(Original Review, 2007)
Bergman devotes a number of pages to his experience as a 16 year old schoolboy on an exchange visit to a German family who were all ardent Nazis. He recalls attending a rally in Weimar, at which Hitler delivered a short speech, and being entirely caught up in “the eruption of immense energy”. When he left to return to Sweden the family gave him a present of a photograph of Hitler.
While I’m sure that Bergman’s account of his experiences is entirely self-serving, the things that strike me are:
Firstly, that many middle-class Swedes in the 1930s and into the 1940s did think that the Nazis, vulgar and prone to regrettable excesses as they were, were infinitely preferable to the godless Bolshevik hordes in the east, and that geopolitical reality meant that it really was a choice between one or the other.
Secondly, I can easily imagine my sheltered 16 year old self, given the same situation as Bergman, having the same reaction. We all like to imagine that we would have been heroes of resistance in the Nazi era. Reality suggests this is a comforting illusion we afford ourselves (even if we’re lucky enough to write for the Socialist Review).
Bergman goes on to note that when the truth of the holocaust came out he went through denial and into ‘despair and self-contempt’. Is that an apology? It doesn’t seem like an attempt to avoid self-criticism. He also notes that it left him with a conviction never again to get involved in politics – which links up with the generation of ’68 dismissing him as a bourgeois individualist dilettante.
Whatever. I’m still left with ‘The Seventh Seal’ and ‘Wild Strawberries’ being two of the most astonishing films I’ve ever seen (the former having gifted cinema one of the great character images of the last 100 years, imitated and parodied by everyone from Woody Allen to Bill and Ted). And with ‘Fanny and Alexander’, one of the few films to be genuinely Shakespearean in its embrace of the complications of what it means to be human. (Complications that seem to be entirely beyond the comprehension of our modern puritanical film-goers).
Dig up the corpse, put him on the scaffold, and ban all the films forever. It is about time to burn all those Caravaggios, a truly bad man by 2007 standards. Never mind that his art is unbeatable. Cinema is a voyeuristic, libidinal art-form inherent exploitative in exploiting the ecstatic potential of simulating a dream. This is why the wide screen is inherently myth-making for its ideals of human beauty and the dangers attached to it. In this sense, actors and actresses sign a pact with the devil for their immortality, whether this be the bad behaviour of an obsessive Hitchcock or a hyper bisexual avant-gardist like Fassbinder. A Hollywood that draws a line under the decadent power of cinema will soon let the American industry die out in favour of television and the field will be left to Asian auteurs or even the odd European in the guise of aesthetes like Sorrentino or Guadagnino. What I mean is please stop the cultural revisionism according to which titanic artistic figures are dragged through the mire of contemporary philistinism. It debases both the artists and the issues. The only cause it serves is the proliferation of idiocy, anti-intellectualism and an already far-advanced bout of puritanism. At the end of the day, well, women are mysterious, any woman will tell you that. Photography is problematic isn't it? And? Easy to finger point at people who explore life through a lens, branding them predatory and controlling rather than creative and honest. Isn't all cinema somewhat pornographic in the end? It's bloody weird whatever it is. Enjoyable though, often the more problematic the more enjoyable it is, though the days when directors were encouraged to use the medium in any authorial, creatively personal way really seems to have slowed to a dribble now.
Having said that, I just don't hero worship someone over directing a film, even if I like it. But I do like Bergman's films a lot.