Monday, July 30, 2007

The world is a lesser place today

One of the great masters of cinema has passed on, and the world is a less because of it. I was first introduced to Bergman's films at the University of Utah while in film school. I saw "The Seventh Seal" and did not understand much of it, but the cinematography took my breath away. I ended up buying a copy on VHS and paying $75 for it. At the time, there wasn't sell-through videotapes, and that was the going rate.

I have seen the film probably 30+ times and each time I get a deeper understanding, a new view of looking at his themes of love, redemption, fear, trembling, life, birth, death, etc.

His films deal with the hard topics that so many of us want to avoid talking about, let alone watching movies about. He dared to ask what lies beyond this world, what becomes of the human soul when it leaves this body. His films always seemed like a search for me. A search for meaning, a search for truth, a search for understanding of self, of others, of God. His films are so simple in execution, but so complex in theme.

His father was a Lutheran Pastor who was very strict, and prone to rage. He would beat Ingmar, lock him in closets, deny him food, mock him, etc. The young boy escaped into his imagination and was crucial in his becoming a master storyteller.

He said if you took all his films together, you would see his soul. What an amazing thought.

Some filmmakers shoot for the audience's heart. They want to target the audience on an emotional level. Some filmmakers want to shoot for the audience's head. They want to outsmart the audience or to make them think. Many filmmakers shoot for the audience's gut. The basic level, the simple, the base, the lowest levels of the psyche.

Very few filmmaker's shoot for the audience's soul. To challenge the heart, the mind and the gut at the same time. When you watch a film like "The Seventh Seal", you feel like you have gone twelve rounds in a boxing match. Your head hurts, your emotional overloaded, but it got under your skin and into your soul. I was lucky enough to be amazed by the cinematography and not repelled by the subtitles. I was lucky enough to see much of my self in Antonius Block; the knight seeking out something that makes life worth living. The knight that struggles, that searches, that somehow finds his own redemption in saving the lives of others. I wasn't afraid to contemplate a film where death is a character. I was lucky.

A frequent sufferer of depression, the director knew the importance of keeping his demons at arm's length. "If I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage," he said. "Lilies often grown out of carcasses' arseholes."

Farewell Ingmar, I hope that whatever awaits us on the other side embraced you, healed you and welcomed you home.

Thank you for your study of the human soul. Thank you for your brilliant talents. Thank you for daring to share your soul with the world.

No one at my work today knew or cared about the passing of this master filmmaker.

The world is a lesser place today.

"A note in the paper.
Ingmar Berman has died.
The man who shaped and nourished my deeper thoughts, feeling and hopes.
The artist who illuminated my dreams.
Ingmar Bergman, the magician!
Master of the most powerful tool of self
expression ever given to man.
May his legacy NOT rest in peace.
May his 'chess game with death' remain a symbol of hope.
May his vision of our dark misconceptions of what it means to be human
enlighten our troubled planet for all generations to come."

- Paul Cox, director

"For an artist who contemplated what he called "the great mystery" probably more than any other, it's almost comforting to know he's now experienced it... or not experienced it, as he seemed to think quite possible."

- Richard Linklater, director

"The films of Bergman struck me like a lightning bolt - I had never seen anything like them before, even the titles were like some kind of existential poetry -- “The Seventh Seal” -- “Wild Strawberries” -- “The Silence.” Here were films that were not afraid to talk about the big questions - “Who are we?” “Where do we come from?” “Where are we going?” And I drank them up, like a thirsty man finding a crystal spring in the desert. My mind and my soul desperately needed what these films had to say. This was not the escapist fare of Hollywood, or the pat spirituality of Biblical epic films where God spoke in hallowed tones from a burning bush. With Bergman, God was a spider that lived in the upstairs closet! A shocking and necessary jolt to my Catholic sensibilities.

Yes, these films changed me forever -- they cemented my dream to become a filmmaker because if film could do this -- then surely it was the greatest art form of our time. I will never forget the first time I saw the horses standing in the surf against a setting sun, and death with his black cape raised approaching the world weary knight.

He was a giant in a time of giants -- Kurosawa, Fellini -- giants like we don't have anymore. You don't realize how unique and important he really was until there is another generation and another and there are no Bergmans. No giants. Now he's gone."

- Gregory Nava, director

"When I was young the World Theatre, in Chicago, staged an all-day Ingmar Bergman Festival. I went at ten o'clock in the morning, and stayed all day. When I left the theater it was still light, but my soul was dark, and I did not sleep for years afterwards."

- David Mamet, playwright and director

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