Archive for Ingmar Bergman

The Sunday Intertitle: Educating Archie

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , on March 8, 2020 by dcairns


There’s a chance that next year I’ll be teaching a course in film history. This feels like a nice back-to-basics thing to do. When I first started teaching at Edinburgh College of Art there was very little formal structure or supervision to the course — the hippydippy art college philosophy survived into the nineties.

Since it seemed I could do just about anything I liked within reason, I created a series of lectures and, later, screenings, which walked the students through film history from Lumiere to the present. It was very western-centric, but it covered the major developments of film language and introduced them to a few names. Since this was a practical film-making course, this was all a bonus, but my emphasis was on film language. I didn’t care if they mastered the dates and there was no test. Just an attempt to open up possibilities and show them different sources to steal from.

As the course has become more constrained by oversight and broken into individual sub-courses, this whistle-stop tour of film history disappeared, but ironically it’s now coming back, as there’s a need for a single-semester course which can be taken by outside students who aren’t necessarily experienced in practical filmmaking and haven’t been trained on our equipment.

I decided to ask the Twitter hive mind what movies they’d show to exemplify the 1910s, maybe the period I’m least familiar with. Elisabetta Girelli suggested SIR ARNE’S TREASURE, which I hadn’t seen. I should work my way through all the suggestions, though.


This one has Scottish baddies, which appealed. And, as it unfolds, it feels like THE VIRGIN SPRING is copying from its playbook. Three “ruffians,” a terrible crime, the criminals pass unrecognized among the good folk, divine intervention and revenge. In Bergman the latter two are reversed, and everything’s more horrible and we don’t know quite what we should make of it. But I like the idea of a lineage running so: SIR ARNE’S TREASURE: THE VIRGIN SPRING: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

In terms of film language, the camera movement in SAT is surprising. The first move is a curved track preceding a guard as he patrols a curved corridor. Following someone about is, in a way, the simplest kind of tracking shot, conceptually, but director Mauritz Stiller’s moves have a certain originality.


When the guilt-ridden Lord Archie crosses the ice, the dolly-shot is a straight line, but something very unusual happens. The ghost of one of his victims appears in double-exposure. The double-exposures here are even better than in THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE. And the tracking shot makes the phantom seem to hover in mid-air and glide across the ice, tied to Archie (I can’t get used to calling him Archie) by supernatural bonds.

Even better, Stiller then cuts to what we have to read as the ghost’s POV, as Archie looks over his shoulder, Like one, that on a lonesome road…


It’s thrifty, too: Stiller can use the same track for this shot as for the previous. Always a good idea when laying track, to think what else you can use it for… This is the kind of thing I say to turn film history classes into practical filmmaking classes…

(This is a TREMENDOUS film.)

Ingmar Bergman on the Lavatory

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 5, 2019 by dcairns

Finally started delving into our big Bergman Blu-ray box set. Since June is here and the temperature has promptly plunged, we slid SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT into the Maidstone and enjoyed visiting an idyllic movie I hadn’t seen since I was 19 (in BBC2’s Film Club)and which Fiona had never experienced.

It really works, this one, proving that Bergman COULD do comedy. Unlike ALL THESE WOMEN and THE DEVIL’S EYE, it never tries too hard, in fact it seems to forget about being funny for half an hour at a time. But the broad comedy (the flatulent jalopy, for instance, and everything involving Jarl Kulle (below), also star of the other two Bergman romps) seems to fit quite comfortably within the dramatic sections.

There’s also a nice extra — appallingly shot and edited, but nice nonetheless — in which old Ingmar talks a little about the project. He learned of its Cannes success while reading the newspaper while on the toilet, he says — a stirring image — “Swedish Film Has Cannes Success,” he reads, and thinks “That’s nice.” Then he learns it’s HIS film, which he didn’t even know was playing. So he borrows some money from Bibi Andersson, his girlfriend and star (top) and scoots down there. I like to picture him with toilet paper on his shoe, but you don’t have to.

It’s the beginning of Bergman the auteur who can make any film he wants (within budgetary limits, I guess). He says, a bit disingenuously I fear, that in a way he’s sad that this success meant he could no longer enjoy the guidance of smart producers. A likely story!

I do love Gunnar Fischer’s photography, in its way as nice as Nykvist’s. Though I wish they’d had a graded filter or something to hand so their day-for-night could be more solid. It’s not so much that the “nuit Americain” is unconvincing — it usually is — it’s that they don’t even seem to be attempting it. The Bergman-Ed Wood Jr. crossover is achieved, and in Bergman’s best early film…

Big Bergman Book

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , on February 23, 2019 by dcairns

Criterion mailed us a cop of Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, which is TWO books, really. One is all Bergman’s movies, the other is essays on those movies. Fiona and I did one on ALL THESE WOMEN and THE DEVIL’S EYE, representing the Swedish maestro’s less-celebrated “flop comedy” phase. And we found much of interest and much to honestly enjoy in these off-the-beaten-path curios. Truly!

Fiona got in on the deal by suggesting a title, We Prefer the Early, Gloomy Ones, which I thought was terrific. Then she told me I could only use it if I credited her, which seemed awkward so I suggested she co-write the thing, which she did. Then Criterion came up with their own excellent title, Then As Farce, which is an easier reference to get and avoids the whole controversial Woody Allen thing.

Anyhow, the upshot is we have a lot of Ingmar Bergman to watch now.

Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema – Set [Blu-ray]