Ingmar Bergman criticizes
Girish Shambu¹ posts a very funny excerpt from John Simon’s “Ingmar Bergman Directs” of Simon and Bergman kvetching over some of the great directors of the late-60s and early-70s. I remember reading it years ago and cheering that Bergman (whom I love) so loathed Jean-Luc Godard (whom I loathe) and had no use for Pier Paolo Pasolini (whom I generally don’t *get*). It was a nice bit of critical bookkeeping and synchronicity,
although somewhat sullied by Bergman’s elsewhere-stated dislike for Alfred Hitchcock.
update: Actually Bergman’s opinion of Hitchcock wasn’t nearly as negative as my memory had it being. Here is the exchange:
Simon: How about Hitchcock? Is her someone you learned from?
Bergman: Yes, of course.
S: Technically, I suppose. But isn’t there a great intellectual emptiness in his work?
B: Completely, but I think he’s a very good technician. And he has something in Psycho, he had some moments. Psycho is one of his most interesting pictures because he had to make the picture very fast, with very primitive means. He had little money, and the picture tells very much about him. Not very good things. He is completely infantile, and I would like to know more — no, I don’t want to know — about his behavior with, or rather against, women. But the picture is very interesting. I learned a lot from all those Americans who knew their profession.
S: I find it’s a terrible notion in modern film criticism that these people were artists, when they were really technicians. We must distinguish between an artist and a technician.
B: Yes, that’s important.
S: Modern film criticism tends not to distinguish. People like Raoul Walsh or Howard Hawks don’t know what art is. They merely have marvelous techniques, some of them.
B: They have told their stories and they have made their films in a good, effective way. That is a duty: effectiveness in telling a story.
S: Yes, that’s a very good minimum, but it’s only a minimum.
B: But it’s difficult.
Bergman, in other words, admired Hitchcock and the Hollywood studio film-makers more than Simon did, because they had a skill he admired — telling a story well, efficiently and effectively. And while Bergman’s narratives were rarely difficult or incomprehensible, nobody would call him a yarn-spinner. Now this exchange with Hitchcock from the book “Schickel on Film” makes a lot more sense than it ever did:
[S]omething like original sin was in [Hitchcock’s] view always operating in the world, and his films universally reflected that fact, though I’m not sure he ever acknowledged this, to me, self-evident fact. One day, over lunch, he said he had read somewhere that Ingmar Bergman had expressed admiration for his work, and it puzzled him. He could not see anything they held in common. “Well,” I ventured, “you are both post-Christian artists.” He looked at me quite blankly and quickly returned the conversation to its original track, which was, as I recall, some true crimes he had been studying.²
Still, though the subtextual similarities with Hitchcock are clear, the commenters at Girish’s site are correct that one simply wouldn’t expect Bergman to care for Godard. Their sensibilities are just too different. It’s not that Godard’s films are “emotional” and Bergman’s “intellectual” — no film is more nakedly-emotional than CRIES AND WHISPERS. But that Bergman treats everything, including the emotions, seriously, and he expects the same from his viewers and in his own viewing. Godard’s game-playing, self-referentiality and wild tone shifts would almost certainly drive Bergman (as it does me) up the wall.
To highlight an article noted in Girish’s comment fields, Bergman also stays up-to-date with film-makers, is just as prickly as ever (Orson Welles is a total bore who fills his films with worthless performances), and apparently is a Stephen Soderbergh groupie (though I’ll bet that’s just Scandinavian stick-togetherness). But he still hates Godard … ♥♥♥
¹ I’ve met Girish at Toronto in the past, via J. Robert IIRC, and know enough to know his tastes are a bit different from mine … at least within that tiny slice of the universe called art-house snobs, to which we both belong.
² I absolutely think Schickel was on the money with this comparison. Their styles and genres obviously have nothing in common, but Hitchcock and Bergman were clearly both Christians who had enormous difficulty being believers.
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