Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Who Will Make Movies About Women Now?

I’d like to throw in my two cents without sounding either haphazard or overly-dramatic. We lost tow greats on Monday, but they lived long, productive, amazing lives and they gave us so much. If anyone actually reads this webstie, and you haven’t seen any of the following, do so as soon as possible: l’Aventurra, la Notte, and l’Eclisse, by Antonioni and Persona, Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Fanny and Alexander, A Passion (The Passion of Anna) and Autumn Sonata by Bergman. For me, these are their masterpieces, but both made plenty of other great works. I don’t know if its cliché necessarily, but Seventh Seal was my introduction to art film as well. It’s a fine film, but I see the merits of the position 13 Kangs critiques as much as his counter-arguments. It’s not his best, not nearly, but it is a good point of entry to art cinema for 20-year olds who have read a little philosophy, turned their backs on the faith of their youth and don’t mind reading subtitles. One need only think for a moment of how our filmmakers in this country handle allegory (Think Star Wars and Lord of the Rings) to appreciate the virtues of Seventh Seal.

I want to mention something different, and not just dwell on the previous post. For a few years I have been thinking about Antonioni and Bergman and their poetic relationship. I once had the notion to write an essay or a book or some document about directors who are able to do what they do, thanks in large part to their female actors. I conceived it as my reply to all the feminist criticism that I detest with it’s insistence on positive representations, its cryptic psychobabble about the male gaze and its suspicion of women being directed by men. Antonioni and Bergman, along with a handful of others I won’t mention here, know how to direct women and how to represent women like few other artists. The best way I can describe it is that they give them the space to be themselves.

It is not at all pedantic, but rather organic to the structure of the narrative. For Antonioni it is all but coincidental. There is so much down time in his films, so much time to consider an image and an action that has nothing to do with plot. And in l’Aventurra and l’Eclisse especially, that time is filled with Monica Vitti. Consider the plot of l’Aventurra: girl vanishes, the boyfriend of the vanished girl becomes the lover of her best friend, then he cheats on her the first chance he gets. Beyond those three events, this movie is basically Monica Vitti looking around. She hardly even speaks. I don’t mean to overstate the case (so much as reveal what I really think movies are for) when I suggest that the greatest scene in all of Antonioni is Monica Viti silently making faces at herself in a mirror at the end of l’Aventurra. The privacy, honesty and range of tones she runs across in the minute or minute and a half, are, for me, worth the rest of the film.

Bergman was clearly fascinated by the mystery of woman. The biography is stereotypical enough: the director keeps marrying his lead actress, making a number of films with her, than ditching her for a new actress. And it probably sounds like a dumb excuse to say that he probably felt like he had to do this to really know these very different women well enough to get them to be themselves at their best in front of the camera. His methodology is easy to psychoanalyze and my argument is easy to deconstruct, but how do you argue with results? In David Thompsons’s Biographical Dictionary of Film he calls Cary Grant the greatest film actor ever. A strange thing to say by any standard. And of course, hopelessly wrong. The greatest actor in the history of film is Liv Ullman, and she would never have been without Bergman writing for her and directing her.

Anyway, I am keeping this one short. Feel free to comment.


In A Year of 13 Kangs said...

Hm, now that you mentions it... how about Claire Denis, Eric Rohmer, Wong Kar-wai?

J. Knecht said...

see above