MovieBob - Intermission
On "The Road" With Bergman

Bob Chipman | 27 Nov 2009 17:00
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I'd like to share something with you: When movie critics get together, we talk shop - mostly stuff we've seen, stuff we want to see, and how crummy untrained upstart Internet Brats like yours truly are ruining everything for the venerable field Print Journalism. As such, it's not uncommon to find oneself defending one's reviews.

What is uncommon, but not unheard of, is to find oneself defending one's readership. Usually, sleight is unintended: "Well, that must be easier at least" if it's learned that you're doing "capsule reviews" or working for a less-than-highbrow (read: not a "Film Journal") publication; or "I'm surprised they sent you to this" if one is working for... oh, I dunno, a videogaming site and the movie is something other than a teen-targeted action flick.

Now, I get that no malice is meant by such idle chatter, but the casual implication at hand - that Escape to The Movies fans would be assumed to be easier to please because gamers apparently don't possess a sophisticated appreciation of the cinema - does tend to stick in my craw somewhat. Go ahead and call this brown-nosing if you like, but before I was part of The Escapist I was a reader of The Escapist, and I know for a fact that this isn't a "dummy" or fanboy site.

My irritation as to assumptions otherwise is a big part of why I've resolved to A) try even harder to include real meat-and-potatoes film theory among the puns and strategic cuss-words; and B) to use this column, when appropriate, to try and expand on some of that material because I've got this crazy idea that instead of looking down on someone for not getting some obscure movie reference or technical criticism, maybe it's better to use it as an opportunity to introduce them to it.

To that end, this week's review of "The Road" made reference to "The Seventh Seal," a 1957 classic from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. I put it in there to illustrate a point, but it occurred to me later that it gives me the opportunity to do some of that "introducing" in this week's column - which is good, because as it turns out "Top Ten Thanksgiving Movies" is actually not all that functional of a list to try and make.

So I figured I'd do a "mini-film-school" thing here: drop a bit more background on Bergman - who's one of those filmmakers you just ought to know if you're interested in forming a broader understanding of the movies - why exactly "The Road" made him jump into my brain and finally toss out a short list of movies of his that everyone should see at least once. The list part I've narrowed down to three movies - all available on DVD and easily accessible via Netflix or otherwise - two of which represent his most iconic work and one of which shows a tangible connection between his films of then and the multiplex of now.

So, first things first: Ingmar Bergman was born in 1918 and died in 2007. He was a theater director in addition to a filmmaker, doing most of his best-known work in his native Sweden. His career breaks roughly into two periods: Fantasy and/or abstract-surrealist films made in the 50s and 60s; followed by a period of more reality-oriented character work from the 70s onward.

At the height of his international fame, Bergman's name and the recurring elements of his films were the face of European Art Films in the same way that Bruce Lee or The Shaw Bros. were the faces of Asian Kung Fu movies. If someone wanted to spoof the Euro-Arthouse genre, Bergman was their point of reference. In fact, when watching his better-known films for the first time, it's quite normal to feel a sense of deja-vu: You've seen these scenes before... as parodies, references and borrowed imagery in everything from movies to cartoons to comics to videogames. Don't believe me? Just watch the first movie on the list.

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