar för första gången i denna "fickupplaga" av Shakespeares klassiker. "Det kunde kanske tyckas att Shylockdramat skulle vara en alltför vansklig uppgift att föra i land för en trupp ungdomar, men de lyckades faktiskt överraskande bra." Jerome i Dagens Nyheter. Den tonårige Erland Josephson fascinerades av den knappt vuxne Bergman: Jag var imponerad, hänförd, omtumlad. Det här var en sanslöst begåvad människa. Dessutom hade han en älskarinna. Hon svepte in i Norra Latin insvept i något pälsartat om halsen för att bevista vår repetition. Ingmar förde henne med belevad sirlighet till första bänk. Han presenterade henne som Sveriges Största Amatörskådespelerska. Han var redan en erfaren man. Jag gapade. Erland Josephson i titelrollen ansågs ”värdig och imposant” medan Gösta Prüzelius gjorde en ”ypperlig” Shylock. I Dagens Nyheter konstaterade signaturen Jerome (Göran Traung): "Det kunde kanske tyckas att Shylockdramat skulle vara en alltför vansklig uppgift att föra i land för en trupp ungdomar, men de lyckades faktiskt överraskande bra." Källor: Ingmar Bergmans Arkiv. Erland Josephson, Rollen: antecknat på turné med Körsbärsträdgården 24/2 – 15/5 1989, (Stockholm, Bromberg, 1989). Henrik Sjögren, Lek och raseri: Ingmar Bergmans teater 1938-2002, (Stockholm, Carlssons Bokförlag, 2002).
 Medarbetare: Gösta Prüzelius, Shylock. Erland Josephson, Antonio. Image and text: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

In her documentary film Bergman – A Year in a Life Jane Magnusson discusses the topic of Ingmar Bergman and Nazism. In his memoir Laterna Magica and his interviews Bergman consistently emphasized his Nazi enthusiasm that lasted until well after the end of World War II when he became convinced of the truth about the Holocaust.

The trouble with Ingmar's account is that nobody confirms it.

I have never believed it because it is out of character. Nazism is consistent with what Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer called the authoritarian personality. Ingmar's personality was nothing if not anti-authoritarian. Since his first film credit, Torment (1944), Ingmar had a high profile in attacking authority. The account of the sadistic schoolmaster Caligula (played by Stig Järrel) was immediately understood as an anti-Nazi allegory. The young Bergman sympathized and identified with young non-conformists at odds with society. There is an affinity in Bergman's screenplay with Weimar cinema, its rebellious stance against an insane authority which had led Germany to the First World War.


In 1940–1941 Karin Lannby was the woman in Ingmar Bergman's life. Lannby (1916–2007) was the first woman with whom Ingmar Bergman lived together. Although she was only two years older than the 22 year old Ingmar she was already a woman of the world.

Lannby's mother was the director of the Swedish office of MGM and a co-owner of Hotel Carlton in Stockholm. Since youth Karin was well connected and travelled, participating with her mother on luxury cruises and trips abroad. Since Karin was 15 years she was also a militant anti-fascist, a member of the socialist student union Clarté and the Swedish Communist Youth. She participated in the Spanish Civil War as a volunteer interpreter and secretary at a hospital in Alcoy in red Valencia. She stayed for a year in Barcelona and became involved with the Comintern. She also published a collection of poetry, Cante Jondo, in 1937. After the Hitler-Stalin pact in August 1939 she cut her ties with communists and became a spy for the counter-intelligence of the Swedish Defence Staff (Försvarsstaben). Lannby was a hard-core anti-fascist not only in opinions but also in actions.

Lannby was Ingmar's partner at Sagoteatern and Medborgarteatern where they mounted plays for children (in which professional actors performed for children). Lannby had rarely been mentioned in the context of Bergman but when Mikael Timm asked about her Ingmar answered: "I have her to thank for a lot. She shook me from my intellectual lassitude". The multilingual Karin urged Ingmar to study new international drama. She was excellent in networking and financing. She played the mother in Bergman's production of August Strindberg's The Pelican at the Student Theatre in 1940. Among their successes at the children's theatre was H. C. Andersen's The Tinderbox. Karin recommended to Ingmar the dancer and choreographer Else Fisher who soon became Ingmar's first wife.


In 1940 Ingmar Bergman started also his lifelong collaboration with Erland Josephson (1923–2012) whom he already knew before. Erland, author, director, theatre director and actor, became Ingmar's best friend.

In 1940 Erland was a schoolboy, a student at the Norra Latin Läroverket. The student society Concordia had decided to mount a production of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and they were auditioning for a director. Ingmar Bergman made an instant impression when he appeared in front of the Concordia accompanied with his woman-of-the-world companion Karin Lannby.

