A Tribute to Ingmar Bergman

Anything can happen; all things are possible and plausible. Time and space do not exist: over a minute patch of reality imagination will weave its web and create fresh patterns…”

–August Strindberg, Preface to A Dream Play (1902)

This spring I arrogantly went through my own self taught film school where I explored critically for the first time some of the defining works of legendary directors like Carl Dreyer, Fritz Lang, Carol Reed, Orson Welles, and Francois Truffaut, among others, many of which I have discussed and reviewed on this blog.  It seems foolish now to think I could sample all of the greats of cinema’s past in just a few short months.  What I came to realize is that my film school will never end as long as I continue my love affair with movies.  For all the careful planning that went into the selection of the films I explored and searched for, sometimes it is the film that finds me before I realize I had been looking for it all this time.  Thus is the case with Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. 

Two kids lost inside Ingmar Bergman’s head.

My interest in Bergman began with his 1966 classic Persona, which had allured me since first seeing David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece Mulholland Drive, as it was often quoted as a heavy influence.  Continue reading

A Review of Carl Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc”

Re-watching Carl Dreyer’s silent classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), was the final piece of my self-taught Spring Film School that started in April with The Third Man and continued in May and June with M, Metropolis, The Big Heat, The 400 Blows, The Innocents, Twelve Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Citizen Kane and finally Dreyer’s film.  One of the most interesting facts about Dreyer’s film is that the “text” is taken verbatim from confirmed historical documents of Joan of Arc’s actual trial.  Catholics are meticulous record takers.  Fans of Dreyer should also note that the Criterion Collection will be issuing a new re-mastered edition of his other bona-fide classic, Vampyr (1932), sometime next month.

____________________________________

CAPTION:  A silent picture speaks a thousand words.

Nothing in the world can be compared to the human face. It is a land one can never tire of exploring. There is no greater experience in a studio than to witness the expression of a sensitive face under the mysterious power of inspiration. To see it animated from inside, and turning into poetry.”
– Carl Theodor Dreyer, “Thoughts on My Craft”

Dreyer’s “Realized Mysticism”, 7 June 2008
10/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

*Note: This a review of the Criterion Edition DVD with the “Voices of Light” accompaniment.

Over the decades Dreyer’s film was a victim of religious and politic censors, two fires that destroyed valuable prints, unauthorized cuts, and zealous editors working against his wishes to modernize the film. An original, uncensored cut was found miraculously in a Norwegian hospital for the mentally ill (ironic?) in 1981 and fully restored for the Criterion Collection. Famed composer Richard Einhorn created his libretto, “Voices of Light”, in response to his own experiences viewing the film and researching the history of Joan of Arc. The film can be viewed with or without the accompaniment, though I can’t imagine Dreyer would’ve objected as Einhorn with great care honored the spirit of the film and arguably of Saint Joan with his compositions.

Carl Dreyer’s silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc, is a shocking example of the potential of film as art. No amount of scholarly critique can account for the raw power in viewing the film. It’s one of those rare experiences that can only be seen to be understood. Dreyer’s meticulously crafted aesthetics (the film is almost entirely composed of close-ups of the actors’ faces) are perfectly married to the gut wrenching performance of Maria Falconetti (a theater star who never acted in another film) in the lead role. I think Dreyer was most accurate in describing her performance as nothing short of “the martyr’s reincarnation.” One need not be religious to understand what is meant or to feel for Joan as portrayed so humanely and exquisitely by Falconetti. Her face is beyond the realm of haunting, and Dreyer seers it into the audience’s memory along with other stunning imagery like a window frame’s shadow turning into a cross on the floor, worms crawling through a skull unearthed from a freshly dug grave, or a bored executioner barely able to hold up his head in the company of his torture devices. And then there’s the burning at the stake and the brutal suppression of the peasant riot–unimaginable horrors rendered so beautifully and hyper realized onto a series of moving images projected onto a blank screen.

The genius of Dreyer’s visuals and Falconetti’s performance is that they create a deep psychological complexity that can engage a modern viewer on multiple levels. In their bold suggestions and through the artistic integrity of their respective crafts, Dreyer and Falconetti leave it to their audience (weather it be a French nation still celebrating and mythologizing their 15th century hero Joan a mere eight years after her canonization in 1920 or a more skeptical 21st scholar studying the history of film) to decide the veracity of Joan’s convictions. Was Joan truly a mystic, a martyr, a saint? Or was she simply mad and the unfortunate victim of the time period in which she lived and died? Either way, she is presented here as human. And in relating to her, one thing is for sure: the mysticism of film was realized by the Dane Carl Dreyer and Maria Falconetti in the year 1928 with The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0019254/usercomments-119

 

A Review of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane”

This spring I continue to utilize my Netflix queue to take myself to “school” with film classics.  Earlier in the month I finally sat down to watch Citizen Kane in its entirety for a critical review.  Without further adieu…

Say, Charlie, you gotta name for that sled?

 

All That Ballyhoo!, 5 May 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

On the Criterion Collection DVD of Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane there is an original theatrical trailer where Welles cleverly advertises the film by introducing us to the cast including the chorus girls, whom he refers to as some nice ballyhoo. That pretty much sums up my opinion of the often over analyzed film that always shows up at the top of the list of greatest films ever made. Even though this was the first time I sat down to watch the film as a whole, I knew everything about it from studying it in film class and from the countless number of essays, homages, and parodies that have come down the pike over the years. It seems impossible now to judge the film against a blank slate, but with great ballyhoo comes great scrutiny.

Released in 1941 by RKO as a Mercury Theater Production, Citizen Kane is the tale of an influential and shockingly wealthy newspaper tycoon (Welles) inspired by the life of William Randolph Hearst. The story follows the investigation into the origins of “Rosebud”-the mysterious word Kane utters on his deathbed. Following newsreel footage announcing Kane’s death, we are then thrust into a series of flashbacks through interviews with various people who knew Kane that reveal the nature of his character.

From a technical standpoint, Welles’ film is as innovative and engrossing today as it was yesterday. Every single piece of cinematic trickery, every dissolve, every long tracking shot, every seamless edit, every play with chronology, every special effect is perfect. Welles was audacious and inventive with his art, and it is for these technical aspects that Citizen Kane will always stand the test of time.

However, the story of Citizen Kane remains cold and distant. I didn’t instantly connect with the characters and the plot the way I did with other classics from the period like Casablanca or The Third Man or even more recently, There Will Be Blood. Often, the supporting players over-act, and the flashbacks are tedious (especially the one detailing Kane’s second marriage) or emotionless (like the scene showing Kane’s snow covered childhood). There’s a certain smug arrogance to the whole production that makes it seem like perhaps Welles was secretly making a comedy. It leaves one wondering how it would’ve come across had Welles actually been allowed to do a straight up biopic of Hearst.

Is it any wonder that so many critics today hail this as THE all time great? Much of today’s cinema is geared towards style and technique over substance, and way back in 1941, Welles was the first to author this very modern brand of cinema where the art is not in the story but how it is told and shown to the audience. His Citizen Kane is technically rich, layered, and enthralling but narratively vapid. Did I ever really care about Kane or Rosebud? No, but it was fascinating to watch. It’s some very nice ballyhoo indeed.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0033467/usercomments-946