Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Remembering Ingmar Bergman

I must comment on Ingmar Bergman too. I feel I own a piece of him , even if the plots in his "art" films were sometimes dark and deep and full of symbolism and his characters' motivations were obscure and often perverse.When we were young and impressionable his movies made us feel grown up and intellectual, and so what if we couldn't always figure out what was going on in them, we knew we weren't in Hollywood anymore.

Now Ingmar is dead and everywhere you look today online, on TV, and in the papers, Woody Allen and everyone else is remembering him. On an international scale he is being recognized for the greatness of his achievements. .Only the death of a reigning monarch or national ruler could surpass in volume all the reports, stories, reminiscences, pictures, and praise for the Swedish maker of films who left us at the age of 88.

Out there in the blogosphere thousands are debating the contributions Bergman made to film as an art--some are denigrating his emphasis on the dark side of human nature. But Bergman didn't make only dark and deeply symbolic movies. Could anyone else have brought off his beautiful version of The Magic Flute--all color and lightness of spirit? Mozart would have loved it. Most often recalled today has been The Virgin Spring.

I was struck by how many commented on their first encounter with a Bergman film, recalling where they saw it (for the most part in little ratty art houses back in the sixties). For us to see a Bergman picture back in the sixties meant schlepping across town to the grubby little art cinema on Cuyahoga Falls.

Netflilx makes available many of Bergman's best films including Torment, a picture made so early in his career that he only wrote the screen play. Somebody else directed. In it are the themes that will follow in many of his later pictures: tormented characters caught up in traps of good vs. evil, symbolism, class struggle, young vs. old, revenge. The plot is simple. Virginal high school boy on the verge of graduation falls for a woman in town who is not as good as she should be, only to find that his malicious schoolmaster has already ensnared the girl , setting her up as his mistress. Since the teacher has the power to make or break the student (exam results, etc.) the boy finds himself out of his depth. Tragedy ensues. Today it's remembered for turning unknown Mai Zetterling into a star. In her older years she too became a director.

I read today that Bergman had no delusions about life after death. In the final analysis his life satisfied him and he said he was content with that.

Tomorrow we'll get out the tape of Fanny and Alexander and play it once again.
For more on Bergman go to Wikipedia

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"The Economist" Recommends a New Book on India

Toward the end of Ghandi, the movie, there was some coverage of the partition of India in 1947. We can be forgiven for not having paid much attention to the breaking up of a sub-continent along religious and ethnic lines--Muslims forcibly removed to the newly created East and West Pakistan and Indians keeping the rest--we were too young to take it in. The Atlee govt. was in charge then, but partition would have happened whatever the government. Also, by 1948 other distractions got in the way as the creation of the new state of Israel got under way.

The Economist recommends a new book: The Partition of India: The Unruly End of Empire by Yasmin Kahn. Parallels can be drawn with Iraq, especially the atrocious lack of understanding of history, religion and culture and absence of imagination or planning for possible unforeseen disaster. Nobody it appears learns from history--especially our so-called leaders. Vis a vis Iraq today. It's also worth considering that one of the unforeseen disasters is playing out today with killer terrorists from Pakistan striking at Britain's very heart.

Here' are a couple of tasty bites from the Economist articls:
The decision to divide India on religious lines was taken with regret but little foreboding and carried out with outrageous haste and unconcern by the British government and its viceroy in India, Lord Mountbatten. Asked by a journalist if he foresaw any mass transfer of population, Mountbatten said, “Personally I don't see it...Some measure of transfer will come about in a natural way...perhaps governments will transfer populations.”

The announcement that India was to be partitioned and independence would follow not less than a year later was made in the House of Commons on June 3rd 1947. By August 15th the British were gone. They accepted no responsibility for the carnage that was taking place and they refused to allow the British troops still in India to keep order or protect people.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"Power of Art" with Simon Schama

Simon Schama's "Power of Art" on PBS is worth watching, and I did last night. Now I wish I hadn't missed the episodes that came before it. Schama knocks the socks off with his powerful observations, discussing wittily in each episode mainly one work by one great painter (he also looks briefly at their other work.) Last night he focused on David's "The Death of Marat," a choice that gave him lots of room to discuss some of the madness of the French Revolution (on which he earlier wrote an entirely readable book, Citizens. [I'd love to hear him comment on David's "Cupid and Psyche" at the Cleveland Museum.]

Sadly I've missed his comments on Picasso, Caravaggio, and others. But now I'm looking forward to what he has to say next week about Turner's "Slave Ship: Typhoon Coming on" which he characteristically says is the greatest English painting of the 19th century. As he said, it's all about killing slaves.

