Follow by e-mail

Showing posts with label Stig Björkman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stig Björkman. Show all posts

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Four #UCFF Tweets about Searching for Ingmar Bergman (2018)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2018 (25 October to 1 November)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

26 October

Four #UCFF Tweets about Searching for Ingmar Bergman
Vermächtnis eines Jahrhundertgenies) (2018)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 30 January 2017

Whatever you mean by calling something ‘sexism’, take a look at Spellbound (1945)

Whatever you mean by ‘sexism’, take a look at what Spellbound (1945) shows us...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (20 to 27 October)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

29 January (last updated, 20 February)

Whatever you mean by calling something ‘sexism’,
take time to look at what
Spellbound (1945) shows us
[watched last year at The Arts, and since on DVD release]...

Our story deals with psychoanalysis, the method by which modern science treats the emotional problems of the sane.

The analyst seeks only to induce the patient to talk about his hidden problems, to open the locked doors of his mind.

Once the complexes that have been disturbing the patient are uncovered and interpreted, the illness and confusion disappear... and the evils of unreason are driven from the human soul.

Not necessarily always put in the context of what happened when her affair with Roberto Rossellini was made public (which Stig Björkman’s documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words (2015) does well¹ [shown in 2015 at The Arts (@CamPicturehouse), and also at Cambridge Film Festival 2016 (@camfilmfest)]), Ingrid Bergman’s remark, about her career (as well as strongly-held disapproving attitudes towards her life), that she went from being a saint to a whore and back again is often quoted.

Even if Kim Newman [interviewed on the Hitchcock series of DVD releases] thinks of Spellbound (1945), unlike Notorious (1946) (where Bergman plays opposite Cary Grant), as more David O. Selznick’s film than Hitchcock’s, both have plenty to observe on how women are regarded (and they were written by / credited to Ben Hecht) : the latter has Bergman (in the role of Alicia Huberman) as a woman who is ‘notorious’, because of 'who she is' and 'what she does' (whereas a man need not be). As if marrying a man to spy on him were not enough to demonstrate her loyalty to anti-Nazi causes, she needs to prove herself worth Devlin’s (Cary Grant’s) love and respect (despite what is unjust cynicism, rooted in jealousy, on his part) - whereas the former’s Dr. Constance Petersen is, as a female psychoanalyst, actually seen treated with... no more respect.

At Green Manors, which sounds very formal and proper, is where we initially see her putting up with the attentions of Dr. Fleurot (John Emery), one of her fellow analysts, and who even has the nerve to kiss her to see whether he can interest her in him : this action is, of course, partly exaggeration for effect, the effect being both to show that her colleagues are boors (as we later see, when she has spent the afternoon with the presumptive Dr Edwardes, and has to listen to their condescension and mocking), and that Constance, somehow (and contrary to what the world will later criticize in Bergman’s private life), has not hitherto experienced desire for a man [which even Dr. Petersen's peers 'jokingly' want to see as frigidity, and, after the fake Edwardes has disappeared, Fleurot calls her the human glacier, and the custodian of truth : shortly after which Murchison says that Fleurot's colleague and he are offending by their callousness, and 'retain the manners of medical students'].

Hitchcock and Hecht both know that these are the public ways of the world then, that men think themselves so irresistible that they either scorn a woman for not choosing them, or force their advances on her by making her tolerate being kissed : in disguising this behaviour as the so-called battle of the sexes, neither is necessarily colluding with it, but it is in meeting the character of Constance’s psychoanalytic mentor, Dr. Alex Brülow, that the origins of her attitude towards her own sexuality become clear.

Centre shot, Dr. Alex Brülow (Michael Chekhov), casually waving a large paper-knife around...

Hearing Alex Brülow, played by Michael Chekhov, as a typical Germanic Jung-type figure², we may nonetheless realize, behind what he says, that he has always been sexually attracted to her³, but knows that he is so much older, and that her affections for him – as a teacher, and father figure – are different³ (though, as he sees it, she patronizingly thinks him incapable of seeing through her ruse of presenting JB and herself as on honeymoon, though they do not even have any suitcases, etc., etc.).