Although the production was a school play it drew fine reviews from the press, including from the leading newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

The Merchant of Venice is always sensitive material because of Shylock, one of the most famous / infamous Jewish characters in world literature. In Nazi Germany and Austria it was often produced in terms of anti-semitism. Werner Krauss played Shylock in Vienna in 1943 in a viciously ingenious interpretation that reportedly efficiently converted audiences to anti-semitism.

In contrast, Bergman's interpretation was philosemitic, portraying Shylock as a a victim of oppression and prejudice. Casting against type, Erland Josephson got to play Antonio, the merchant. Erland Josephson later remembered that the production was "clearly anti-Nazi". In the Concordia annual booklet that was available at the performances Tore Tegengren wrote: "For us Shylock appears as a tragic figure, a victim of race hate and Christian intolerance".

This experience inspired Erland Josephson to become an actor.

Erland's father Gunnar Josephson was the head of the Jewish Congregation of Stockholm, deeply involved in the congregation's activity to help Europe's Jews in 1933–1945. He was the CEO of Sandberg's Bookstore, Ingmar's favourite bookstore where he used to hang around because as a student he could not afford to buy many of the books he wanted.

The Josephson family is a prominent Swedish Jewish family, well-known members of which include Ernst Josephson (1851–1906, poet and painter), Erik Josephson (1864–1929, architect), Ragnar Josephson (1891–1966, head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre), and many more.

The interpretation of The Merchant of Venice was no exception in Bergman's work in the 1940s. Mikael Timm details a long list of productions with contemporary social relevance. Bergman was never a political director but neither was he escaping reality.

Ingmar had been banned from his home after a violent clash with his father. Ingmar envied Erland's liberal home "teeming with cultural figures". Perhaps the two homes in Fanny and Alexander are a reflection of this: the bishop's authoritarian home and the liberal Jacobi home. During their lifelong friendship Ingmar admired Erland's wisdom that "dated back thousands of years" as reported by Mikael Timm.


I had been puzzled by Bergman's Nazi claims for a long time, and provoked by Geoffrey Macnab's article in Sight & Sound, December 2007, I decided to ask Erland Josephson about them.

I was kindly given his telephone number by Jon Wengström at the Swedish Film Institute and called him on 29 November 2007, expecting to be answered by someone who would take a telephone appointment for me. But it was Erland Josephson himself on the phone, and I was not equipped with a recording device; I just wrote down notes after the conversation. I had to focus on listening and was not able to take notes simultaneously. I asked Josephson whether it would be possible to visit him and discuss the theme of Bergman and the Nazis. He apologized that he was not in particularly good health.

Erland Josephson told that he had learned to know Ingmar already in 1938-1939. He also confirmed that the The Merchant of Venice production was pro-semitic.

I then asked whether it was true that Ingmar was a Nazi sympathizer who only after the war woke up to the Nazi reality. Erland said that this was not true. About the Bergman family's Nazi sympathies Josephson said that it was more a case of German sympathies among the bourgeoisie.

He told that one knew in Sweden about the persecutions and the concentration camps in Germany, and facts about the Holocaust were well documented in Sweden already when it happened.

Referring to Fanny and Alexander, The Serpent's Egg, The Touch, and The Goldberg Variations I asked whether Bergman had any special interest in Jewish culture.

There was a long silence, and Erland said that nobody had asked that question before.

"Ja, det tror jag han hade", he said: "yes, that's what I think", but they never had a discussion about that, "aldrig någon diskussion". "Aldrig på det sättet", "never in that way".

The one time Josephson played a Jewish character in a Bergman film was the role of Isak Jacobi in Fanny and Alexander. Josephson wondered whether there was a real-life model for him, "en förebild i verkligheten".

Josephson was also aware that Bergman may have had a childhood love affair with a Jewish girl.

Mr. Josephson said he is not able to write himself about these things, and he has never done it before.

I thanked him and expressed a wish to come to visit him to talk about this in detail. I waited too long and perhaps Erland's health condition would have prevented the visit anyway. He had long suffered from Parkinson's disease (he was even a "voice of Parkinson" in public discourse), but his mental presence was bright and clear when I called him.

About one year later in Judisk Krönika ([The Jewish Chronicle, the cultural journal of Swedish Jews] 2 / 2009) there was a remarkable dossier on Erland Josephson and Ingmar Bergman. There was an in-depth interview with Erland Josephson by Michaela Lundell, titled "I Want to Know Who I Am". There was also a translation of an interview with Morton Narrowe, a rabbi of the Jewish Congregation in Stockholm, with Katharina Schmidt-Hirschfelder. Bergman had become intrigued with the concept of "another dimension" in Judaism while he was preparing the production of The Goldberg Variations. He received a crash course in Judaism and was so impressed that he asked whether it would be possible to become "a honorary Jew". To Bergman's disappointment Narrowe replied that no such thing exists.


