Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chat: The Seventh Seal

Tracy:  So want to talk dour-faced Swedes?

Natalie: Yes! Dour faced-Swedes. My experience with Swedes is that they're much nicer that Bergman wants to let on.

Tracy:  If not the hour before. Yeah--the one Swede that stayed with us when I was in high school just wanted to drink Akvavit and sing loudly. Not so much ruminate on death. Or Death, as the case may be.

Natalie:  Ha! Right. Death. So, this is one of the very few--like I can't think of another one but I'm just going to assume it's happened--foreign movies where I've had to watch it with the English dub rather than read the subtitles. But I had to so I could multitask or I was going to be asleep before Death showed up the second time.

Tracy:  Like I said in the blurb, all I ever knew about this movie was the chess scene, so I didn't understand how it was possibly going to be as long as it was. I literally just thought they would play chess, talk about philosophical things, von Sydow would presumably lose, the end. Sort of like My Dinner with Andre except My Chess Match with Death. So the other stuff the witch, the actors I could never really get with.

Natalie:  Yeah. I might have preferred just a chess game with Death and some sort of uber-philosophical debate between the two. It seemed like the rest of the people just muddied the waters and then that the pure, faithful, hard-working, young family got to live just made it all silly. If you're going to have a profound commentary about Death with a capital D, I think you have to talk about how random and unfair it is; not how predictable and simple everything is that it would take the cheaters and villains and old and leave the faithful pretty young.

Tracy:  Especially when your context is the plague! I mean, talk about random and unfair! I guess the fact that the artist's visions ended up saving them was supposed to mean something, but it seemed a little overdetermined. And why did their kid never wear pants? I did think the squire guy was funny at times.

Natalie:  Yes! I'd almost forgotten about the plague and the self-flagellants! Totally unfair but we don't see much of that. That did seem a little overdetermined--the artist and his painting and whatnot. YES! That kid totally needed pants of some variety. The squire guy was funny sometimes. But, also, what was up with the "witch"? She seemed just tossed in there too. Overall, it seemed a Monty Python approach to the plague: let's toss EVERYTHING in there--but not funny like Monty Python and, ultimately, less of a commentary, I think.

Tracy:  Hah! I'm not dead yet! Yeah--I very much got the sense that it was supposed to be a philosophical commentary, but I honestly have no idea what it was supposed to be. And what of the reference to the apocalypse? How does that fit? And are Death and the Devil the same thing?

Natalie:  I have no clue at all. Apparently, it was based on a short story by Bergman? But now I can't find where I read that. It seems like Bergman gets it but, like a Freshman paper, he hasn't filled us in on all of the jumps he's made in his head.

Tracy:  No kidding! I predict I will never read that short story. Does the book drool all over it?

Natalie:  Nope--I was wrong-ish; it was a play. I'd read it on the super reliable (but this time well-cited) Wikipedia: "Bergman originally wrote the play Trämålning (Wood Painting) in 1953/1954 for the acting students of Malmö City Theatre. The first time it was performed in public was in radio in 1954, directed by Bergman. He also directed it on stage in Malmö the next spring, and in the autumn it was staged in Stockholm, directed by Bengt Ekerot who would later play the character Death in the film version." So the book . . . . "The image of a black-robed, white-faced death . . .playing chess on the beach with a weary, questioning crusader . . . is as deeply ingrained in the collective memory of moviegoers as King Kong atop the Empire State building, Humphrey Bogart spurning Ingrid Bergman . . ." Really? I'd never seen a clip of this before. I know you had. But as big as King Kong?

Tracy:  And in all seriousness, I didn't remember it was on the beach, anything. I just remember it because of Bill and Ted. And I cannot IMAGINE this as a radio play.

Natalie:  And, then, after bemoaning that that scene has become emblematic of the movie (when they just promoted it as such, too): "Actually, The Seventh Seal, although rooted in the big themes of Bergman's great period, is a very playful, frequently comic picture, a medieval fable influenced by Bergman's enthusiasm for the samurai movies of Kurosawa and as concerned with celebrating simple pleasures as indicting complicated torments." We didn't mention that dude was a Crusader. That adds unexplained complications to the film, too.

Tracy:  Celebrating simple pleasures? I don't remember that part. And yeah--the Crusader thing is a thing, which the movie only really dealt with through that weird rapey guy.

Natalie:  I agree but the book, concludes: "Bergman is always angry and saddened by human evils, especially when sanctioned by supposed religion, but the film also celebrates physical and spiritual love, communal artistic expression, food and drink, and natural beauty." That sounds like a better movie than the one we watched.

Tracy:  I know! That's twice in a row that they've described a movie in a way that obliquely references a movie we saw, but in no way resembles it in practice! I get why it should be in there--Bergman, Death, etc.--but I didn't enjoy it.

Natalie:  Right? I get the inclusion--if only because it is referenced and spoofed so much--but we can't make it more grandiose than it is. He just didn't make an argument, or even really pose a question. He just presented all of this stuff and said "here, and the 'bad' guys are gonna die."
It reminded me of La Strada, actually.

Tracy:  Me too! And we all know how I felt about La Strada.

Natalie:  Yeah, ditto the feeling. So, keep it for Bergman? We did already have Fanny & Alexander and I thought that was much better than this--if much longer.
But register our discontent

Tracy:  I also preferred F&A. But yeah, I say keep it because it is influential, and it's nice, well, "nice" to see the context, but I am not content.

Natalie:  Agreed. And NOW we get to watch pre-crazy Mel for the next entry!

Tracy:  Yes. Watched it today since the mother and aunt are coming tomorrow. Looking forward to discussing whether we can see the latent crazy lurking in Mel's eyes.

Natalie:  HA! I bet we can just a little . . . . 

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