So, Alex tells her that he is glad that she is there to make his coffee the way that he likes [Cook me my coffee in the morning, and the house is yours, at which Constance, out of sight, grimaces], and he is keen to say things to the same effect that (as his friend Zannenbaum used to say) Women make the best psychoanalysts, until they fall in love - after that, they make the best patients, etc., etc., all of which is a clear indication that, all along, Constance has been behaving to please him, to be 'a good analyst'.

(The name implies being constant, after all – just as it does in Chaucer, in The Clerk’s Tale – but Ingrid Bergman does, as in Chaucer, stretch our credulity by the extent to which she is prepared to trust Gregory Peck, despite all the signs – put in her and our way – that he may be dangerous, and not worthy of her trust. Even Murchison, in the closing scene with Constance, says Charming loyalty – one of your most attractive characteristics, Constance !)

John Ballantyne (Gregory Peck), after Dr. Brülow has knocked him out with bromide

In essence, the sexism that Hecht and Hitchcock exploit most is that of Alex Brülow [we actually see Constance smile at the house detective at the hotel, who thinks that he knows ‘human nature’, and can read her as a librarian, or a schoolteacher, and is, later, irritated to have been deceived by his own prejudice as to who she was, and why she was there...] :

Alex has more than ‘mixed motives’, at least³, for wanting to discourage Constance in believing in John Ballantyne, but is passing them off as disinterested doubts. He is supporting her, despite them [he bluntly says, of her, Look at you : Dr. Petersen, the promising psychoanalyst, is now - all of a sudden - a schoolgirl, in love with an actor - nothing else !], because he does not wish to alienate her (and really hopes, as indicated at the end of the film, that she will be proved wrong⁴ ?). Of course, none of it is, in any sense, plausible, but we enter into it as in a film, where Salvador Dalí has been a contributor to a dream world, and where the psychoanalytic process can be ‘hastened’, and can do its work just with one night’s sequence of dreams ?

Unwittingly, we hear these origins alluded to on the train to Gabriel Valley, after they have left Alex. When Constance Petersen says the following words to John Ballantyne (Gregory Peck), he is distracted – as she eats – and becomes visibly more and more anxious, but she has faith in him, and so is not troubled : yet it is an insight, albeit underscored in this way by the man who sits opposite, into her nature, and how it has come to be, such that quite a short scene actually seems quite longer (and we then pass over how the night is spent, and they arrive the next day).

I always loved very feminine clothes, but never quite dared to wear them.

I’m going to, after this, I’m going to wear exactly the things that please me. And you.

Even very, very funny hats.

You know, the kind that make you look like you’re drunk.

Less plausible than any of the truncated dream-interpretation is that Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), knowing what he did to Dr. Edwardes and where he left John Ballantyne, leaves all of this to unfold before us – if we know the film, we see him make small touches that attempt to distance himself from Edwardes or what happened⁵, and yet they are not convincingly those of a man who must know that his best chance of surviving as head of Green Manors is by other than what he allows to happen, or does... ?

Dr. Murchison (Leo G. Carroll), ensuring that the note from 'JB' reaches Constance

Essentially, Murchison leaves it to the improbability of what we see unfold - just as the film would have us credit Constance that she is, all along, doing the right thing - and that he hopes to elude being detected by maintaining a poker face⁵, as at The Twenty-One Club.

End-notes :

¹ Though Björkman unobligingly does not properly name Bergman's non-famous initial or third husbands [and, not unusually, IMDb (@IMDb) cannot say who they are either], which is not the least of his film's flaws...

² In this fairy tale of a film (we believe it, because we do not know any differently), where psychoanalysts all sleep / live on the premises, and naturally ‘go into theatre’ when one of the patients has injured someone.

³ Yet is there a hint that Alex may have drugged Constance, as he does JB, and have had sex with her in the room in which she used to stay, and which she says looks different to her, now that she is there with Ballantyne-to-be… ? [Seeing them off to bed, Alex ambiguously says Any husband of Constance's is a husband of mine, so to speak... Near the end of the film, Alex has reintroduced Constance to Green Manors, and the physical intimacy is there between them once more. And, right in the closing shot, he has to reiterate this comment, and relinquish Constance...]

