Posts Tagged ‘The Seventh Seal’

(This is a reprint of the post first posted in cinebuff.wordpress.com)

One feature of Bergman films is an unconscious acknowledgment of personal influences of his world on him. Bergman was working for Svensk Filmindustri while Alf Sjöberg made The Road to Heaven (1942), a stark medieval allegory, hints of which we can see in The Seventh Seal. The fact that he went on to put Miss Julie, the film that established the reputation of Sjöberg on the boards after his death, cannot be coincidental. If Bergman has found relentless use of close-up of the face a technique to reinforce the existential and moral problems of his characters we may find in Carl Dreyer’s use of such close-ups as forerunner. In citing these in no way detracts the artistic excellence of this Swedish filmmaker. Another feature of Bergman’s subject matter is his introspective quality derived of course from his childhood memories, adolescence and personality. The Seventh Seal for example is his search for faith in the absence of a personal God. In a way he repudiates the faith of his fathers and in its place coalesce certain existential sureties from his own a clue of which in his film Persona (1966). “Today I feel that in Persona — and later in Cries and Whispers — I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.” If we consider this film in particular we see it as self-revelatory as to his interior life. Take for example the images of Elizabet Vogler and Alma merging as one. This shot is a follow up of the birth of Elizabet’s son and it is narrated by her nurse. It is a painful memory for the actress and she hates herself and her baby. In merging the two faces of the nurse and the patient, Bergman is merely reliving his own condition. It is the reverse of the son towards his father. What spiritual baggage that he is left holding is anathema considering circumstances of its birth. The child- parent relationship must have been traumatic that it is explored in his movies again and again like a melody that one cannot get rid of. His Autumn Sonata (1978) and Fanny and Alexander (1982) are cases in point. This rather obsessive aspect of Bergman where he would rather get rid of the world and its uses on which politics, commerce and culture gather strength (and by which nations may trade their tawdry goods across,) he would confront his viewer and also himself by deep concerns that his own countrymen found as excesses. Consider ‘Bergman’s tight use of a 1.33:1 frame which often excludes any clear glimpses of the world beyond a face which finds no up, down, left or right in which to direct its gaze’. (The radical intimacy of Bergman-Hamish Ford) I for myself cannot think Bergman could pull off a film like say Ophul’s ‘The earrings of Madame de…’ or Fassbinder’s Lola. His metaphysical make-up is too ingrained in him to let him get into a serious business of commenting on political or social concerns of his day. His first success came with Port of Call (1948). In telling the love story of Gösta a seaman who saves a girl from drowning and keeping her by his side Bergman resorts to rather straightforward narrative. Berit has a terrible past and she would rather risk telling it before she commits herself to Gösta. In resolving their differences and mutual acceptance he touches upon social themes like failed parents sending their daughters to reformatories, the reliance of working class women on back-street abortions. We see him more as a disengaged filmmaker from polemics. I mentioned this film to show Bergman, as he has himself admitted at the time, was heavily influenced by Italian neo-realism. ‘The is most apparent in the stunning location sequences of Port of Call, where the influence of Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica can be seen in virtually every shot. Some of these sequences have a raw documentary-feel… that is lacking in virtually all of Bergman’s other films’. (James travers-2007) Take a film like Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) where love, marriage and infidelity angle of the film is of a different league than the lighthearted touch of Renoir (The Rules of the Game) for instance. The aging Egermann takes his young wife to the theater to see his former mistress. His directorial touch doesn’t bring out anything new in their three-way confrontation except some heavy observations. The three actresses on stage mock men, love and marriage. One of them says that a woman can do anything she wants to a man as long as she doesn’t hurt his dignity. Bergman won a jury prize at Cannes for the film (1955). His handling of the comedy of romantic entanglements was as different from his Magic Flute or the Silence. With films as disparate as the Magician or So Close to Life he showed that he was not confined to any particular style as his genius to put on what he had thematically chalked out. The subject matter determined the style. It could have come only from his intuitive understanding of various modes and viewpoints of filmmakers of his age. Critical acclaim of his films have waxed and waned. Bergman’s status in late 50’s and in the 90s are light years apart. Ingmar Bergman is not to be judged by films per se but in the way he opened us to appreciate the shared condition of life and film art beyond the fads and polemics. It is purely an internal experience. Elizabet, his character in Persona stopped speaking unable to respond effectively with ‘large catastrophes’ such as Holocaust or Vietnam War. Bergman was also confronted by catastrophes that in his case were private. Luckily for us he responded with films.(Ack: James Travers, Hamish ford, Pedro Blas Gonzalez.)



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Rites Of Passage ©

Daddy Q- liked stirring up things. Obviously. The man was huge, nattily dressed as he stepped out of his limousine. The town with a name as Walachoola (pop: 300) just didn’t have in it to roll a red carpet. So the man stood for a moment on that dirt road and in the sun right in my line of vision. His milk white suit shone with iridescent aura and his clean-shaven pate gleamed. He was a big shot, and his face the color of burnt tobacco and the whites of his eyes merely spelt rspect.