While there was initially a positive attitude towards the Nazi government in the Bergman family, the attitude changed. Erik Bergman condemned the Nazis in his sermons. In 1939 Erik and Karin Bergman rescued a German boy, Dieter Winter, whose mother was Jewish and who was in danger to be called to a "labour camp". He stayed with the Bergmans for years.

Movingly, his son Jan Winter (born 1950) is interviewed by Jane Magnusson in her film, and this year, in May, Winter published a book, Dieters bok – flykting hos familjen Bergman [Dieter's Book - a Refugee in the Bergman Family] about his father's stay with Erik and Karin Bergman (Förlaget Tongång, 2018).


There is a perverse sense of self-demonization in Ingmar's Nazi claims. He was living together with a militant anti-Nazi activist, Karin Lannby. He was a friend of the Josephson family, seminal in helping Jewish refugees. An anti-authoritarian stance was consistent in his plays and films. His family rescued a refugee of the Holocaust.

Perhaps Ingmar had an overdeveloped sense of guilt about his initial fascination with Hitler's Germany. There had been a musical evening in Thüringen, listening to the banned records from The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Bergman became infatuated with a girl called Rebecka. Rebecka wrote to him in Sweden, but Ingmar did not answer at once, and then he heard that the family had moved away from Weimar. "Her memory stayed with him like a minor chord" (Mikael Timm).

Perhaps the shame of not having helped Rebecka developed into a Nazi fabrication.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bergman – ett år, ett liv / Bergman – A Year in a Life

Bergman yksi vuosi, yksi elämä.
    SE 2018. PC: B-Reel Films. Co-production companies: SVT, SF Studios, Gotland’s Film Fund, Film Capital Stockholm fund, Nordsvensk Filmunderhållning, Reel Ventures and Motlys. With support from: The Swedish Film Institute, The Norwegian Film Institute, Nordisk Film & tv fond and Creative Europe.
    D: Jane Magnusson. CIN: Emil Klang 1920 x 1080 2K DCP. ED: Hanna Lejonqvist. Head of research: Henrik von Sydow. Assistant researcher: Erik Galli. Sound: 5.1
    117 min.
    Original language: Swedish, English.
    From my viewing notes:
    Languages also include: French, German, and Norwegian.
    Featuring: archival: Ingmar Bergman, Dick Cavett, Dag Bergman, Bibi Andersson, Linn Ullmann.
    Featuring: new: Arne Strömgren, Gunnel Lindblom, Jan Troell, Thommy Berggren, Birgit De Geer, Dick Cavett, Gösta Ekman, Barbra Streisand, Arnold Weinstein, Jan Malmsjö, Jan Winter, Maria-Pia Boëthius, Michael Degen, Owe Svensson, Mikael Persbrandt, Anders Thunberg, Katinka Faragó, Inga Landgré, Gunilla Palmstierna Weiss, Birgitta Pettersson, Peter Fischer, Stefan Larsson, Lena Endre, Roy Andersson, Marie Richardson, Liv Ullmann, Kenne Fant, Suzanne Osten, Pernilla August, Benny Haag, Bengt Wasenius, Lena Olin, Madeleine Grive, Antonia Pyk, Agnetha Ekmanner, Thorsten Flinck, Anita Haglöf. Short remarks by (probably from Bergman's Video): Lars von Trier, John Landis, Holly Hunter, Zhang Yimou.
    Finnish premiere: 10 Aug 2018, released by SF, with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Irmeli Kuusela / Lars Thorsell.
    Viewed at Kinopalatsi 3, Helsinki, 11 Aug 2018

Based on Finnish reviews yesterday I was not looking forward to seeing Bergman A Year in a Life. The emphases on the reviews were based on misrepresentations in the spirit of the "dark side of the genius" formula, fashionable in the 1970s, a latterday representative of which is the scandal journalist Thomas Sjöberg. Unfortunately this film has been influenced by him and it does play around with scandal in a way that is easy to misunderstand. There is a wealth of first rate material on Bergman which the film-makers have ignored. Of the several Ingmar Bergman centenary tribute films this is the weakest.

I loved Jane Magnusson's Bergman's Video series, based an inspired and illuminating concept, full of humour and surprises. Magnusson loves Bergman's films but evidently despises him as a person. It his her right, but a film based on contempt can become tedious to watch.

That said, I'm infinitely grateful for the wealth of archival material included from Bergman's work in film, the theatre, and television, including his precious "making of" films, and the archival interviews with Ingmar. The real sensation here is the interview footage with Ingmar's brother Dag Bergman, which had been suppressed by Ingmar. Dag turns upside down Ingmar's claims about their common childhood (we already knew this from other accounts by family members).

