Sunday, July 12, 2009

Through a Glass Darkly, or a Whiter Shade of Pale

And although my eyes were open
They might have just as well've been closed

©Procol Harum 1967

We had a wonderful cinema experience. Best of all, after watching Persona, we went to a coffee shop and discussed the film for a while. There was a lot to talk about.
Review: Persona by Ingmar Bergman 1966 Movie Masterworks March 19th, 2006

Imagine a bare foot crunching down on a broken glass on a pristine white tiled floor. Or a screen at a cinema displaying a scene that is totally white, except for a narrow stream of water and a pale young girl on a white horse. Or the now iconic image of black figures silhouetted in the distance on the crest of a snow covered hill.

Or not.

I keep telling myself (unsuccessfully) to rid my mind of these Bergman images.
But they are on my mind. For two reasons.

One is that I recently finished reading A Reliable Wife, which takes as its theme winter at Black River Falls Wisconsin in the depression years of the 1890s. Talk about spooky. But I was intrigued when I read that the novel's background consisted of actual documented - by photo and newspaper articles - events of madness, murder and mayhem in the rural Wisconsin community which consisted of mainly northern European immigrants.

The famous dance of death in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
This afternoon I watched the documentary of the events which made up the background theme of A Reliable Wife - "Wisconsin Death Trip". The movie is largely a narration from a collection of the newspaper articles illustrating the photos which were taken in Black River Falls WI, by Charles Van Schaik between 1890 and 1910. The subject matter ranges from children in coffins, to farm animals, to family portraits of some of the grimmest-looking people imaginable. Truly bizarre.

And although it appears that most of the immigrants were from Norway and Germany, there's something Bergman-like in the photos of elderly burgers staring stoically at the camera against a background of a desolate snow-scape.

The second reason for my Bergmanesque meanderings, is that I'm about to set off for a short vacation to Sweden, and I've just realized that I know hardly anything about the place. When I think Sweden I think of Bergman films, white on white with white subtitles.

My early years at Melbourne University when I hung out with an in-crowd of self-proclaimed intellectuals was pure hell apart from when I was experiencing the new-found joys of sex. Our outside-of-bed activities consisted of not only going to Bergman, Fellini (and Antonioni if we were feeling particularly frivolous) films, but of actually DISCUSSING them afterward.

I'm trying to forget the blinding whiteness of it all.

My mind wanders to a later movie, in color and American. Max von Sydow as the melancholy artist in "Hannah and her Sisters". Things are lightening up. And none too soon, as I must think of packing.

If I had an Abba album I'd put on Fernando. Do you think that'd do the trick?

My mind veers back into the Bergman films. The things we women did for men in those pre women's lib days of the sixties. For rest assured, it was no woman who suggested watching "The Virgin Spring" on a sunny Australian day when all our friends from state high school were swilling gin-slings at Portsea. "How frivolous," we pretended to think, as we nodded as if in agreement with someone else's observation on the meaning of whatever.

Meanwhile our sisters in Sweden were no doubt whooping it up drinking vodka and hopping in and out of bed with gloomy Max van Sydow look-alikes.

I'm very interested to see Sweden. That culture has a lot to answer for.

It seems positivity bi-polar - what with Abba on one hand and van Sydow on the other. I just don't get Sweden.

I am starting to see the trip as a sort of pilgrimage to the roots of my days of angst. Perhaps I'll eventually understand what I was meant to understand all those years ago. I doubt it somehow.

Still, after an afternoon of watching "Wisconsin Death Trip", one thing's for certain.

Sweden is going to be FUN!

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