Inspired by The Masters

In the two weeks following the deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, countless tributes to the directors continue to appear. The following excerpts are from just some of them (including salutes by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen):

By A. O. Scott, The New York Times
“By an awful and uncanny coincidence — the kind of occurrence that, in a movie, would have to be taken as symbolic lest it seem altogether preposterous — Michelangelo Antonioni and Ingmar Bergman died on the same day. Since Mr. Bergman was 89 and Mr. Antonioni 94, neither man’s death came as much of a shock, but the simultaneity was startling. Not only because they were both great filmmakers, but more because, in their prime, Mr. Antonioni and Mr. Bergman were seen as the twin embodiments of the idea that a filmmaker could be, without qualification or compromise, a great artist” […]
The deaths of Bergman and Antonioni end a great chapter in film history
By Ty Burr, Boston Globe, August 5, 2007
“The world of cinema mourned the passing of two titans last week. Ingmar Bergman was 89, Michelangelo Antonioni 94. Front page obituaries celebrated their accomplishments and the nightly news tossed up 30-second clips of The Seventh Seal (Bengt Ekerot’s Death coldly moving his pawn) and Blow-Up to remind us of their greatness.

The two filmmakers almost seemed relevant again.

In truth, they’re anything but. The hallowed days of post-World War II art-house cinema — that period from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s when people went to the movies expecting metaphysical transcendence to go with their popcorn — is long gone, and all the Criterion DVDs in the world won’t bring it back” […]
Ingmar Bergman

The Man Who Asked Hard Questions

by Woody Allen, from The New York Times, August 12

” […] I’ve said it before to people who have a romanticized view of the artist and hold creation sacred: In the end, your art doesn’t save you. No matter what sublime works you fabricate (and Bergman gave us a menu of amazing movie masterpieces) they don’t shield you from the fateful knocking at the door that interrupted the knight and his friends at the end of “The Seventh Seal.” And so, on a summer’s day in July, Bergman, the great cinematic poet of mortality, couldn’t prolong his own inevitable checkmate, and the finest filmmaker of my lifetime was gone” […]
Michelangelo Antonioni
By Martin Scorsese, August 12, 2007
“The more I saw “L’Avventura” — and I went back many times — the more I realized that Antonioni’s visual language was keeping us focused on the rhythm of the world: the visual rhythms of light and dark, of architectural forms, of people positioned as figures in a landscape that always seemed terrifyingly vast” […]

In tackling the big questions, Antonioni raised the bar for filmmakers
Like Bergman, the Italian director explored the forces of modern-day existence.
By Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2007
“At the time of their deaths they were arguably Europe’s two most famous great film directors. How very different they were in style, temperament and culture: Bergman grappled with faith and the danger of its loss while Antonioni became the master of alienation. Bergman’s films tended to have a classical formality while Antonioni experimented with very long takes and bravura tracking shots” […]

By Richard Corliss. from Time Magazine, August 5, 2007
“These are the existential blahs that critic Andrew Sarris called “Antoniennui.” For audiences unable to get on the director’s wavelength or into his measured rhythm, seeing his characters suffer in slow motion was like watching paint dry. Movies were supposed to move, not slouch against a wall, and the pace of Antonioni’s movies was a special test for the antsy. […]
“Pro or con, a filmgoer had to be diverted by the beautiful people in an Antonioni cast: stunners like Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau, Alain Delon and especially Monica Vitti, the director’s mistress and muse for five crucial films. These stars helped Antonioni make anxiety glamorous, passivity photogenic, entropy entertaining. You could say he made “boring” interesting. “

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)

When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence. Ever since childhood, music has been my great source of recreation and stimulation, and I often experience a film or play musically.

“Introduction” of Four Screenplays (1960)

People ask what are my intentions with my films — my aims. It is a difficult and dangerous question, and I usually give an evasive answer: I try to tell the truth about the human condition, the truth as I see it. This answer seems to satisfy everyone, but it is not quite correct.

I prefer to describe what I would like my aim to be. There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site.

They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, labourers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.Regardless of my own beliefs and my own doubts, which are unimportant in this connection, it is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship.

It severed an umbilical cord and now lives its own sterile life, generating and degenerating itself. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God. He lived and died without being more or less important than other artisans; ‘eternal values,’ ‘immortality’ and ‘masterpiece’ were terms not applicable in his case.

The ability to create was a gift.

In such a world flourished invulnerable assurance and natural humility. Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation.The smallest wound or pain of the ego is examined under a microscope as if it were of eternal importance. The artist considers his isolation, his subjectivity, his individualism almost holy. Thus we finally gather in one large pen, where we stand and bleat about our loneliness without listening to each other and without realizing that we are smothering each other to death.

The individualists stare into each other’s eyes and yet deny the existence of each other.We walk in circles, so limited by our own anxieties that we can no longer distinguish between true and false, between the gangster’s whim and the purest ideal.

Thus if I am asked what I would like the general purpose of my films to be, I would reply that I want to be one of the artists in the cathedral on the great plain. I want to make a dragon’s head, an angel, a devil — or perhaps a saint — out of stone. It does not matter which; it is the sense of satisfaction that counts.

Regardless of whether I believe or not, whether I am a Christian or not, I would play my part in the collective building of the cathedral.

Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman (1960)

Read his New York Times obituary here.

Sven Nykvist (1922-2006)

Sven Nykvist, considered by many to be the world’s greatest living cinematographer, died in Sweden yesterday at the age of 83.

Nykvist’s career spanned more than five decades, during which he received three Oscar nominations and two wins (for Cries and Whispers, 1972, and Fanny and Alexander, 1982).

In 1945, Nykvist made the jump from assistant cameraman to cinematographer. He worked on small Swedish films until 1953 when he first worked with with legendary director Ingmar Bergman on the film Sawdust and Tinsel. After their collaboration on the film The Virgin Spring, Nykvist replaced Gunnar Fisher as Bergman’s cameraman and thus began one of the greatest cinematic collaborations of all-time (17 films in total).

Nykvist’s simple style that relied on lighting pushed Bergman’s work in a new direction, away from a theatrical appearance. Nykvist believed in using light to establish mood and to bring out the natural flesh tones in the human face. This enabled the emotion of the scene to be played out on the face without the light becoming intrusive.

The documentary Light Keeps Me Company (2000) pays homage to Nykvist, without revealing any of his working secrets.

Together with Ingmar, he created movie history with those lighting arrangements. He was called the master of light because of the moods and atmospheres he could create with light. It was a near impossibility to create the moods he created.” — Carl-Gustaf Nykvist, son and director of Light Keeps Me Company.

Beginning in the 1970s, Nykvist began making films throughout Europe and the United States, collaborating with other directors. They include: Louis Malle (Pretty Baby), Philip Kaufman (The Unbearable Lightness Of Being), Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle), Woody Allen (Another Woman, Crimes & Misdemeanors), Richard Attenborough (Chaplin) and Lasse Halstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape).

In 1998 Nykvist’s career came to a sudden halt when he was diagnosed with aphasia, a form of memory loss.

One thing is certain: no one will ever be able to emulate Sven Nykvist’s glorious style.


New York Times obituary