(Constance talks as if she know what she is doing, in such a situation, that the couch is for her, and the bed for Ballantyne – which is what we see. But what sort of fairy-tale notion of being a doctor to the man with whom she is in love has her believe that doing this is some sort of useful norm for such a professionally unacceptable position ? [If, just if, Alfred Hitchcock had ever meant us to forget for a second that this was Ingrid Bergman on screen, would he have cast her – and not someone relatively anonymous (though she was one of producer David O. Selznick’s 'discoveries', and so casting was pretty much settled) – to be utterly convincing as this psychoanalyst, who actually breaks (as far as one can judge) all the professional rules in the book ? !

When Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote Good Will Hunting (1997) (and both appeared in it, the latter as ‘Chuckie’ Sullivan), can we any more just take at face value that Dr Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) really is literally to be taken to represent even some sort of maverick psychologist – any more than Constance can be a practising psychoanalyst of any age, who has never been in love before, but falls for John Ballantyne (first, in the mistaken guise of Dr Edwardes) within a matter of hours ?]

Seemingly, the film was marketed in Italy as io ti salverò ('I will save you')

⁴ Alex wakes JB (Gregory Peck) roughly, just after Constance has pleaded with Alex, getting very close, face to face, and he has said that he will pretend that what he is doing makes sense, if she makes him coffee - very reluctantly, Alex drops her hand, as she goes towards the kitchen : You don't like me, papa, JB says, soon after Alex has engaged him in conversation. [In the dream-analysis, where Constance again momentarily looks away, Alex enthusiastically says, to her, If you grew wings, you would be an angel !, just after telling her that JB is the patient, and that You are not his mama - you're an analyst!]

⁵ When Dr Edwardes' secretary arrives at Green Manors, Murchison declares that the imposter has certainly killed the real Dr Edwardes, and describes his trying to take Edwardes' place 'to pretend that his victim is still alive' in these terms : This sort of unrealistic act is typical of the short-sighted cunning that goes with paranoid behavior. (And yet Murchison makes sure that Constance sees JB's note, and that her responses to Fleurot's 'callousness' are not overlooked, as if willing her to follow JB where he has gone...)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Monday, 7 March 2016

Two now-celebrated film directors talk via an interpreter

This is a Festival review¹ of Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

6 March

This is a Festival review¹ of Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015)

Two film directors, both of whom later turned out to have been near the end of their careers (and lives), agreed to meet for week-long interviews, the younger man [François Truffaut] asking questions, via an interpreter [Helen G. Scott], of the older [Alfred Hitchcock] : the result of their meeting was not only deepening friendship, but also Truffaut's book Hitchcock², of whose existence and history Hitchcock / Truffaut (2015) is right to remind us.

Frontispiece of Truffaut's Hitchcock

Hitchcock / Truffaut is a documentary that is worth watching for what it tells and shows, though not always for how it chooses to do so (please see below). Also, more importantly, because one could easily tease out its various strands³ [which are identified in the end-note] and ask whether one or more could have been given more weight - with the others as subsidiaries, or not included at all.

Since Leeds International Film Festival asks one to rate everything from 1 to 5 (5 being the best), one agrees to slot into that snapshot way of thinking, and - as there had been better films – one eliminated giving it 5, but then it had to merit 4 (as it certainly was not 3). In fact, it is deserving of being scored as 4 just to hear Martin Scorsese talk with masterful intelligence about Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), which, whatever its aims may have been, is the heart of film : his analysis makes us delightfully aware of the cinematic stature of both Hitchcock and of him.