Among the many new interviews it was engrossing to see here the one with Inga Landgré (born 1927), the star of Ingmar's debut film Crisis (1946). And Kenne Fant, who died two years ago at 93. And Gösta Ekman who died last year at 77. A surprise witness is Jan Winter, the son of Dieter Winter who as a child was rescued from the Holocaust by the Bergman family. Also the testimony of Liv Ullmann is important, swimming against Jane Magnusson's anti-Bergmanian current.

My emotional response to this film is that it does include a full official acknowledgement of Bergman's merits as an artist, but it does not come from the heart. Instead, the hate against Bergman as a person seems genuine and heartfelt.

Bergman A Year in a Life is a feature film connected with Jane Magnussons's multi-episode tv series project on Bergman. The announced focus of the feature film is on Bergman's annus mirabilis, 1957, but it keeps digressing to cover everything. The film might have been stronger if it had stayed in focus. There certainly would have been enough exciting material!

Now there is a bit too much surfing from topic to topic and soundbite to soundbite in regular dvd bonus feature fashion. Because Magnusson genuinely loves the films, it would have been rewarding to hear more about her personal in-depth evaluations of Bergman's films premiered in 1957, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries her own updated reaction to them. Wild Strawberries is not flawless, and The Seventh Seal has been endlessly spoofed. How have they stood the test of time?

And how would a woman evaluate Brink of Life, also produced in 1957 (but released the year after)? It's a practically all-woman affair, and not the only one in Bergman's oeuvre. What is the feminist reception of Bergman today? Bergman was never interested in female stereotypes. His women were modern, complex, surprising and independent. His actresses never had to repeat themselves. He loved to give them new challenges.

Technically the film is very well made. The music score is conventional.

The clips from the new digital restorations seem brilliantly unreal, sharp and airless. This is not how the films originally looked.


Monday, August 06, 2018

M (2018)

FI © 2018 Anna Eriksson. P: Anna Eriksson / Ihode Management Ltd. / Cursum Perficio. Created and written by Anna Eriksson. Cinematography: Matti Pyykkö – scope 2,35:1.
    C: Anna Eriksson, Petri Salo, Gail Ferguson, Axel Sutinen, Pietari Kaakkomäki, Asta Vieno, Ari Vieno, Paola Bärlund, Veera Siivonen, Joni Segerroos, Dulce Rodriguez-Saldivar, Melanie Rodriguez-Saldivar, Britany Rodriguez-Saldivar, Augusting de Higuera Blanca, Susana Gonçalo, Steve Ramigio Delgado, José Paiva Wolff, Quim-Ze Grilo, Gloria Bleezard-Levister, Alonso Levister, Alexandre Fabião, Oliver Nurmi, Issey O'Brien.
    All female voices & narration: Anna Eriksson. Sound design: Anna Eriksson. Editing: Anna Eriksson. Colour grading: Anna Eriksson & Eliel Kilkki. Co-production in Portugal & Anubis character: Petri Salo & Axel Sutinen. Heavy metal track: "No Doubt" by Shapeless. Graphic design: Pietari Kaakkomäki. Production support: The Arts Promotion Centre Finland (Taike).
    Loc: Portugal.
    90 min
    Vimeo screener link viewed at home, Helsinki, 6 Aug 2018.

Anna Eriksson: "M is a work of art that explores the relationship between sexuality and death. These two appear to be at opposite poles, but in fact they merge in all of us, disguising the fear of death or the desire to die, the world of Eros."

AA: Ultimately, Marilyn Monroe was a poet although she emerged in the industrial circumstances of a dream factory. She was a living paradox. Susan Strasberg called her "an iron butterfly".

Her friends included poets from Dylan Thomas to Carl Sandburg. More than a hundred poets dedicated poems to her when she died. Among her friends were also writers from Carson McCullers to Truman Capote. Not forgetting playwrights such as Tennessee Williams and her husband Arthur Miller.

For Jean Cocteau poetry was an Orphic quest. Through a dark mirror the poet enters the kingdom of Death. When he returns he keeps hearing messages from the beyond.

Half a year before her death Marilyn Monroe visited Luis Buñuel in Mexico on the set of The Exterminating Angel. Silvia Pinal starred in Buñuel's films at the time, to be followed by Catherine Deneuve. Buñuel was in his blonde period, as was Hitchcock. Beauty and death was a shared theme. David Lynch was also obsessed by this theme in Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway.

A surrealistic current is present in Anna Eriksson's film M. The central character is not like Marilyn Monroe, but there are superficial and profound affinities with her. We meet a beautiful blonde going through an existential crisis. An Anubis character emerges as a representative of the underworld and afterlife.

