Archive for Ingmar Bergman

Forbidden Divas: The Greeks Have a Word for Her

Posted in Fashion, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2021 by dcairns

Shadowplay is delighted to welcome back David Melville Wingrove with another of his Forbidden Divas. Now read on!

FORBIDDEN DIVAS

The Greeks Have a Word for Her

“You don’t know what it means to have no choice.”

~ Ingrid Thulin, Games of Desire

Early on in Games of Desire (1964) we watch as Ingrid Thulin drifts her way through yet another dull diplomatic cocktail party. We are in Athens and she is the wife of an ambassador. (The country he represents is left politely unspecified.) Thulin wears a long white gown that is draped like an antique Grecian robe. Her arms are bare and so is one of her round and shapely shoulders. Her blonde hair is piled high atop her head and her adorably too-wide mouth is stretched in the sort of smile that threatens to extend all the way round and meet above the nape of her neck. It is her mouth, in fact, that saves her face from bland and anonymous prettiness and renders her entrancing and perverse. One of the guests looks at her and exclaims: “You look like Aphrodite!” What sounds like an absurd bit of hyperbole becomes, in that moment, no more than a bald statement of fact.

Not many actors could bear comparison with a Greek mythological goddess. But Ingrid Thulin is the most radiantly glamorous Swede since Greta Garbo and shrugs it off as if to the manner born. Of all the actresses in the Ingmar Bergman stock company, she it was who built the most adventurous and satisfying career away from her dour Svengali and his highly rarefied dimension of Nordic gloom and doom. Her work ranged from films with other Great European Auteurs – The Damned (1969) by Luchino Visconti or La Guerre Est Finie (1966) by Alain Resnais – to such frankly tawdry fare as the psychedelic giallo Short Night of the Glass Dolls (1971) or the all-star Eurotrash disaster epic The Cassandra Crossing (1976). She even made a foray into soft-core porn as the madam of a Nazi whorehouse in Salon Kitty (1976) where she appeared to be having a whale of a time and came out with her dignity defiantly (and miraculously) intact.

This may or may not be welcome news but…Games of Desire is far more the latter type of movie than it is the former. It is vulgar and lurid and sensational and written and directed by two Germans (their names are Hans Albin and Peter Berneis) who deserve fully to be every bit as obscure as they are. But then just about any nonentity can look classy in a classy production. It takes a truly great actress to look stellar in an unapologetic piece of junk. It may not come as a surprise to learn that Thulin’s radiant exterior in this movie hides a profoundly troubled soul. Her husband (Paul Hubschmid) is a prissy, poisonous closet case who is trying to instil his handsome blond secretary (Bernard Verley) with his enthusiasm for all things Greek. He even has the effrontery to fly a psychiatrist in from Rome to analyse his wife – as if the parlous state of their marriage were somehow her fault!

Being of a practical nature, Ingrid knows better than to waste her money on doctors. No sooner has the last of her guests gone home than she high-tails it out of the embassy and heads for a squalid white hovel at the foot of the Acropolis. There she changes out of her chaste white robes and into a figure-hugging dress of black silk. (The kind that makes wandering about in the nude look like a sudden attack of modesty!) She lets her hair hang loose and wraps it in a tacky gauze scarf spangled with giant sequins. Then she heads to a sleazy bar in the red light district and offers herself for sale to room full of horny sailors. An urgent question springs immediately to our minds. If she gets arrested for hooking, will her husband’s diplomatic immunity be enough to get her off?

She certainly does not lack for clients. Before too many scenes have elapsed, she is shacking up with a stud (Nikos Kourloukos) who works on the docks. He has smouldering dark eyes and a mouth that is overpoweringly sexy in its cool, cruel perversity. His sister (Claudine Auger) is a tramp who strips in the bar for money and even (or so it is hinted in one scene) performs live sex shows in the side. Whatever money she makes goes to her no-good lover/pimp and she is distinctly unreceptive when her big brother lectures her on her morals. “You pay for a woman,” she tells him. “I pay for a man. The only difference is that men are a lot more expensive.” To be fair there is a certain logic to that and the script hints that brother and sister are (or at least have been) incestuously involved. Just in case we miss the point, the young lady is given the name of Elektra.

The sister is also – as her name suggests – a vengeful and vindictive little minx who tumbles rather more quickly to Ingrid’s secret double life than her husband or her lover seem to do. She muscles her way into a job as Ingrid’s personal maid, seeing this as a means to scheme and blackmail her way to a better life. Would it be giving away too much to say she sets out to seduce the husband’s gay lover? Games of Desire has enough plot to fill several seasons of your average afternoon soap opera. The fact it all gets telescoped into a mere 90 minutes makes the melodrama even more deliciously overheated than it was to begin with. If you fear you might get lost amid its multiple twists and turns, just remember that nothing that is even the least bit credible has any chance of ever happening. All the rest should follow very neatly from there.

The dialogue is wondrously overripe and studded with the sort of non sequiturs that might well pass for Art if only they were directed by Bergman. “Did you know that Siamese cats are monogamous?” asks the psychoanalyst apropos of nothing. When Thulin gets a tad overwrought and takes to driving her car along a perilous winding road, Auger reminds her: “It takes an expert to drive a car over a cliff and get out in time.” Has neither of these women ever seen Deborah Kerr in Bonjour, Tristesse (1958) and whatever happened to plots with coherent motivation? Games of Desire is the sort of rampantly insane melodrama that actresses in the studio era used to go on suspension to avoid making. But much like Greta Garbo, Ingrid Thulin not only has the power to turn Trash into Art. She even dazzles us to a point where we can no longer tell which is which.

David Melville

The Sunday Intertitle: Educating Archie

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

vlcsnap-2020-03-08-11h55m55s203

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.

vlcsnap-2020-03-08-11h55m21s938

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.

vlcsnap-2020-03-08-11h56m04s176

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…

vlcsnap-2020-03-08-11h56m15s598

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…