Saturday, August 4, 2007

Ken Russell on Bergman and Antonioni

Here is Ken Russell's remembrance of Ingmar Bergman and Michaelangelo Antonioni from The London Times:

Death of Two Masters

by Ken Russell

Within 24 hours, two art-house heroes, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, have died – leaving their fans in a deep state of shock.

What if Federico Fellini, Claude Chabrol, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Agnès Varda and Jacques Demy had passed away at the same time? The art-house fraternity would all pass away in collective grief.

But just how many of us fans are there? Well, there’s me, for one – but I’m 80. I teach movies at three universities and the kids have never heard of the art-house classics. They’ll watch one if it’s compulsory but given the choice, most of them are into torture-porn horror movies.

I saw my first Bergman film, Sawdust and Tinsel, in 1953 and I never forgot this outlandish masterpiece. By the time I saw The Seventh Seal, in which a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) plays chess with Death, it was 1955 and I’d become a stills photographer. Fifteen years later, I called it to mind when directing The Devils.

Bergman’s later psychological studies evoke a mood when the heartbeat pauses – the blisteringly lonely Hour of the Wolf; Cries and Whispers with its red-saturated walls. Bergman reminds me of a warm Swedish sauna when the door suddenly blows open and the chill breath of death whistles in.

Antonioni, the other immortal, was best known for his somewhat laboured essays, shot mostly in black and white, featuring the Italian idle rich wandering around Rome (L'Eclisse) or drifting on their yacht (L'Avventura).

However, Antonioni did make one smash-hit sensation about a fashion photographer having fun in swinging London in 1966, Blow Up. Forgive me, but I wonder if he had seen a film about a trendy paparazzo that I had made for television called Watch the Birdie.

But undoubtedly, The Passenger has hypnotic charm and that final panic-rising long shot in dusty no man’s land.

If the public didn’t benefit from the passion and ruthless experimentation of Bergman, Antonioni and the rest, we jobbing film directors certainly did. We cherish their memory.

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