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Monday, Jul 30, 2007


He hadn’t made a theatrical motion picture since 1982’s Fanny and Alexander, vowing to retire after completing the highly autobiographical project. He spent his later years dabbling in theater, and working in television in his native Sweden. He even penned a few screenplays, some directed by his son Daniel, others directed by friends and former lovers. Yet it’s clear that, even in his absence, the influence and importance of Ernst Ingmar Bergman to the language and art of cinema remains as solid today as it did when he first splashed onto the international stage some six decades ago. With a creative canon that spans considered masterworks like Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957), and Scenes from a Marriage (1973), he almost singlehandedly defined the whole foreign film/arthouse genre. While many others can also claim part of this title, Bergman remains the consummate example of personal and professional philosophies folded into one other and presented—open handed and open hearted—for the world to witness.


Like a select few famous names—Kurosawa, Fellini, Hitchcock—that actually helped to evolve and develop the technical and aesthetic merits of film, Bergman was a true motion picture visionary. Some might argue with that determination, viewing his stark, darkness driven efforts as generic and plain, or worse, gloomy and dull. But with his reliance on extreme close-up, static tableaus, and monochromatic contrasts, he captured both the bitter cold of his numb Nordic home, as well as the often hidden yet simmering emotions of its people perfectly. Some considered him the consummate actor’s director. Others viewed his work in far more metaphysical, even ephemeral, terms. In true contrast to the pictures coming out of other countries—Hollywood’s sensationalized pulp fictions, Italy’s earthy Neo-Realism, France’s deconstructing New Wave—Bergman boiled down his awful early childhood (his Lutheran Minister father was a haughty and strict task master) into melancholy expressions of man’s place within God and nature’s overall design. In doing so, he elevated ennui into something close to epic.


The battle between religion and reality was essential to his creative concerns. He mused on faith, the power of personal belief, the notion of mortality vs. the promise of an afterlife, and the distinct tug of war between living, dying, and dealing with both. He could be arcane and obtuse, making his points with symbols and noticeably non- sequitored imagery, yet he considered himself a rather forthright presenter of existence’s larger mysteries. Whatever the case, few directors can claim influence over modern day moviemakers as diverse as Wes Craven (who based his 1972 breakthrough The Last House on the Left on Bergman’s 1960 The Virgin Spring) and Woody Allen, and yet such was this director’s strength that even the most divergent of artists could experience his work and take away something very personal, and very purposeful, from his oeuvre. Names as significant as Robert Altman and Andrei Tarkovsky more or less based their careers on his influence.


For some, his seminal effort remains 1957’s existential masterwork The Seventh Seal. An unusual narrative focusing on a medieval knight, fresh from the Crusades, traveling back to his home only to discover a country ravaged by plague, it offered the allegorical imagery of the hero—a golden Max Von Sydow—playing chess with a white faced, ghoulish Death. The stakes? The champion’s life. The motive? The meaning of life. In between, Bergman used clever iconography and fresh perspectives (a traveling caravan of circus performers, the ceremonial burning of a witch) to express the ongoing struggle between existence and the end, the significance of survival and the promised bliss in shrugging off this mortal coil. Very theatrical, almost Shakespearean in his approach, Bergman often stated that it was his belief in the intuitive relationship between actor and director, one where both worked together to achieve a greater, grander end, that marked the success of his films, not the ideas or issues they raised. Seal certainly celebrates both.


Through a Glass Darkly

Through a Glass Darkly


Yet the ‘60s/‘70s remain Bergman’s main decades of artist triumph and acclaim. He won two Oscars (out of a total of three) for Best Foreign Film—for The Virgin Spring and 1961’s Through a Glass Darkly—and would go on to receive nine more nominations over the course of his time behind the camera. His name became synonymous with the growing movement toward the incorporation of world cinema in the discussion, and along with other noted names mentioned before, formed the basis for much of the film scholarship of the era. Indeed, it’s clear that Bergman remains one of the several noteworthy components that ended up transforming into the post-modern aesthetic that’s driven cinema over the last 30 years. Thanks in part to his scattered output over his so-called ‘retirement’, the current cinephile tends to relegate this formative founding ‘father’ among the artifacts of an important, if no longer resonant time.


