Antonioni and Bergman

31 07 2007

Maybe everyone in college goes through this — the films that you get entranced by are the ones that are the most obscure or difficult to comprehend. Sure, ANIMAL HOUSE is great and all, but I absolutely fell in love with THE LAST MOVIE when I was in college. For those of you who haven’t seen that film (which would be pretty much everybody except for me) it follows Dennis Hopper, as a lower level guy on a crew for a Western which is being shot in Peru. When the film wraps, he stays since he’s fallen in love with a local woman. But what was so incredible to my Brecht-infested brain, was what followed. The local townspeople, who has watched the shooting every day, had no way to internalize what was real and what was fake during the shooting and, when they start to recreate the film’s shooting (complete with awesome bamboo mockups of the cameras and lights) they end up really killing people.

It was a movie about how we, as an audience, believe what we see in films, even when we shouldn’t, and I loved it.

Years later, when I was working on THE COTTON CLUB, Francis Coppola had a copy of the film in his Betamax library and I rewatched it, completely horrified at what my younger self had thought. It was nearly unwatchable — pretentious, self-indulgent, and incomprehensible in large portions of it. But I had loved it when I saw it back in college.

Which leads me to Antonioni and Bergman, both of whom died within the last two days. I loved their films too and, oddly enough, I loved them because I just couldn’t understand half of what they were trying to say. The very attraction of SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES for me was that they seemed so much smarter than I was.

Seeing these films in recent years was a revelation. They really were good films, even if I did understand them now. But the attraction of the unknown and remote, really struck this little middle class kid from Queens. My life had never prepared me for this — deeper thoughts about death and the existence of evil. A few years ago, I saw a screening of Antonioni’s late career film THE PASSENGER and was prepared to be bored by it. But I wasn’t. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of a reporter doing a story in the Sahara (the film’s Italian title translated to “Profession: Reporter”, a far better title) was powerful and explored issues of personal identity in ways that I’m sure I didn’t understand when I saw the film back in 1975.

Which is all a pretty pathetic way to circle around an appreciation of these men’s work. I should be talking about them, not about my reactions to their films. But, ultimately, that is what good filmmakers do — make us react to their work in ways which indelibly affect us. Even if we don’t understand them.

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