Below is a snippet from a Times review of the show. The reference to The History Boys reminds me that that's a movie worth seeing--it's at Netflix

Simon Schama justifies the title of his series by showing how these artists transformed and transcended their times; he rests his case with “Guernica.” That painting shatters even the thickest complacency and breaks what he calls “the habit of taking violent evil in our stride.

Mr. Schama is a passionate and persuasive docent.

“Power of Art” succeeds not because of the power of the chosen masterpieces but because Mr. Schama masterfully weaves engaging mysteries around each artwork. And he walks and talks viewers through it all in a “History Boys” style that is so chatty and disarming that even the flintiest museumphobe wants to stick around to find out what happened next.

“Yeah, right, led astray were you?” Mr. Schama says with dripping sarcasm to Jacques-Louis David’s highly flattering 1794 self-portrait, which Mr. Schama explains was David’s attempt to airbrush out his culpability in the Terror of the French Revolution. “Just doing your job? I don’t think so.”

The series begins with two episodes shown back to back, on van Gogh and Picasso. It is understandable but unfortunate that Mr. Schama opens with the two most famous artists. It’s the less familiar stories that he tells best, from David’s agitprop to the Rothko murals that were commissioned by the Seagram Company to hang in the Four Seasons restaurant, but ended up in London instead.

Mr. Schama explains, with great gusto, that Rothko only belatedly understood that those great works would fade in the background décor, ignored by plutocrats gorging on foie gras and sole meunière. “Anybody who would eat that kind of food, for that kind of money,” an actor playing Rothko says on the phone before slamming down the receiver, “will never look at a painting of mine.”

The van Gogh segment opens with his suicide in 1890, soon after painting one of his greatest works, “Wheat Field With Crows,” which Mr. Schama describes as “the painting that begins modern art.”

But Mr. Schama can also be boyishly irreverent about genius. He characterizes van Gogh, a maniacal bookworm, as “the scary one who’ll buttonhole you in the parlor and bang on and on about George Eliot and Dickens, and you’ll be backing off from the awful pong.”

Picasso’s tale begins in his Paris studio in 1941, with the image of jackboots stomping up a staircase. Mr. Schama recounts the story, perhaps apocryphal, of a Nazi who barged in and poked around, picking up a postcard-size reproduction of “Guernica.”

The German officer said, “Did you do this?” Picasso replied, “Oh, no, you did.”

Mr. Schama ends the segment with another anecdote, describing the moment in 2003 when Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, went to the United Nations to make the case for war against Saddam Hussein, and United Nations officials covered the tapestry version of “Guernica” with a large blue cloth, concerned that Picasso’s dead children, weeping mothers and screaming horses might clash with Mr. Powell’s message.

Mr. Schama says this is proof that art has a power that even a superpower cannot defuse. “You’re the mightiest country in the world, you can throw your armies around, you can get rid of dictators,” he says. “But, hey, don’t tangle with a masterpiece.”


Tonight on most PBS stations (check local listings).

Basil Comely, BBC, and Margaret Smilow, WNET, executive producers; Clare Beavan, BBC, series producer; Kristin Lovejoy and Junko Tsunashima, supervising producers for Thirteen Culture and Arts; Bill O’Donnell, director of program development. Simon Schama, writer and host. Produced by WNET, New York, and the BBC.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Illusionist

Recommended: The Illusionist on DVD. Time: early 20th century. Plot: involves a fictional Crown Prince Leopold played by Rufus Sewell, a police inspector played by Paul Giamatti, and Eisenheim the illusionist superbly performed by Edward Norton ( he's a dead ringer for assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand --at least in the picture of the duke in Wikipedia} Conflict arises when Eisenheim becomes the toast of Vienna because of his astounding illusions. Many parallels to history including the female lead named Sophia. The name of the real Archduchess was Sophia.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Michael Moore Takes On Wolf Blitzer

Yesterday on CNN an amazing thing happened. Michael Moore appeared on The Situation Room and for ten minutes excoriated CNN and Wolf Blitzer for their biased coverage of Sicko--and for their earlier mindless cheer leading for the war. Moore was preceded by a slanted set-up piece by their mealy-mouthed medical reporter Dr. Sanjay Gupta who, for whatever reason you want to think of, accused Moore of fabricating stuff and more or less lying. But Sicko is making people think coast. Resentment builds that Americans are held hostage by the special interests who will fight to the death to prevent us from having what all other western countries have--health insurance. If just one child or adult dies because of lack of coverage, well, shame on us. Tragically, though, the numbers are in the thousands.

For Moore and Wolf Blitzer go to link: