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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Bergman and Antonioni Pass Away

And just like that, we lose two great directors. On Monday, July 30, Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni passed away. We've talked about both in our podcast, most frequently in Top 6 lists -- The Seventh Seal for the former, Blowup for the latter. It's difficult to understate the influence each of these directors have had, especially in the art film world. I'd never have thought I'd talk about them together and find much in common, but each of these directors experimented with open-ended and elliptical narratives at a time when tight, comprehensive plots were virtually a mandate.

If Bergman's Persona (1966) was not an influence of David Lynch's, it should have been. The difference between Bergman and Lynch is that Bergman only uses style insofar as it allows him to penetrate his character's minds. In Persona, we are introduced to two women who might well be two sides of the same woman. At one point, the film jams in the projector and melts away. How much of the movies are real, and how much is just light and shadow on a wall?

On other occasions, Bergman's films are more traditional in structure. Wild Strawberries (1957) tells the story of a man who is to be honored for a lifetime of achievement, but in journeying to the ceremony, he discovers that few of the people in his life particularly want to share the moment with him. On the other hand, he meets a lot of new faces, and we sense that now, at the end of his life, it is only just beginning.

A master of peering into the depths of the human soul and the fragility of happiness, Bergman inspired so many filmmakers to follow, in particular Woody Allen, whose Interiors is somehow wholly his, yet might as well have been Bergman's own. Even many of Allen's comedies wrestle with the same kind of material Bergman did, just from a different angle.

Bergman's last film was Fanny and Alexander in 1983...sort of. After retiring, he still kept working, directing a half dozen or so films for television, the most recent being Saraband in 2003, which was a sequel to his 1973 film Scenes From a Marriage. Saraband revisits the characters 30 years later, with the kind of sequel that makes the Antoine Doinel series and Bogdanovich's Texasville so interesting. Rarely do directors revisit characters after many years to see how life has changed; this is another of those times.


Michelangelo Antonioni came to prominence in the art world with 1960's L'Avventura, a film that tries the patience of many but does, upon reflection, amount to a wonderfully scathing indictment of the upper class, or at least those specific people with neither the threat of poverty or their own passions to drive them to productivity. He followed that film up with La Notte and others before ultimately making films in the English language, the first being Blowup. Blowup is much more accessible than his earlier work, an intriguing portrait of a photographer who is impassioned by his craft but lapses so deeply into such desultory ennui by all else that he might as well not even exist. As a secondary note, Antonioni seems to have been able to create a compelling portrait of London during the swingin' sixties. Odd, how sometimes a foreigner is better able to perceive the character of a place than its residents.

Antonioni's films start with Italian Neo-Realism, then twist and subvert it to his own ends. They strive to portray realism, but they're not so interested in the realism of life as the realism of living it. They deal with stories, but they're not so interested in telling them as using them as a means to delve into the human spirit.

I recommend reading Roger Ebert's tributes to Bergman and Antonioni.

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