Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Images: My Life in Film by Ingmar Bergman

Introduction

This is my latest post (third overall) for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. This book fits in as a biographical/filmographic account, as Bergman speaks of the films he made from 1946 to around 1986.

Bergman and Me

Bergman Island (2004, Sveriges Television)

In my second post in this series I chronicled my history with the films of Bergman. With that in mind I was very glad that this is the autobiographical Bergman account I chose to read first rather than The Magic Lantern. When making that decision it was based solely on the fact that Images was published at a later date and therefore would include a few more works.

As it turned out, that was a good thought on a few accounts. One of which was the fact that with further hindsight, and reviewing of his own work, Bergman was able to have more distance between the present day (of when this was written) and production. Therefore, his mind changed for the better, for worse, or he had more clarity on why certain things worked or didn’t work. Furthermore, there were citations from The Magic Lantern used as jumping off points. This may be tiresome for one who read that book but was helpful here.

Clearly the most illuminating to me were the excerpts of texts from his workbooks where he’s literally dissecting his own process from abstract notes you can either clearly see how the film developed, or are let marveling at the genius that he was able to to take something rather obfuscated and turn it into concrete emotion and a visual reality that exudes the intended visceral reactions and ideas.

Fanny and Alexander (1982, Svensk Filmindustri)

The very formation of this account is one that’s fascinating. It started with what was going to be another interview book like Bergman on Bergman with interviews conducted by Lasse Bergström, Bergström then deleted his questions and Bergman edited the text. The filmography section, which was crucial in the days before the IMDb, and handy because of the plot synopses they at times contained, was compiled by Bertil Wredlund.

The film is also very interestingly organized as the films are grouped not chronologically so much as thematically. The sections within are:

Dreams and Dreamers

The Silence (1963)

(Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, Persona, Face to Face, The Touch, Cries and Whispers, and The Silence)

This section ends with Bergman talking about why he went into self-imposed exile amidst tax evasion allegations that were eventually deemed meritless, then it transitions back to the beginning with-

First Movies

Port of Call (1948)

(Torment, Crisis, It Rains on Our Love, A Ship Bound for India, Music in Darkness a.k.a. Night is My Future, Port of Call, The Devil’s Wanton a.k.a Prison, and Thirst)

This section starts with him in the script department of Svensk Filmindustri then writing scripts and finally directing. It also interestingly discusses his stint as script supervisor (“script girl” as it was frequently called back then), for the first screenplay he wrote. He humorously admits to not being good at it, it’s an important job, and parenthetically, I wasn’t very good at it myself.

Jests Jesters

The Serpent's Egg (1977)

(The Magician, The Rite, Sawdust and Tinsel, The Serpent’s Egg, From the Life of Marionettes, Scenes From a Marriage, and After the Rehearsal)

In this section Bergman not only discusses his years out of Sweden but also ties that in with the themes of jesters and traveling entertainers, and puppets which were omnipresent in his work but prevalent in these films

Miscreance Credence

The Seventh Seal (1957)

(The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, and Winter Light)

In this section the discussion at times runs together because of the religious themes that connect them all.

Other Films

Autumn Sonata (1978)

(To Joy, This Can’t Happen Here, Summer Interlude, Waiting WomenSummer with Monika, Shame, The Passion of Anna, Brink of Life, and Autumn Sonata)

While the title of this section is a bit uninspired it does talk of actors in general segues to the discussion on Autumn Sonata, which I will dedicate excruciating detail to in an upcoming blogathon.

Farces Frolics

Fanny and Alexander (1983, Svensk Filmindustri)

(some commentary on Waiting Women, A Lesson in Love, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil’s Eye, The Magic Flute, and Fanny and Alexander)

Herein he discusses his struggles with comedy in general and his repeated ventures (yes, there were a few) into the genre. In addition to that there is discussion on how Fanny and Alexander in many ways was born of the influence of both E.T.A. Hoffman and Dickens.

Anecdotal Awe

The Passion of Anna (1969)

Note: If you want to go into the book knowing as little as possible bypass this section.

Sure there are wide-ranging insights into his process, life, development, and art in general, but for me (as I’m sure is the case with many of us) the greatest thing is the little insights. Things I never knew that aren’t earth-shattering but intriguing, or opinions he has on his work that you don’t share, and those you do.