Persona

Persona


By doing so, they are missing out on some of the most profound and provocative films of the 20th Century. Bergman remains a true lyricist within the medium, translating unspoken thoughts and unexpressed feelings into novel-like narratives filled with inference and depth. But he’s not merely an intellectual—he’s a devotee of all the artform’s facets. There’s the dreamlike imagery of Persona (1966) and the brilliant cinematography and oversaturated colors of 1972’s Cries and Whispers (contrasting the film’s dark obsession with death). There’s the cruelty and comeuppance of The Virgin Spring, the charming choice of rather risqué subject matter (sex) for Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), and the hidden evils of a post-World War I Germany in The Serpent’s Egg (1977). To his credit, Bergman managed to stay true to his austere and sometimes tragic designs while avoiding repetition. Some viewed his work as the perfect reflection of the environment in which it was created while others noted that, while subtle, the filmmaker appeared to be dismissing the detached, distant stereotype associated with Sweden. There was no denying the personal nature of his canon. In fact, the parallels between his life and his livelihood are almost too similar to compare.


Fanny and Alexander

Fanny and Alexander


For all the considered and/or perceived perfectionism on screen, Bergman remained a decidedly incomplete and flawed figure in his personal life. Married five times—four ended in divorce, the last with the death of his wife from stomach cancer—he fathered nine children. A man of complicated political views, he waged a rather public battle with the Swedish government over charges of tax evasion (he eventually left the country for Munich until 1982, when he returned to make Fanny and Alexander).  While some considered him warm and kind, others noted a tendency toward highly strung behavior and a very quick temper. Often, his interpersonal problems were blamed on an early life overloaded with discussions of sin and confession, allegiance and conformity. As much as he fictionalized his life through his films, Bergman truly remained forever linked to the emotional complexity and metal malaise found in his characters.


And now, with his passing on 30 July, 2007 at age 89, the last legitimate old school cinematic giant has fallen. He follows other luminaries into the realm of legend, and eventually through time, into the epiphany of myth. There will be retrospectives and reissues, fans will muse on what could have been while novices will note waiting too long to discover his undeniable talents. Yet all one has to do to see Bergman’s lasting impact is recall the numerous noteworthy films they’ve seen by students of this amazing auteur. Had he continued contributing directly to film post-Fanny and Alexander, had he not decided to divide his time between personal projects, stage work, and the occasional documentary foray, it’s possible that he’d once again remake movies in his own aging image. For what it’s worth—and it’s a great deal indeed—Ingmar Bergman will be forever associated with the maturation of the motion picture paradigm. Its influence will shroud cinema in the shadows of the man who made such a visual dichotomy possible—and poetic. 


Trailer for The Seventh Seal


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Monday, Jul 30, 2007

An old truism goes that when Catholics sin, they go to confession, but when Protestants sin, they go out and buy a book (it didn’t say anything about what Mormons do). If that rule still applies today, then Protestants are doing a whole lot of sinning. Buried in this BBC News story about how Wal-Mart will soon be stocking an entire line of Bible-based action figures like Goliath and Sampson (a simultaneously surprising and yet terrifying prospect), is this little nugget: Sales of religious books in America went up 5.6% in 2006. And apparently Christian book-buyers spend half as much again on books as the average American. So whatever those atheists, and other non-Christian religious types are doing with their time, it doesn’t appear to be reading.


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Monday, Jul 30, 2007

Yanked off the MTV site not long after it appeared, they claimed that there was no pressure from the labels to take this down even though they did admit that they got heat from some artists’ management.  Ah, the magic of the Net to let you see articles you weren’t supposed to see…  Thanks to Punknews.org, see Things that Suck here.  Too bad as this is the kind of edgy, in-your-face honesty that would draw users and eyeballs to their site.


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Monday, Jul 30, 2007

Comedian Zach Galifianakis continues to entertain audiences with his quirky, odd sense of humor. Host of the short lived talk show, Late World with Zach, Galifianakis quickly reached fame as a comedian, performing on the Comedians of Comedy tour with Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt, and Maria Bamford. On March 6, 2007, he released a DVD of his stand-up act, Live at the Purple Onion. Most recently, Zach, along with Will Oldham, filmed a music video for Kanye West’s new song, Can’t Tell Me Nothing.



