Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2007 at 4:12 PM

Among the many thoughtful tributes today to Ingmar Bergman, who died early this morning at age 89, this quote from Michael Atkinson has really stayed with me:

For people who never cared to know from imported cinema, Bergman represented the self-aggrandizing absurdity of Euro-film, even more so, remarkably, than Fellini—perhaps because Federico's excesses exuded a carnivalesque pandering toward the eternal low-brow. Bergman always aimed high and deep, philosophical and God-searching and proto-Freudian, and his doggedly literal questions were more vital to him and his devoted audience than Yankee ideas of showmanhip....

Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman. So, as much as the grim Swede may have seemed in his meridian to be an indomitable voice, his pantheon status has been as fragile as an eggshell. In today's cultural market, he's been a nowhere man. Still, as cinephiles with memories know, fashion will not win in the end, and Bergman, a classical giant with modernist ordnance, will eventually reemerge as essential for all ages.

For whatever reason or quirk of the culture, Bergman fell out of critical favor as dramatically (and at roughly the same time) as his admirer Woody Allen. He's an easy figure to shun, dour and demanding, and the decline of his reputation seems part of a vast anti-intellectual backlash. In an age that prefers the unexamined pleasures of pop and eye candy, when the life expectancy of a movie rarely lasts more than the 90 days between theaters and DVD, he sought the eternal.

But that's why, as Atkinson suggests, his movies will last and be discovered anew. Mankind will always wonder if we are alone in the universe, if the bonds of marriage and family are illusory comforts, if indeed there is a God. Even though Bergman is no longer able to ask, I hope at last he has found the answers.

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