Monday, October 10, 2005

Magically Delicious Footwear.

The Magic Flute
1975, Sweden
Ingmar Bergman

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.

His name is Adam, and his favorite Bergman is Cries and Whispers. Because he's a dirty insect and he doesn't know any better.

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.


Blogger Sam Kahn said...

Wow, that Critical Studies thing was hilarious stuff. A lot of that holds true for my experience at school... gotta learn to look past the bullshit while still writing enough of it to get A's in class.

1:18 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

It's all about tasting the bullshit without swallowing it, like pretending to drink disgusting plum brandy when visiting Bulgarian relatives.

I've learned that it's all about spelling and syntax. Most people in fine arts programs can write about as well as they play football, so as long as you can put a sentence together, you'll be fine.

9:10 a.m.  
Blogger David Wester said...

You can also get away with a lot if you learn how to overuse the word reflexive

11:48 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Also, a muddy understanding of the term 'post-modern' also helps.

12:28 p.m.  
Blogger jeopardygirl said...

When I took film at University, this guy in my Intro class bitched at the end of the semester that he had expected to see "the best" films/movies made, and instead they shoved all this "foreign crap" down his throat. I think he probably failed.

3:14 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

No. I passed.

Besides, everyone knows that the best movie ever made is The Passion of the Christ.

3:22 p.m.  
Anonymous Heather said...

Wow, I've fallen asleep during movies by 4 out of those 5 directors. I should win some kind of philistine award.

That said, I really enjoy these reviews. They have a certain reflexive postmodernity, or whatever.

3:49 p.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Who was the lucky fifth you lasted through?

6:22 p.m.  
Blogger Sam Kahn said...

A muddy understanding (hell, even what I thought was an in-depth understanding) of the term "postmodern" doesn't help very much when every other cinema professor here defines it differently, plus the Fine Arts program uses another definition alltogether. It sucks.

7:29 p.m.  
Anonymous Je Suis said...

Ash, you're so cynical, you're back to being a believer. Best movie forever-ever, yeah! Right on! Most passion! Most Christ! Most slow-motion! Most exclamations! Yeah!

11:37 p.m.  
Anonymous Heather said...

For some reason, I've had a lot of luck staying awake for Fellini. I credit the saucy Italian girls.

However, just because I'm awake doesn't mean I'm actually absorbing any thematic content. For example, I would generally sum up La Strada by saying that it was about a sad clown.

11:42 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

Je Suis - Yes, I have come full circle. I know firmly believe that a crazy man died for our sins, and that if I splash my baby with water, when it dies it'll go to magical fairy land ruled by the wizard that runs the universe. Up there, everything is in slow motion, and every one has good teeth.

Heather - Saucy Italian girls would keep me up through anything, if only anti-depressants hadn't rendered me impotent.

1:50 p.m.  
Blogger Rugendas said...

"he loved to write about films and couldn’t make them..."
Are you sure this applies to Godard?

10:47 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I'll admit it's a touch flippant, but I've never been a huge Godard fan. His recent output is terrible, and to that I offer Notre Musique as an example, and his breakout film Breathless has some unique and innovative editing techniques, until you read a Godard interview where he invariably admits he just shot a standard movie influenced by Hollywood noir and cut out all the parts where he felt bored, making his innovation a result less of artistic vision and more of Attention Deficit Disorder. I will grant that he's made some good movies, though, but his impact I think was more on film studies than on filmmaking.

11:07 a.m.  
Blogger mayday said...

Probably true, but who cares about impact when you're watching the movies? The fact that his early stuff was good is the main thing, no? Or are you just really annoyed with his public image?

12:04 a.m.  
Blogger Ash Karreau said...

I think that's probably the source of my annoyance, yes. I think a lot of it comes from being very impressed about with Breathless when I was younger, then being really disappointed to discover that he did it by accident.

8:59 a.m.  

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