Not a moment he wasted on the dirt road. There was he as though he didn’t mind the rusty gate that kind of wilted on their hinges. He had come along the pathway trimmed in deference to some historical curiosity: the only big pile of rubble that survived General Sherman’s guns and still breathed. It must have seen long passage of time, with each beat less and less of a world that skipped small potatoes. The man didn’t mind.

He casually glanced at the name board: Corn Blue

A Group home for the Disabled. A safe haven

We were at that moment at breakfast table, and we were awkward. Awaiting him. He wore a silk tie, which was stuck with a tiepin as a big as a goose egg. His name was scratched lovingly and it bawled,’Daddy Q’

“Daddy Warbucks!” Tom squeaked.

“It is diamond!” said our master while we sat there frozen and food still on our plates; I knew he was coming to take me. Daddy Q waved his hand not caring a whit for the cook and housekeeper who doubled as hounds besides their regular chores. They ran the home with their iron fists. He wouldn’t be stopped in his tracks after he had set his mind on something. Obviously.

The master half rising remonstrated that it was highly irregular and all that. He stood there in his path. The stranger put out his hands and just pushed him aside. He said with a smile to cut out the crap. Forks and knives somewhere dropped and stacked plates of yester night slid with a loud clank. There fell silence. As awful and deathly as I could imagine.

I thought he had just opened the seventh seal. “ Did anyone think of Apocalypse?” He asked so softly and we all craned our necks to catch his drift. Then we looked around. I put out a finger, my doubt snowballing into a fright. Daddy Q with the tiepin swiveled towards me. There was a twinkle in his eyes. He came to my side. Bending closer he asked: “Be specific. What about Apocalypse?”

“ Seventh seal! It is opened!” I blurted out overcome with the awful feeling of silence. Quickly he pulled me out of the chair and said, “ I am sorry. This waiting. Wasn’t it 18 years or was it 19?”

Marianne the cook found her voice. She croaked,” Mental age is far less. You could count in fingers.”

“ Are you my father?” Marianne would have answered to it. She looked to him with unconcealed yearning and pursed her lips but Jemima the housekeeper pulled her and said in commiseration, “ We are all that he has. Poor soul. He wets his bed you know?” The master found his voice: ‘voices in his head; worse at nights.’ The man frowned at the sight of them. Ignoring them he said affably,“ Does it really matter? I am here for you. This is all that matters.” Daddy Q was obviously luxuriating in the years that he lost while I thought of the crap that ladled out at meal times; the way Jemima scared the shit out of me for soiling the bed. Marianne upset me with her cooking and the master what did he care? Who treated me as an imbecile? Every minute I was stuck in that crummy group home it never occurred I had a father. Least of all the one who stood there in a well-tailored suit. He could wear a tiepin as big as that. It was a monstrosity. It cost a fortune. And he seemed not care a pin for it.

What the hell! Only he could be so overdressed for the occasion and yet not make me wince. He didn’t have to open his wallet I knew he was loaded. I liked the idea of having a father. Before the master could say he hustled me out and said.” We will go for a spin. In my limo.” I knew Daddy Q was real as real as the tremor in my roots. Oh shit I messed myself. In terror I put my hands to ward off Jemima’s flying hand. I caught the eye of the big man who flexed his little finger in a secret code. I felt in control. Strangely I felt some 10 pounds lighter as though a searing scalpel sliced part of me neatly. The thrill of the limo of course was a shot of morphine.

Next instant I was settled in the cool interior of the limo with Daddy Q-next to me. The plush seat with burgundy red tapestry was new. I thought I was born to be driven around. A gut feeling, – even while nights purred outside and stars looked thousand eyes stalking me. I saw visions of course and wetting my bed was only a symptom. The limo was commodious. I said so. He gurgled,” This model is OK. If you have a yen for playing Frisbee you must wait till fall.”

The man in velvet cap and gold tassels kept his eye on the road. “ Turn at the next turnpike.” The phantom at the wheel kept going till the next crossing. “ Seventh Seal uh?” Daddy Q laughed low at the thought, He called out,” say Michael, that was neat.” “ It was his idea.” He said turning to me, “ We had to have a plan. Don’t you think?” I could only nod overwhelmed at this sudden change. “ We searched high; and we searched low.” Mopping his dark brow he chuckled: “ I thought some one would lead me to you. I had this diamond for him. But none cared.” “People have become less friendly, I suppose.” Thereafter he retreated into his shell.

I recollected the pinup I had from The Seventh Seal. The knight playing chess with Death, under a brooding sky. I vaguely knew what the movie referred to. Last book of the Bible. Jemima had seen to that the book was out of reach for the imbeciles. Tommy and I included. I knew I had to play along. Suddenly Daddy Q turned to me and with a mysterious smile said,” You must be a man if you must have a pinup by your bunk?” I flushed and couldn’t answer. It was the Birth of Venus by Botticelli. Minus the angels. That was Tommy’s doing. He disliked me and he said I had pretensions to art.