M is also a passion play. Physical pain was a constant current in Marilyn Monroe's life. M is a story of torture. A tale not about the pleasures but the suffering of the flesh. This sex goddess is deeply unhappy.

Monroe achieved stardom in the final stage of the Hollywood studio system. She was a prisoner of the Production Code and the dated attitudes of a conventional generation. But she was also a harbinger of the future. The promise of hers has haunted film stars of later generations, including Melanie Griffith, Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kim Basinger, Annette Bening, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Scarlett Johansson, Sharon Stone, Patricia Arquette, and Michelle Williams.

Marilyn Monroe was a goddess of pop art since its beginning in 1956 when a Marilynesque character appeared in a work called "Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?" by Richard Hamilton (whom we remember this year also as the designer of The Beatles' White Album 50 years ago). Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, James Rosenquist, Andy Warhol, Mimmo Rotella, George Segal, Nam June Paik and others would create Pop Art works inspired by her image. Particularly Warhol who had always a memento mori approach in them. Sex and death. Also Salvador Dalí created a Marilyn Monroe painting of his own called "Mao Monroe".

In pop music Marilyn has always been present since Bob Dylan and The Who. A new turn happened with Madonna's "Material Girl" concept. Marilyn had created a brilliant satirical interpretation as Lorelei Lee. Madonna seemed to celebrate what Marilyn had lampooned. Marilyn's was a battle of survival with her star image, "her albatross", which was always on the verge of overwhelming her. Madonna turned the tables and repurposed her image as a weapon, in the process turning into an anti-Marilyn. In a parallel process she adopted the Robot Maria persona, the anti-Maria in Metropolis.

Lady Gaga has also played with the legendary Marilyn image. More profoundly, she has been inspired by Alexander McQueen's oneiric visions, deep in the realms of Eros and Thanatos.

Anna Eriksson's quest has affinities with all of them: Buñuel, Lynch, Warhol, and McQueen, not forgetting Magritte. M is a mysterious and shocking trip, not for the faint hearted. The camera does not shy away from the secrets of the flesh. We do enter splatter territory. The physical frankness is startling. It has links with the heritage of female avant-garde film-makers from Maya Deren to Yoko Ono, Valie Export, Chantal Akerman and Penelope Spheeris, and also affinities with performance art. It goes beyond exhibitionism and voyeurism.

M is not a laff fest. We do not see the radiant, smiling habitus of the love goddess. We meet the shadow. Masters of comedy can be depressive out of the limelight. Martin Scorsese created a memorable study of this in The King of Comedy starring Jerry Lewis.

The soundscape is complex, haunting and evocative.

The visual world is assured and poetic. The cinematography has been conducted by Matti Pyykkö in Marilynesque CinemaScope. A parallel world to Los Angeles is discovered in Portugal, and also here the oceanic presence is of the essence.

The characters are not conveyed as psychologically well rounded personalities. They are emblematic figures, striking presences in a performance.

Anna Eriksson's M reverses expectations. Deliberate in tempo, it slowly grows into a shattering experience.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Skammen / Shame - continued

Skammen / Shame. The finale.

More about Shame.

Ingmar Bergman's film was a reaction to the Vietnam war. That first television war was present in our homes every night. Many were baffled by Bergman's abstracted account of war. Bergman was not at home in political cinema, and he stayed outside political commitment in his films. Shame was as far as he could go: an act of solidarity towards people, individual human beings caught in the war. His contribution was to show with special insight the psychological process of degradation in war.

Having seen Shame again after many years I find it relevant also for our contemporary Memorial Year 1918 in Finland. We are discovering important new emphases in our knowledge about our civil war a hundred years ago, including the fact that many decided to stay neutral, like Eva and Jan in Shame. (Jan even refuses to listen to the radio or watch television). But even people who stayed neutral were brutally punished.

Shame is also relevant to our contemporary discussion about fake news in the age of Trump and Brexit. Indoctrination and propaganda may be reasons for Jan and Eva to ignore the news. Still they become victims: Eva is forced to give a television interview, and her voice is post-synchronized to fit occupation propaganda purposes.

Also the finale resonates with today, our epic refugee crisis. The house of the musicians Jan and Eva has been burned, their musical instruments destroyed. They become refugees who escape in a boat with many others. When the motor fails the captain commits suicide by drowning. In the last images the boat gets stuck amid floating bodies.

Skammen / Shame (2015 digital restoration)

Skammen / Shame with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann.