Some examples of this are: Fanny and Alexander started with different names in his notes, and that he likes the TV version better (as do I). He detested The Devil’s Eye, and working on it; I didn’t like it either and that kind of thing has a tendency to show (like with John Carpenter and Christine). He claims he shouldn’t have included the interviews in the The Passion of Anna.

It is curious that the mention of the The Magic Flute being produced in the Swedish language, and not German, is non-existent. Though reading the whole book, and the section between the lines there are some inferences one can make about this choice.

Ingmar Bergman

Also included are insights into his extensive theatre work, which is fascinating as it helps us understand his day-to-day schedule for many years and also see diferences era and country create. There’s also a mind-blowing explanation of a brief stint in TV commercials (news to me), discussion of his lifelong relationships with the opera, and his work therein; radio (also news to me), and influences including Swedish novelist Hjalmar Bergman (no relation). As with any good work on film it made me want to watch and see more.

A Word on Formatting

Images: My Life in Film (All Rights Reserved)

If interested in reading this book I would advise seeking out a copy in print, even if you’re not a purist. The copy I read on Kindle had some spacing issues, typos in inserting diacritical marks, and captions awkwardly separated from photos. Maybe some of the display issues would be less of a concern if I read it on an iPad or laptop but some of the mistakes would still be there. Having just made a number of these corrections myself in my own books (Plug!) I have a heightened sensitivity to such issues.

Conclusion

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

If you are interested in Bergman, or the craft of filmmaking, I would definitely recommend this book. However, I recommend it with a grain of salt, if you’ve not seen any of these Bergman movies you will likely have them spoiled. However, keep in mind there are a few I have not seen due to a lack of availability and that made me more interested in it. So, check this out!

The Magic Flute: My History with Opera on Film

My History With Opera

I cannot claim that I have a foundation in opera. Nor can I claim, as I can with ballet, that I have a very active appreciation of it.

What my history with this artform is, in all likelihood, not unlike that of most people. Pieces that were featured in Looney Tunes shorts either in part, or as the basis for entire stories I know well. In fact, two of my more memorable Looney Tunes viewing experiences were shorts of this type, Rabbit of Seville being one of the funnier ones, and Long-Haired Hair being one that as a kid made me a bit uncomfortable because I did start to feel bad for the pompous Mr. Jones (I got over that eventually).

My first true introduction to opera appropriately enough was through a film. In French class we watched Franceso Rosi’s Carmen (1984) as one of our screenings to get more acclimated with hearing the language; this time through Bizet. I absolutely loved it. I later found what I thought was the same film and didn’t like that interpretation of the story at all (that version being Saura’s 1983 version).

Opera (1987, Blue Undrground)

There was a long hiatus after that where I really didn’t take another jump back in. As I discovered the works of Dario Argento, Opera quickly became one of my favorite works in his oeuvre. In that film I did learn both a bit about Argento outside film and also about the operatic version of Macbeth; and how it has similar tales of misfortune associated with it.

Later on I would, again going through the works of a particular director, this time Ingmar Bergman; come to know The Magic Flute. Yes, heathen that I am, I first experienced Mozart’s tale with all-Swedish libretto. I enjoyed that version a lot and then viewed it in German, as it was written, at a Fathom Events screening at a local movie theater.

Since then, while I may not have gained too much narrative or other insights into operas in general, I have listened to a lot more of them through a few means. Namely borrowing CDs from the library and on Spotify (I’ve used both these means to become more versed in classical music as well).

The Magic Flute (2006, or 2013 as the case may be)

The Magic Flute (2006, Revolver)

That brings me to the present and my latest brush with the artform in Kenneth Branagh’s only-recently-distributed English rendition of The Magic Flute. What Branagh does with this film is not that unlike what many have done with Shakespeare: the text is the same albeit translated and the setting is updated. This tale taking place during World War I.

Branagh’s doing this makes perfect sense when you consider that most are familiar with him through his Shakespearean adaptations. However, this film is perhaps the best assimilation of his sensibilities: there’s the classical dramatic sensibility he’s familiar with in Shakespeare and parlayed well in Thor, but also a zany, irreverent humor that he possesses as he’s shown as an actor in the Harry Potter series that fit this film as well.