“ You are entered in the register as an imbecile. Fools!” Michael broke his silence, “ Psychiatric evaluation by three amount to nothing.” He added, “Master what you expect from those busybodies who run the home? He is an orphan. Refuse of the state.” Daddy Q frowned but chose to keep silent. How long I would have stared at the blurring landscape through the window was lost and I could feel the chill and I huddled into my seat. The Big Man saw the rough weave of my shorts and the knobby knees and said, ‘You aren’t dressed for the trip.Take this’ He pleasantly threw a rug on my lap and said, “ We will go to the beach there.” There. It wasn’t Cape San Blas beach. Instead the Lands End along Magellan’s straits. I didn’t have to be there but I just knew in my bones my companion didn’t know his geography. He was running the show and what the hell! I was free and rich! His tiepin with a stone as big an Easter egg was still there and it caught the chill of the blustery winds. Had I asked I knew he would give me. There was plenty of time for favors. Sons asked and Fathers gave. Period.

On one side lay the rocks thrown pell-mell by some cataclysm. On the other a raging sea, white with foam. In between a beach of shingles and not a soul walked on the beach. Except one Indian with a blanket thrown on his shoulders. What struck me was his trumpet. He went on wiping the mouthpiece. Queer. As soon as the limo stopped the man with the trumpet scurried towards us and said, “There!”

I saw a beach cabin of sorts through the mist of sea foam. “Everything is arranged.” Daddy Q merely waved him away. A cabin was all that stood there and There was a weather-beaten board: Seafood *fresh catch* Satisfaction Guaranteed! Daddy Q- led me to it. I could see Michael chose to remain with his limo and he had already lost us. A scruffy man who managed the fish food stall received us and offered seats before a crudely nailed plank. My Father asked,” Well Sandro, what have you got for us?” “Abalone! Even as Gabriel sounded, so I kept it for your boy.” “ He’ll have it inside. Bring it on a plate. My treat you know?” “I understand”, he said in a dither. What I thought as a wall with planks nailed lapped had a door.

On passing which we were in a ritzy hall with ornate glass walls and under a ceiling painted by some old master and chandelier that bathed the room in pools of light. There were dark corners and shadows as I could take in at a glance were guests who were well into their partying. Daddy Q no sooner helped me to my seat than came a discreet waiter with his waistcoat in spanking white. After having laid the abalone he withdrew as silently as he came.

Daddy Q loved stirring up things, obviously. Before I tackled the thing the waiter reappeared and prised open with the sharp side of the knife. It was now my turn. I opened the mother-of pearl and whamm! The tiepin had turned blood red and it oozed all over the shirtfront of Daddy Q- who sat erect. I could not fully grasp what came over him. I was staring instead at the abalone, the minuscule creature that stood up gingerly. It made my past and present jell! Botticelli painted as painterly as he was trained to do. ‘Not a day without Venus’. Botticelli made the Corn Blue more human with his human art. But this Venus was all natural and her flesh had a skin tone that nothing could have prepared out of a mortar and pestle. Much less squeezed out of a tube. Demure and profane. She was right there coming out of the shell and she was right there plopping on my lap. I saw her breath harder and her ivory skin glowing with heat. For the girl sat now by my side and not even a team of mules could have parted me from there. She put her slender arms around me and said,” Adonis! I found you.” Leaning across she lightly nipped my earlobe and smiled. Never shall we part again. It was a pact.

The Big Man knew what was coming and he averted his gaze while she went straight to my shorts. She yanked my shorts and my briefs. It was the moment of nightmare!

My man thing was totally cleaned up. I could guess the import of Daddy Q’s cue before I stepped in his limo. He had seen to that I didn’t mess his limo. I went white while I saw hell fire from her eyes. I reached out and tugged the sleeve of Daddy Q. I asked him in despair. “ Make her love me!” Daddy Q sat there petrified. I shrieked, “for these 19 years! You owe it to me.” Was he staring at her or me I don’t know. My Venus asked me silkily, “ Make him go!” “Shoo,” she said from my behind hesitantly. Daddy Q sat there and looked me in my eyes. The fire that simmered deep down in me was in jets and sweat beaded, died silently. I was afire and yet some one had plugged me good and proper. “ It is his trick!” My Venus said with deadly chill, “ I am the one to free you. He is no good for you.” She stood up and hissed more like a jaguar, “ You thought he was a plaything for you?” Next moment she slapped him with all the force she could muster. The tiepin popped like a bubblegum and Daddy Q just melted. Hadn’t her breath kind of shook me up I could have stared and said he dissolved in so many wavelets. Just as Botticelli painted it. Oh shit, she was panting as though she had me so within close and lost my attention, “ Aw honey, don’t make it difficult. Just try.” Time for me was a dead horse. No limo that gave me shiver down my spine. Instead just me and a girl: retching and coming up for air as though two backed beasts under a silent sky had connected . Time had broken into a sweat. Only two of us stood there on Land’s End. Or Terra del fuego.

Dusting sand from my bruised knees I looked at the girl and said, “ I hate you! I hate you!” The stars in a cerulean sky came a-twinkling. Like diamonds. I had lost Daddy Q. With his tiepin as big as a goose egg.


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