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Sunday, Jul 29, 2007


It’s unfathomable, how it continues to happen. Armchair pundits are ecstatic that it does, as are various members of the media’s comedic circus. No one can deny how realistically heartbreaking it is, since no one likes to see innocence sullied so. And of course, there are scapegoats in abundance – distance deadbeat dad, disconnected insufferable stage mother, a populace who enjoys watching its celebrities ascend and shatter. But the real reason behind Lindsay Lohan’s undeniable fall from grace has less to do with her inability to stay sober (or sane), and much more to do with a culture of morbid curiosity that validates the slightest amount of talent for all its tacky tabloid potential. Ms. Demeanor is just the latest figurine is a museum of mean spiritedness that your average fame whore fan can’t stop frequenting.


It’s hard to imagine how the little girl who charmed crowds with her spritely spunky spirit in The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday remakes managed to turn her wide open fate into that of a less pretty Pete Douherty, and yet she’s now an official pariah. One need look no further than the 27 July premiere of her latest acting atrocity, I Know Who Killed Me for proof of such a stigma. A sodden psychological thriller that wants to be both clever and creepy, it barely managed a meager $3 million in turnstile twists. And the sad fact is, it’s just one in a long line of borderline bombs (Just My Luck, Georgia Rule) that have rendered the plain sight party gal virtually unhireable. While the Internet Movie Database lists Poor Things as her next project, the rest of her potential career arc has vanished, replaced by conflicting criminal testimony, uninsurability, and a magic bag of disappearing/reappearing cocaine.


Of course, personal responsibility is not being ignored here. As a 21 year old capable of driving (recklessly), drinking (excessively), and dying for her country (here’s hoping), Ms. Lohan cannot just wish away her clear culpability. Yet apparently she sees herself as the victim, a DUI collecting case of misspent (and understood) youth wrongly relegated to the archetypal child star destiny. But to toss around a right reliable proverb, actions speak louder than words, kiddo. Recent news stories have Li-Lo yelping, in sure self-deluded fashion - “I can do anything I want…I’m a fucking celebrity”. In retort, The Village Voice’s Michael Musto made a very salient point: “Like calling yourself ‘fabulous’, identifying yourself as (a star) automatically disqualifies you from being one.” Consider said standing revoked.


You’d think that the spat that arose between the actress and Morgan Creek Production’s CEO James G. Robinson would have knocked some sense into the spoiled star – or at the very least, disturb those leeching off her massive meal ticket position. Her last disaster, George Rule, was consistently undermined by the young performer’s ‘lack of professionalism’ – arriving late, absenteeism from the set, stints in the hospital for mysterious “illnesses”. Indeed, by the beginning of 2007, much of this troubled gals life was accented by air quotes, the truth of what was happening blatant, and yet still spun by those paid to make the famous appear flawless. But it was clear Lohan needed help. That being said, when a studio suit, the man who signs the checks and approves the budgets, belittles the proficiency of you’re A-list ATM, the time for intervention has long passed.


Miss Creant is not the first of her kind to go bonkers for basically no reason. The boulevard of broken dreams is paved with the puke of hundreds of these failed kidiots – underage actors who’ve falsely believed that success at six will translate into fun at 15, and an Oscar after adolescence. Unlike others who’ve drunk and drugged their way into an early grave, or a job working security at the local mall, Lohan seemed lucky. It appeared that, as she aged, the only transitional issue she had to worry about was her ever increasing bustline. And if she could handle the “real vs. fake” debate, the constant questioning over the nature of her knockers, she’d make it to the next step. But she discovered the joys of gin and the pleasant pain-numbing of nose candy, and the so standard descent began.


Still, someone should have told her that joining the ranks of Paris and Nicole, the Simple Life savants who’ve cornered the market on movie of the week behavioral blunders (porn, eating disorders, stints in the big house), is not the accepted rite of passage. If you’re looking for a young girl who made it to big time star with her integrity intact (and her criminal record clean), Jodie Foster is the role model to follow. Yet these young girl guns would rather trade body shots for Academy Award nominations, meaning their in it for the notoriety, not the notices. Of course, this suggests they have the talent to go the distance as well. It’s a concept to save for consideration another day.


Perhaps the most inexplicable element here, however, is the perception that females more than males are catching all the flack right now. Maybe Joe Jackson was right – it is different for girls. Matthew McConaughey can play naked bongos or go bat guano on an island seashore, cameras in full aperture observation mode, and he still manages to walk away as a slightly screwed up hunk. Tom Sizemore crystal meths up his life, plugging as much poison in his body as he can, and yet people pass it off as the regressive ravings of a man in need. Yet when Courtney Love acts in a similarly sloppy manner, mistaking her position as the fabled ex-wife of a dead rock icon as an excuse to forcibly feed her head, she’s citizen skank number one.


It may have something to do with the paternalistic perception of sexual weakness. As strong as women actually are – they grow and nurture the children, they survive the piggish slings and arrows of amorous, instinctual males – society loves to turn them into Cupie Doll drones, waiting for “daddy” or “big brother” to step in and rescue them. And yet, said sense of helplessness doesn’t then translate into acquittal. Instead, it appears to make the guilt even more monumental, as if to punish the lady for failing to see the error of her man-less ways. Again, context is everything here. Age can remove much of this mindset, as can a blatant disregard for direction. So not only does someone like Lindsay Lohan appear as a needy child avoiding the onus of socially acceptable behavior, she’s coughing up gold flecked vodka in their face.


This leads to another, more personal reason why people continue their fascination with such false idols – call it the pissed off public syndrome. You see, as much as we like to consider ourselves outside the ability to be swayed and influenced, to be more than easily lead cattle clinging to every piece of nonsensical news that stumbles upon the 24 hour cable callbox, we are indeed sheep to the sensationalized slaughter. When Paris Hilton was released from jail (the last time, not the times in between), the massive media presence wasn’t due to the noteworthy nature of the event. It was because they knew there was a realistic ratings share waiting to be tapped into. You see, as unhappy participants in a life that’s undeniably unfulfilling, the average Joe or Jolene sees the stumbling star and muses “how can they do that?” Inside their pork rind and Splenda soaked brain, they recognize the rarified air these pop culture accidents breathe, and make a mental note that they would never respond in a similar manner, should they win such a lifestyle lottery.


So they continue to watch – in judgment…in contempt. In Lohan’s case, there’s the additional facet of plausible performance deniability. She’s never really been great in a film – especially once she sprouted breasts – and yet the acting/singing/posing possibilities kept piling up. She worked with Robert Altman for Christ’s sake (A Prairie Home Companion), quite the CV statement for an unproven talent, while her controversial co-starring stint alongside Jared Leto as Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27 has yet to find full distribution. Even Disney couldn’t deny her, determining that an awkward phase Lindsay could helm their NASCAR based resurrection of the Love Bug franchise (they were wrong). From a minor role in Bobby to a couple of incomplete star turns, with every flop, every fading filmic fortune, no one really ripped into our out of control chanteuse. No wonder she wears a veil of invincibility. She’s never seriously been taken to the woodshed of opening weekend worth.


Until now. As I Know Who Killed Me begins to disappear from local screens, as its distributor determines the best route toward some rapid turnaround DVD profits, as those who’ve supported the falling star finally start giving up on her – Britney style – there remains two schools of thought on the Lohan longevity front. Some are convinced she can overcome this, do a Drew (as in Barrymore) and come out a confident, major league Tinsel Town player. In ten years, her ‘youthful indiscretions’ will be footnotes in an uplifting autobiography (soon to be a warts and all biopic). On the other hand, with an ex-convict pappy who “feels” for his child as he continues to milk her for money, and a thick as a post mother who fancies herself a more mature version of her offspring (including the deluded notion of celebrity), this could be one doomed damsel in a whole world of distress. The title of her latest movie may seem prophetic, but it only works if she recognizes the reflected irony. It’s a safe bet that she’s probably blamed everyone else by now. 


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