What this Tweet says may, indeed, be what publicity for the film wants to tell us, and, in some senses, we do get a good feel for how all those interviews went – as well as how some of the ironic photography came about, including that used for the poster (in the Tweet above). (If we want to know what resulted from all that interviewing, though, one reads the book itself², of course [and the film does not much tell us how, or how much, the interviews - as conducted and recorded - were 'tidied up' for publication].) On other levels, hearing simultaneous translation prominently taking place at some length can, for those with some ability in French, be confused and confusing, just in the way that watching a film in, and with sub-titles in, one’s own language can be a distraction (even without any discrepancy between them...), if one is needlessly drawn to reading the latter, rather than listening to the voices and what they are saying :

As the whole point of using the footage was to give that sense of the interviews in progress, Helen G. Scott translating simultaneously into French needed to be audible, but it might have been better suited to Hitchcock / Truffaut’s purposes to adjust the volume of her voice, and that of the two men, for its English-speaking audience : relatively speaking, did we actually need to be able to concentrate on (a) Hitchcock and on (b) what Scott translated Truffaut asking or commenting to him (and less so on (c) her translating Hitchcock’s words for the benefit of Truffaut, and on (d) what he said for her to translate for Hitchcock) ?

Presenting the material, just as it was, and expecting the viewer to accommodate to it was one thing that deprived the film of being rated 5. Another, already alluded to (above), was that of director Kent Jones insufficiently deciding, and being clear about, the relative importance of the five or so strands within the film³ [identified in the end-note], and it has been said that Scorsese’s contribution is vital to its appeal and worth. (It does not quite fit in the last of these broad strands, as, unlike some of those interviewed (one just happens to recall Wes Anderson⁴), Scorsese was working in film at the time, and got to see Vertigo through being in film circles, since it was not available otherwise.)

The end-note⁴ has just mentioned that Hitchcock / Truffaut seems too keen to prove to us that it has people who make comments (under one or more of its strands) whose opinions actually matter, and (above) that it seems too undetermined, in what it ends up saying, about what is important : at the danger of overpraising Scorsese’s words, he was actually seeing films such as Vertigo alongside, and without needing the insights of, the Truffaut book. So the film has us stray, without being either sign-posted or having a justification, into valuing Hitchcock’s direction (and his work of preparation for a shoot) as if it is somehow just part of the thesis that the book importantly benefited both Truffaut and Hitchcock’s reputation.

Finally, no doubt it did, but that does not, in and of itself, prove to make a good reason to order the book, expecting from it a good filmic read. Historically, the re-valuation of Hitchcock that it achieved may have been overdue, but it does not mean that the exchanges between the men come off the page (as against in the live segments of interview that we see) with vivacity, or even that some of the territory into which either man wishes to take us may be of interest (except to them) : by contrast, in the Faber & Faber series that may owe it its origins (where film directors are interviewed about their work), a title such as Woody Allen on Woody Allen⁵ takes more time on each film, by usually devoting a chapter to one (whereas five or six are looked at in each of Truffaut’s chapters).

As the sub-title suggests, Faber & Faber's Hitchcock on Hitchcock : Selected Writings and Interviews (1995) offers something different

As against the Truffaut book, cinematographer Stig Björkman’s conversations with Allen have been more closely edited, for its chapters to be flowing and thematically arranged within them, of which one has far less sense with Truffaut's Hitchcock. Although Truffaut did produce a revised edition, Björkman and Allen have had the luxury, since the first UK edition⁵ (it originally appeared in Sweden, in 1993) of re-visiting the work with the passage of time and the appearance of new films. It survives the test of being readable and informative now, whereas – for all the significance of Truffaut’s – maybe it does so not have so much to say now... ?

Post-script :

To dilate, as an antidote to the above, on considering Hitchcock / Truffaut in wider terms [from ‘Actors are cattle’: when Hitchcock met Truffaut, Stuart Jefrries writing in The Guardian (@guardian)] :

'In the book of the interviews,' says [Kent] Jones, 'Hitchcock came over as stilted and formal, which you can hear he isn’t.

Thanks to critics such as Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette, Godard and indeed Truffaut (all of whom who would become the iconoclastic hipster directors of the Nouvelle Vague), cinema for the first time became, as director Olivier Assayas puts it in Jones’s film, self-conscious. For the first time, it reflected on itself as art rather than dismissing itself as mere entertainment. The Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews were part of that revolution.


¹ Seen, during Leeds International Film Festival (@leedsfilmfest) 2015, at Hyde Park Picture House (@HydeParkPH).

² Hitchcock by François Truffaut, with the collaboration of Helen G. Scott : Secker & Warburg, London, 1968. (First published as Le Cinéma selon Hitchcock : Robert Laffont, Paris, 1966.)

³ * Contains spoilers * :

(1) How Truffaut (and his peers) came to esteem the films of Hitchcock, and for Truffaut to approach him with his request

(2) Their correspondence leading up to Truffaut’s visit

(3) The interviews themselves and artefacts of those sessions

(4) The resultant book Hitchcock / Truffaut** and the effect that Truffaut desired from it, i.e. for an appreciation of Hitchcock’s films as works of film-making, not merely as entertainment (not least of all what made them work as ‘thrillers’ in the first place)

(5) Plus some 'talking heads' - other directors, or writers or critics, few on the screen long enough for their contribution to amount to more than bulking out the numbers.

⁴ If, as one is glad to do, one knows films of Anderson’s, there is another form of distraction, but this time on the screen : not only do we have this director (or writer, critic, etc.) identified by a caption (which is always useful, and can easily be taken in), but, in another part of the screen, a short list of films, publications, etc.

The tendency, then, is is to wonder why this film has been mentioned, but not this one (rather than focusing on what Anderson is saying…). So who is this film for that, there and then (rather than built into the credits ?), it needs to be sure of establishing the credentials of those who are shown saying how important Hitchcock or this book of interviews is ?

Stylistically, there is a like tendency, which comes out strongly at times, towards having too much archive / documentary material in view at once : we do not simply have a text on the screen for us to be allowed to read [such as Hitchcock’s quite gracious response to Truffaut - although that actual letter was accepting, but short]. Rather, at the same time as highlighting passages in it, the visual-design of Jones’ team over-busily has it transit across the screen, as well as changing the focus, and shifting us on, by moving other pieces of original material into play : almost akin to some Harry-Potter-like notion of an interactive museum, where, as the Hogwarts portraits do, the exhibits have a life of their own – perhaps entertaining or enchanting, but not an aid to concentration (or low anxiety) ?

⁵ Faber & Faber Limited, London, 1995. (It was originally published as Woody om Allen.)

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Faber & Faber's [Film Director x] on x series

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2013
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

15 August

After a special screening of Time Bandits (1981) the other night, I have sought out Gilliam on Gilliam (edited by Ian Christie).

I did so, because these books are an excellent sourcebook of what, in interview with a suitable person from the world of film (in some way), directors have to say about their works, almost invariably grouping comments by film (or period) - I cannot commend them more warmly, and would certainly not be where I am without Woody Allen on Woody Allen (edited by Stig Björkman).

In the chapter that deals with Bandits, I have learnt, for example, how :

* Connery helped Gilliam with filming in Morocco, when there was more to do with shooting the fight than two days allowed, and the older man simplified his task for him

* Sir Ralph put Gilliam through various tests, both before accepting being God, and then in God-like mode, but was still a trouper

* The scene where the mirror / boundary that separates the Bandits from the fortress had not been originally written (and, if it were conceivable, more screen business, this time with Edwardian spiderwomen, had bridged from escaping the giant to getting to the fortress), but had arisen from David Rappaport's aloofness from the rest of his team

* The ending would have been different, if Connery had first not used up his fourteen days in the UK (and so it could not be shot as planned), and, because Gilliam then nabbed Connery when he came to the UK to see his accountant

* Palin had written the role of Robin Hood for himself, but had accepted that Cleese would be fine when billing / financial reasons had required

* The scene in Holy Grail where the animals are thrown over the castle walls was done (as this information impinges on effects in this film), and also the cage scene in Bandits

* Gilliam says that he had never read C. S. Lewis (or known of his use of wardrobes*)

As I hope that I may have demonstrated, a way of learning about films from the inside, and a book in which I shall next be reading about Brazil (1987)...

NB The British Film Institute (@BFI) now has an interview with Gilliam on its web-site...


* I think that Christe errs, in his end-notes, in considering The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe first of the books(though the ordering and publication history scarcely make matters clear).

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)