    SE 1969. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri / Cinematograph AB. [Financial participation: United Artists via advance sales]. P: Lars-Owe Carlberg. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – 1,37:1. PD: P. A. Lundgren. AD: Lennart Blomkvist. Cost: Mago. Makeup: Cecilio Drott, Helena Ulofsson-Carmback. SFX (pyrotechnics): Rustan Åberg. S: Lennart Engholm, Evald Andersson. ED: Ulla Ryghe. Script supervisor: Katherina Faragó. Military advisors: Lennart Bergqvist, Stig Lindberg.
    C: Liv Ullmann (Eva Rosenberg), Max von Sydow (Jan Rosenberg), Gunnar Björnstrand (Colonel Jacobi, Mayor), Birgitta Valberg (Mrs. Jacobi), Sigge Fürst (Filip, guerrilla leader), Hans Alfredson (Lobelius, antique dealer), Ingvar Kjellson (Oswald, the teacher in the interrogation room), Frank Sundström (interrogator), Ulf Johansson (the doctor in the interrogation room), Frej Lindqvist (the sadist in the interrogation room), Rune Lindström (a corpulent gentleman), Willy Peters (old officer), Bengt Eklund (the guard at Jacobi's expedition), Åke Jörnfalk (the condemned), Vilgot Sjöman (the television interviewer), Lars Amble (officer), Björn Thambert (Johan), Karl-Axel Forsberg (secretary), Gösta Prüzelius (the vicar in the interrogation room), Barbro Hiort af Ornäs (woman in the refugee boat), Agda Helin (merchant wife), Ellika Mann (female prison guard in the interrogation room).
    In collaboration with: Försvarsmakten (Swedish Armed Forces).
    No music, but Jan hums a few notes of Bach. J. S. Bach: 4. Brandenburgisches Konzert BWV 1049, Zweiter Satz: Andante (eine Sarabande).
    Principal photography: 11 Sep – 23 Nov 1967. Loc: Sudersand (Fårö), Visby (Gotland).
    Premiere: 29 Sep 1968.
    Helsinki premiere: 3.1.1969 Maxim, distributor: Oy United Artists Films Ab – telecast: 13.10.1975 MTV1 – VET 77205 – K16 – 2828 m / 103 min
    Digital restoration 2015.
    2K DCP with English subtitles by Jonathan Mair (Svenska Filminstitutet: Ingmar Bergman 100 / Unique Movietransit) screened at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Ingmar Bergman 100 / 50 Years Ago: The Crazy Year 1968), 2 Aug 2018.

In the crazy, politically engaged year 1968 Ingmar Bergman swam against the current and released two films: The Hour of the Wolf and Shame. During the production of Shame he also prepared a television feature film, The Rite, which was telecast in March 1969. A pressure to be politically engaged was enormous, but Bergman defiantly made films that focused on the intimate sphere.

Even Shame, a war film that had been inspired by newscasts of the Vietnam war, was unpolitical. It centers on the impact of the war on an artist couple, Eva (Liv Ullmann) and Jan (Max von Sydow).

I had not seen Shame since its original release. I saw it twice in Tampere in the early 1970s. I then found the film impressive but baffling. Shame is a war film but the war does not make sense because we do not know who is fighting who and why. Finns know that there are wars that are honourable. If a little country does not defend itself it will be crushed. It was easy for Finns to identify with other little countries like Vietnam fighting the monstrous war machine of an imperialist superpower.

Now as I knew what to expect I found Shame much more impressive. It is not a simple account of brutalization but a subtle and complex psychological portrait of the traumatic impact of war.

In contrast to the expressionistic The Hour of the Wolf, Shame has been shot almost in direct cinema style in available light, often in long takes. There is an approach of the ordinary, the everyday, the quotidian in the settings, the clothings and the performances. Shame is also a film where the sun was never to be seen. Shooting was interrupted whenever the sun shone.

The violence of the war is particularly shocking against this mundane background. Bergman and Sven Nykvist record the acts of war in a matter-of-fact way, without emphasis. The explosions, the killings, and the destruction are startling. The fury of the fire is terrifying.

Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand are at their best in their performances of ordinary people in harrowing circumstances. War degrades and abases all men who have to deal with violence.

A basic theme is the loss of human dignity in circumstances of war.

Shame is also one of Bergman's films about the death of art, like Persona. The crushing of Eva's piano and Jan's vintage violin has a symbolic meaning. There is no music in the film (except for Jan humming a few notes of Bach) because for Bergman it was about the end of music. Also The Rite was about the fate of art.

For Robin Wood in his Ingmar Bergman book Shame was the culmination of the art of the director (and the last film discussed in the original edition of his book). "To me (and, I suppose, to Bergman), most of the more 'advanced' aspects of contemporary art - action painting, aleatory and electronic music, musique concrète, William Burroughs - are comprehensible only as evidence of disintegration." This was part of a struggle towards a new synthesis. But Bergman's way was towards an opposite synthesis, a re-definition of humanity, embodied in the character of Eva.

Bergman stood in opposition to his time and faced a formidable attack from contemporary authors such as Sara Lidman who required explicit commitment. Bergman reacted by confessing unconditional admiration towards Lidman. In Finland there was no debate against Bergman, but critics had reservations about the ahistorical approach to war. (There has been no war in Sweden in 200 years; there had been four wars in Finland in recent memory).

Now we can see Shame as a consistent contribution in Bergman's work about war and oppression, belonging with Thirst, This Can't Happen Here, and Silence. Bergman knew that he was not at home with epic, historical, and political subjects. They could provide milieux for psychological drama, but then he could be criticized for not really coming to terms with the larger world.

In the cinematography of Bergman and Sven Nykvist Shame was a turn towards simple and raw realism. This tendency was also evident in Bergman's first feature-length documentary film, Fårödokument (1970), and the director was so enthusiastic about it that he discussed in public the possibility of switching entirely to making documentaries on 16 mm. (Vilgot Sjöman had released I Am Curious Yellow in 1967, and Stefan Jarl and Jan Lindkvist Dom kallar oss mods / They Call Us Misfits in 1968).

Until Shame Bergman shot his films in black and white with the exception of Now About All These Women. After Shame he turned to colour in his fiction films with the exception of From the Lives of Marionettes.

The war scenes and the special effects still seem frightening, assured and convincing.

On display was the 2015 digital restoration. I do not remember how the original looks like, and there are no vintage prints in Finland since United Artists destroyed them after the original release. In this screening full black was missing, and there was a slightly dull digital quality instead of a vibrant sense of plein air cinematography.


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Leena / Meet the Bride (in the presence of Heidi Krohn)

Leena (1954): Heidi Krohn. Photo from: KAVI / The private collection of Heidi Krohn.

Leena / Meet the Bride (1954). The dealer Könssi (Matti Lehtelä) and Leena (Heidi Krohn). Photo from Elonet. Please click to enlarge the image.

Дерзкая девушка.
    Suomi 1954. PC+P: Veikko Itkonen. D: Sakari Jurkka. SC: Roy [Tapio Vilpponen]. DP: Kalle Peronkoski. AD: Roy [Tapio Vilpponen]. M: George de Godzinsky. Makeup: Mia Aaltonen, Sirkka Kaski. Choreography: Jaakko Lätti. ED: Veikko Itkonen. Järjestäjä: Lennart Lauramaa.
    C: Heidi Krohn (Leena Jonsson alias Mademoiselle du Pont alias Kaisa), Matti Oravisto (Lauri Huurros), Eija Karipää (reporter Salava, ”Nappula”), Mia Backman (Mrs. Consul Sanni Huurros), Paavo Jännes (Professor Möller), Arvo Lehesmaa (Professor Örn), Holger Salin (Tiirikka-Eemeli [Picklock Emil]), Fritz-Hugo Backman (Consul Klaus Huurros), Aku Korhonen (Männikkö, editor-in-chief of Iltatorvi [Evening Bugle]), Heikki Savolainen (butler), Matti Lehtelä (Könssi), Hannes Veivo (Ville), Leo Riuttu (Doctor Jurvanto), Kerttu Salmi (Jonssonska), Matti Aulos (department head at the department store), Leo Jokela (photographer).
    Helsinki premiere: 31.12.1954 Allotria, Capitol – VET: A-5387 – S – 2100 m / 77 min
    In the presence of Heidi Krohn.
    A vintage 35 mm KAVI print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Veikko Itkonen), 1 August 2018

Veikko Itkonen was one of the most important independent producers during the studio era of the Finnish cinema. Heidi Krohn was his most important star, a radiant talent famous for her eyes that shone like stars. Today we had the great honour to welcome Heidi Krohn in person, still radiant, her eyes still shining. She introduced Leena, her debut film.

Heidi Krohn was our Audrey Hepburn of the 1950s, with innate grace and charm, a gentle but irresistible presence and an ability to transcend flimsy plots and characterizations. She was a sunny personification of the new post-war generation, an embodiment of joy and goodness.

Itkonen first cast her in three comedies: Leena, Tähtisilmä [Starry Eyes], and Tyttö tuli taloon [The Girl Came to the House] and then to a major tragic role in Silja, nuorena nukkunut [The Maid Silja], a profoundly moving role in a story based on the novel by the Nobel laureate F. E. Sillanpää.

Leena is a light entertainment movie, a musical comedy and a romantic comedy.

We first meet Leena as a pickpocket in a department store. Follows a comedy of misunderstandings and impersonations, and when the thicket of pretense grows impenetrable, Leena must flee. Contemporary critics reproached that the plot was a copy of the Hollywood entertainment formula. Which it is, and the formula is equally familiar in European mainstream entertainment.

