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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 28, No. 2. 1965.

Films — Bergman and Corman


Bergman and Corman

Let me make it clear from the outset that I am not a member of the Bergman fan club. I have never been impressed by his false rhetoric, often crude symbolism and his sometimes irrelevant self-inflicted, moral, religious and metaphysical anxiety. His films are often strikingly composed and always beautifully photographed, but the austerity of his overall style and lack of cinematic warmth are such that only The Naked Night (Sawdust and Tinsel) has had sufficient visual guts to draw any appreciable kind of response from me.

The Devil's Eye is a curious film which in some ways redresses the balance. The film is clearly meant to be a tragi-comedy but Bergman's approach has resulted in something which is neither very tragic nor very funny. Perhaps it is not possible to fully appreciate the humour or tragedy in a foreign language film out since I have been amused and moved by films from Antonioni, Truffaut and Resnais, I suspect the reason lies in Bergman's somewhat heavier reliance on verbal rather than visual means of communicating his ideas.

In Crime and Punishment USA, director Sanders' acute observation of the superb interplaying between George Hamilton (the young murderer) and Frank Silvera (the police captain), creates a tension which is almost unbearable-Bergman achieves this kind of tension in a rare, breathless moment when Don Juan approaches the young woman who is leaning against a wall and they talk. Fleeting moments such as this come and go throughout the film: moments when one feels genuinely excited by what Bergman is trying to say and the way he is saying it. But there is no sense of rhythm and timing here—the mood is destroyed when sequences such as this are held too long or cut short just when one is on the edge of one's seat. It seems that once again Bergman's rigorous, intellectual control has defeated his emotional response to the material.

There are, however, numerous compensations. The ' customary air of profundity is kept at an amiable level and such snippets of wisdom (for once healthily irreverent) which do come across reveal sufficient of Bergman's ideas to set one thinking about them. The film is also adorned with some nice conceits, notably the concept of Satan as a suave, rather condescending gentleman in a lounge suit surrounded by bewigged courtiers, all set against a backdrop of fire and (no doubt) brimstone. Don Juan and his lackey presumably share some of their master's savoir-faire since they seem to adapt to the ways of twentieth-century earthlings with incredible rapidity. The rather pathetic figure of the minister who finds things "most amusing" is a character we have all met at one time or another and his encounter with the devil, a nasty character in a monk's cassock, is genuinely amusing. The playing is on a uniformly high level, although it is a pity that consummate actor. Gunnar Bjornstrand has such an inconsequential part. (Question: Now that Hollywood has claimed Max von Sydow who will play Bergman's strong-faced roles?)

I found The Devil's Eye an interesting film in that it offers further proof of Bergman's importance as on intellectual director but also reveals further his Inability to affect the heart as he can the mind.

A detailed review of Roger Corman's Masque of the Red Death would unfortunately take up more space than I have left. Suffice to say that I found this a beautiful, satisfying film with an abundance of refreshing ideas and ample evidence of Corman's distinctly individual style. He has, incidentally, drawn from Vincent Price this actor's most extraordinary high-gothic performance. It says much for the condescending attitude (or ignorance) of one critic when he can review this film in a national weekly without once mentioning the name of the director. But then horror films and the like have always been critically suspect, in this country at any rate. Those addicts who, like John Russell Taylor of The Times, feel that in Masque Corman has sacrificed inventiveness for production value will be heartened by this critic's comments on The Tomb of Ligeia, which he claims is Corman's best film to date and a work worthy to stand alongside Jean Cocteau's Orphee. One can always look forward to a new Corman with anticipation, something which cannot be said of most directors.