Sunday, April 11, 2010

* Sowing your Wild Strawberries

If Guisseppi Verdi (Joseph Green) is the Shakespeare of opera, then Ingmar Bergman is the Sartre of film.

Unlike Shakespeare, Verdi, or Sartre, one of Bergman's most powerful forms of eloquence is silence: Both Strawberries and his The Seventh Seal are full of what life is full of: silences, especially in the presence of people.

Correction: Life USED to be full of silences. Technology has put an end to that. Leopold Stokowski, the white haired conductor in Disney's Fantasia and famed orchestrator of Bach, predicted in the 1930's that the time would come when people could go anywhere and be accompanied by music. That time has arrived with its glory and its deafening insistence.

Bergman is the foremost existentialist film maker of our time and his use of silence (except for a chair leg dragged on the floor or a coffee cup clattering on a saucer or an engine wheezing in the background) is a key part of his technique and indeed his mystique.

Interpersonal silences --the absence of human voices in face to face encounters-- may be Bergmanesque premonitory preparation for the eternal silence, the final cessation of sound, when "earth has stopped the ears"--as A.E. Housman says in To An Athlete Dying Young

I recall Bergman was the rage among the cogniscenti when I was growing up in the 1950's and 60's.

I went to high school ten miles from Yale and all my young teachers were either married to, dating, or friends with, Yale graduate students or Yale Law students, and they all fancied themselves among the intelligentsia. Unlike Holden Caulfield, little did I know how phoney that was.

The advertisement (above) for Wild Strawberries says "One of the best films of all times". I suppose that means right up there with Citizen Kane. This knowledge, by the way, is one of the axiomatic "givens" of being a member of the cogniscenti: Citizen Kane is the best film ever made.

Uttering this statement casually, underbreath as a kind of aside, guarantees you entry to almost any cocktail party conversation at any Academy: whether you can sustain that entry is another matter.

But, back to the 1960's and Hamden High School.

My English teacher was an unmarried 30-ish woman whose painted tentacles were definitely poised to nab a Yale Law student, although, in retrospect, I believe today's fad for lesbianism might have won her over had it existed then. A fad for anything "intellgentsiac" would have won her over.

It was from her golden lips that the pearls about Ingmar Bergman's "greatness" were first cast in my direction.

Now that fifty years has elapsed, I wonder.

What effect has Bergman had on my world of 2010?

For that matter, what effect has Jean-Paul Sartre (the atheist existentialist whose writings were also "the rage" in the 1960's) had on the last 50 years, except to spawn a parade of nihilists spewing venom as they marched through that half century?

At least Shakespeare's nihilism is eloquent and quotable and surrounded by characters with names and lives we all know: Lear, Cordelia; Macbeth, Lady Macbeth; Falstaff; Othello, Desdemona, Iago; Romeo and Juliet; Hamlet, Ophelia; Calaban.

And Verdi?

There can be no nihilism in song. Singing is the antithesis of nihilism.

And the cogniscenti would tell you that Bergman's silences ARE song.


There you have it.

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