Magically Delicious Footwear.
The Magic Flute
I’ve always liked Ingmar Bergman, and it has little to do with how good his films are. Partly, it’s due to the fact that his work is usually so monumentally depressing it swings my mood back around to joyous again, sort of like the reverse of being so happy you could cry, only you’re more likely to gnaw the flesh from your radial artery while listening to Gloomy Sunday. But mostly, it’s because liking his films is one of the prerequisites for getting into film programs the world over, along with matching black glasses and leather wristbands and the ability to say “oh, I don’t watch TV” with the right balance of indifference and disdain. Having a firm knowledge and appreciation of Bergman’s work, along with a subscription to Sight and Sound magazine, gives you the critical credentials necessary to make sweeping generalizations about films you haven’t seen and make ludicrous statements about defining the concept of the ‘other’ in regards to ethnographic study in Larry Cohen’s Original Gangstas. A solid foundation in Bergman is analogous to learning how to tie knots when you’re a Boy Scout. You don’t want to do it, you don’t like doing it, and you can’t possibly think of any reason why you would need to do it, except for possibly tying up and sodomizing other Boy Scouts when you become a Scout Master, but you can’t advance until you know how. So, through dogged determination, I’ve developed an appreciation for Bergman, in the same way that I’ve come to love the hive of cockroaches under my kitchen sink that’s lived through three fumigation attempts and several black magic rituals. Both Bergman and the cockroaches aren’t going anywhere, so I’m going to have to learn to play nice.
Which is why it’s so difficult when I’m confronted with a film like The Magic Flute. As the title would suggest, it’s a filmed version of the Mozart opera, but that’s really all there is to it. The opera was performed on a stage, Bergman filmed it, and they played it on Swedish TV. Nothing more, nothing less. And yet, it’s hailed as a critical masterpiece, mostly because most critics are scared of being cast out of the Cannes Festival after party if they admit that it’s clear the film was made to either pay for another case of Smirnoff Vodka or to dig Bergman out of an alimony hole. There are some interesting flourishes, like the gradual use of close-ups and an occasionally seamless transition to elaborate set-pieces impossible in a traditional opera, but they’re equally balanced with annoying reminders of the theatrical setting, like visible and shaky handheld subtitle boards and the black kid in the third row who keeps checking his cell-phone for text messages from his underage girlfriend. Perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I think it’s time to acknowledge that no matter how talented an artist is, sometimes they just need to pay the bills, or they accidentally watch too many episodes of Dr. Phil and go shit-head retarded for a year, like the year where Gus Van Sant made Finding Forrester, and the last two thirds of Francis Ford Coppola’s career. And it’s not just Bergman who gets this kind of treatment. Akira Kurosawa could throw up raw fish and Saki into a paper bag for thirty minutes, and I swear it would get a Criterion Collection release so long as he filmed it in black and white Tohoscope. I’m pretty sure Werner Herzog has tried this a couple of times already, and he made the cover of Film Threat.
Wanna guess what's inside? It's either filmic genius or a bag of maggots.
Because I'm such a nice guy, if you’re ever thinking of taking a film course at college or, god forbid, major in Critical Studies, here are a few foreign directors you’re going to need to learn to venerate.
1. Akira Kurosawa. I get it. Samurais are like cowboys, only they look like they’re wearing diapers and they communicate via exaggerated guffaws and grunting like cave-women in labor. Move on.
2. Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The man made 117 films in three years before his brain exploded. Any given one of them is like watching gay pornography while rubbing powdered crystal meth into your eyes. Not entirely unpleasant, but not advisable.
3. Federico Fellini. A filmmaker who focused on the perfect mix of the sweet and the surreal, like giving out acid tabs mixed in with of Halloween candy. I prefer razor blades and dirty needles, which is why I like Dario Argento instead.
4. Jean-Luc Godard. Famous because he loved to write about films and couldn’t make them. This incompetence was interpreted as a break from convention, by people who could make films but couldn’t write about them.
5. Michelangelo Antonioni. Probably popular because he’s named after a Ninja Turtle, and most film critics went to school to try and translate introverted geekiness into newspaper employment. There is no possible other way to explain why people seem to love films that feel like they last a week when in reality you’ve only fast-forwarded through the first twenty minutes.
Once you’ve watched all the movies from these five directors, you’ll be ready to hold a discussion about film theory with the best of them. I’d list a few more, but Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe just came up on my Netflix queue, and I’ve got some brilliance to witness.