Being an opera on film it will invariably have its stagier moments, but it has infinitely more cinematic ones. The camera, and at times even the characters in motion, accompany the movements of the music. This is especially true in the “Queen of the Night Aria” which is as mind-blowing cinematically as it is musically in this version.

In short, after all prior re-introductions to opera on film are taken into consideration the Looney Tunes are a wonderful warm up, but Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute is the perfect introduction to opera for the uninitiated.

Short Film Saturday: Rabbit of Seville

I could very easily always pick a Looney Tunes short. I love Rabbit of Seville but saw a link wherein True Classics offers some brilliant insight:

Rabbit of Seville is the brainchild of director Chuck Jones, writer Michael Maltese, and frequent Warner Bros. composer Carl Stalling. Stalling was, on occasion, criticized by some (including Jones) for his habit of quoting modern or popular melodies in his scores, and it is true that his scores featured repeated use of certain musical cues for similar situations from cartoon to cartoon–for instance, the recurrence of Rossini’s William Tell overture in chase scenes (particularly those in Western-themed cartoons), or the use of “We’re in the Money” (from Gold Diggers of 1933) in scenes featuring the sudden acquirement of wealth. Stalling’s penchant for musical puns aside, he was nonetheless an incredibly talented musician, and the Stalling scores are among the most memorable in the Warner Bros. animated canon (for a pitch-perfect example of Stalling’s unparalleled talent, see 1943′s A Corny Concerto, directed by Bob Clampett, which Stalling completed with his eventual successor, Milt Franklyn).

In Seville, Jones takes full advantage of Stalling’s musical abilities, as the composer manages to incorporate a slightly abridged version of the overture to Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville at an accelerated tempo that still manages to capture the essence of the original tune. Additionally, he works in a bit of the “Wedding March” from German composer Mendelssohn. Maltese composed new lyrics to accompany the sped-up tune, and aside from Bugs’ final line, the song lyrics are the only dialogue to accompany the cartoon–and really, no dialogue is needed when the lyrics include such brilliant lines as, “There, you’re nice and clean … although your face looks like it might have gone through a machine!”

There are little touches throughout this cartoon that heighten the humor: a sign in the opening scene advertises a “Summer Opera” performance of The Barber of Seville starring “Eduardo Selzeri” (producer Eddie Selzer), “Michele Maltese” (writer Maltese), and “Carlo Jonzi” (director Jones); the stage is set for a scene at a barber’s shop, yet in Rossini’s opera, there is no such scene (despite the character Figaro’s titular position); Bugs (naturally) gets the chance to don drag, as Elmer’s alluring “little senorit-er”; Elmer deals with multiple indignities in Bugs’ Sweeney Todd-esque barber chair o’ horrors, not the least of which is having a hair tonic treatment that results in a patch of red flowers sprouting on his otherwise bald noggin; to bring an end to the madness, Bugs proposes marriage, and Elmer zips offstage briefly and reemerges in a white wedding gown; Bugs’ final, mischievous nod to the audience. The result is a sort of insane mash-up of so-called high and low culture, audaciously combining cartoonish antics and high-brow musical accompaniment in a way that, by all logic, should not work … and yet totally and completely does.

Is Rabbit of Seville as effective a cartoony operetta as What’s Opera, Doc? In truth, not quite–though both cartoons have their strengths, the more satirical bent of the latter cartoon trumps the relentlessly slapsticky nature of Seville. Opera functions as both a parody of its musical source material and an incisive comedic homage to it, while Seville concentrates more on just generally garnering laughs. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, for Rabbit of Seville is truly hilarious, and undoubtedly its success enabled Jones, Maltese, and crew to embark on the much more ambitious (and much more expensive) Opera in later years. And its influence has not gone unnoticed; Rabbit of Seville is, like its operatic cartoon brother, on the list of the 50 best cartoons of all time, placing at number twelve, and it remains one of the most popular ‘toons to emerge from the Golden Age of animation. Perhaps most importantly, this cartoon is among a number of memorable Warner Bros. shorts that helped introduce new generations to classical music in a fun, engaging way that, if it didn’t exactly foster new fans of the genre, at least created a lingering awareness of the great compositions of those grand old masters.

Enjoy!