Plot here is merely an excuse for the jeu d'esprit. This kind of light and elegant comedy spirit had been introduced to the Finnish cinema by Valentin Vaala, and Leena has many moments worthy of this precious tradition. The beloved actor Sakari Jurkka here debuted as a director; with his sunny disposition he makes the most of this froth.

Like in Vaala's comedies, there is a deeper sense in the play with identities: our formal and official roles are not what matter most. Veikko Itkonen, Sakari Jurkka, and Heidi Krohn have an instinctive touch in this fundamental dimension of comedy and play.

Experienced professionals contributed in all departments: Kalle Peronkoski as cinematographer, George de Godzinsky as composer, Tapio Vilpponen as art director. The cast is full of faces familiar from the films of the golden age, even in fleeting roles, such as a pokerfaced Leo Jokela as a photographer.

The vintage print had usually good visual quality, but there were occasional damage marks in the first reel.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Gary Vitacco-Robles: Icon: The Life, Times, & Films of Marilyn Monroe, Vol 1–2 (books) continued

Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at the Tiffany Club, 1954. Waco News-Tribune, page 11, November 20, 1954. Published by the Waco News-Tribune, photo by United Press International. Copyright not renewed. Wikipedia.

Having read Volume Two of Gary Vitacco-Robles's remarkable biography on Marilyn Monroe I went on and devoured Volume One. I should be familiar with the material as my interest now dates back 40 years, but Vitacco-Robles manages to surprise me on each page. There is a lot of new detail, and from his meaningful interpretation a new portrait emerges. Vitacco-Robles's approach is sober, but his achievement is "A Passion of Marilyn Monroe". He has a sense of the epic in this story, and psychologically he seems to get deeper than anyone else. This book is a hard act to follow.

Certain earlier books have come near to what the real person Marilyn Monroe may have been like. Some of my favourites include the writings of W. J. Weatherby, Susan Strasberg, Truman Capote, and Norman Rosten. Interestingly, many of her photographers have written about her with insight. Even most of the books written under her lifetime have remained valid. The most important is her often harrowing autobiography My Story (as told to Ben Hecht). The early little books by Sidney Skolsky, Sam Shaw and Pete Martin now have period charm. And Maurice Zolotow did a fine job in the first major biography published while MM was alive.

There were many exciting encounters in MM's life. I learn more about them in Vitacco-Robles's book.


While MM was sharing an apartment with Shelley Winters they met the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas ("Under Milk Wood", "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night", "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"; Bob Dylan adopted his name in homage to him) and invited him to dinner. Marilyn and Thomas seemed to hit it off, but because of Thomas's serious drinking problem Marilyn declined to continue the evening with the others.

Dean Martin, Leslie Caron, Marilyn Monroe, and Jerry Lewis at the Redbook award ceremony, 1953.


Every now and then MM crossed paths with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. In his autobiography (2005) Lewis regretted that they never made a film together. (But Monroe was under contract with Fox while Lewis worked for Paramount). "She had a delicious sense of humor, an ability not only to appreciate what was funny but to see the absurdity in things in general".

Marilyn Monroe in Korea, 1954.


MM consistently repeated that her happiest experience as a performer was the USO tour among American soldiers in Korea in 1954. This quote may be familiar but it's worth repeating: "I've always been frightened by an audience. My stomach pounds, my head gets dizzy and I'm sure my voice has left me. But standing in the snowfall facing these seventeen thousand yelling soldiers, I felt for the first time in my life no fear of anything. I felt only happy... I felt at home".


"I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt... she personally called the owner of Mocambo, and told him she wanted me booked immediately, and if he would do it, she would take a front table every night. She told him - and it was true, due to Marilyn's superstar status - that the press would go wild. The owner said yes, and Marilyn was there, front table, every night. The press went overboard. After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again. She was an unusual woman - a little ahead of her times and she didn't know it".

Marilyn Monroe and Constance Collier.


A famous quote worth repeating: "Oh yes, there is something there. She is a beautiful child. I don't mean that in the obvious way - the perhaps too obvious way. I don't think she's an actress at all, not in any traditional sense. What she has - this presence, this luminosity, this flickering intelligence - could never surface on the stage. It's so fragile and subtle, it can only be caught by the camera. It's like a hummingbird in flight: only a camera can freeze the poetry of it. But anyone who thinks this girl is simply another Harlow or harlot or whatever is mad" (as quoted by Truman Capote).

Joshua Logan and Marilyn Monroe.


"Marilyn is as near a genius as any actress I ever knew. She is an artist beyond artistry... She is the most completely realized and authentic film actress since Garbo. Monroe is pure cinema".