Friday, February 16, 2018

In the Presence of a Clown

Larmar och gör sig till
(In the Presence of a Clown)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
1996, 119 min.

Remember that Stephen King book about a creepy clown and references to sinking and floating... and a couple of fart jokes for good reference? Well this is Bergman’s version of that. Well not really, but I did think about IT as I watched and also found a nod to HP Lovecraft too but oh yeah, King never fucked Death in the ass in his version did he?
I’ve mentioned Bergman’s passion for screwing around with format and his meta use of media’s in his films, this is definitely no exception even though it’s a play shot for tv... a play shot for tv. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance that’s all about a musician. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna. A play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna and his own mother Karin Bergman...
Still keeping up? As you see it’s Bergman’s inception, a meta referent to practically all media’s as hand. And it’s spectacular one too as it tells its tale of Engineer Åkerblom (Börje Ahlstedt) and his dream of inventing and touring with the worlds first ever synchronized talking cinematograph. Along follow his fiancé Pauline Thibault (Marie Richardson) and his [asylum] friend Oswald Vogler (Erland Josephson).
As almost always it’s self referent too, and Bergman can be seen in the hallway of the mental institute. There’s a couple of detailed descriptions of grotesqueries and the metaphoric clown, or death I’d say, lurking in the shadows, teasingly summoned by Schubert’s "Der Leiermann".
Then as the film moves into its second half and one realizes what a hell of a cast he has here! A cast of almost all the big names of the Royal Dramaic Theatre... and they’re all here for a play shot for tv about the screening of a film that becomes an impromptu performance about a musician and a literary character watched by characters from Nattvardsgästerna and his own mother Karin Bergman.
If you’re lucky to be living in Schwedenland, well then you can check this out and the short “making of” on Svt’s open archive. Easily worth the three hours watch.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Yes, I still co-host and produce the genre podcast THE HUMAN CENTIPOD

Together with the legendary Fred, we talk about stuff, genrefare and the alternative history of film, and I guarantee that for each episode, you'll have learned something that you didn't know when you hit play.

There's almost thirty episodes in the archive.

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And we've got a new show coming out tonight.

Please join us if you'd like.

Monday, February 12, 2018


Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 
1968, 103min

Growing up in the eighties as part of the Douglas Copeland coined term, Generation X, you know that he hit something right on the head when he wrote that passage describing a generation of kids fearing each sudden bright burst of light and every shrilling siren drill as The End, as they instinctively died with the fearful knowledge that it was the sign of the Cold War Atomic Bomb apocalypse galloping in. That’s a difficult fear to explain to generations further on down the line where we find a cynic generation of kids raised on screaming YouTube superstars, revenge porn on Instagram and live suicide, streaming on Facebook …

But it certainly seems like we’re back there again knocking on the door of the apocalypse, and there’s an obvious reason that stuff that I guess we could best label “anti-nostalgia horror”, (because there’s no warm feelings about them at all), are popping up on the radar again. Specifically, trauma inducing television fare that we all saw, because every bloody country lived in the same fear and screened these damned things to keep us scared shitless. Suff like Nicholas Meyers 1983 TV movie The Day After followed by 1984 BBC television drama Threads (just released on Bluray by Severin films), one of the most harrowing and realistic UK TV movies to ever portray life after the big bomb. And I remember that bastard thing and there was another one that was in serial format which saw the few survivors roaming the moors in images that looked like the places I grew up roaming… Traumatizing is the word, that terrifying sensation when you can emotionally relate to the horror on screen, and it’s not make-believe monsters, but a scenario that could become real at any time!

With all that set up I’d like to point your attention at the movie in focus here today. Ingmar Bergman’s Shame, (Skammen) from 1968, his final black and white movie (The Rite was for TV). Now this idea of mine of watching Bergman as horror might come off as far-fetched, but it certainly isn’t. I’ve been pondering this for so many years that when I watch these films I see it clear as day right in front of me on the screen.

I say that Bergman IS horror, after all the definition of Horror as described by the Cambridge English Dictionary is “an extremely strong feeling of fear and shock, or the frightening and shocking character of something”, of which you’ll find elements of in almost of his work.
The Hour of the Wolf was a no-brainer, it’s visuals of horror shock and fever dream images are undoubtedly fear inducing material, but let’s get down to real horror. Horror so real that you can feel it fucking punching you from the dark shadows of the screen, which is how I experienced The Shame. The pending doom of annihilation.

The Shame tells the tale of a couple, Jan and Eva Rosenberg (Sydow and Ullman), who just like Johan and Alma in The Hour of the Wolf have isolated themselves on an island. Or so we’re led to believe. They lead their smalltime life of self-sufficiency with small gardens and chickens. They are in the midst of life and like most of Bergman’s couples have indifferences in the relationship that surface and cause conflict between the two. But the real trouble starts when the peace and quiet is shattered by an invasion. The war has been closing in on the small island. Their friends are drafted, to fight an unwinnable war. And then finally one night it hits an airstrike, complete with paratroopers who get stuck in the trees.
Horror stomps in in the shape of the invasion, death (animals lay dead in their pasture), destruction and the enemy army, who harass the couple fording them to make statements (that later will be faked to pro-invader propaganda). The leader of the invading/opposing army is former town mayor Colonel Jacobi (Gunnar Björnstrand) who helps them off the hook with the unspoken but obvious favor of being intimate with Eva something he continues misusing after the occupation.

Another area that one should really look into when it comes to Bergman is the real of Eros and Thanatos as Shame really wanders the fine line between life and death. The first scene is of nudity, and the final scene is of death. It’s also in the relationship between Eva and Jan and the way they discuss a possible child or not. Life and death. And there’s Jaccobi who clearly feeds off the sexual occupation of Eva, the conquest of his power, but in the end, it’s the same sex, his abuse of power versus the frustration and hate that the pendulum movement have created that sees him defeated.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing with Shame is the emotional recognition of the powerlessness that Jan and Eva end up in, and the understanding of the terrible acts they do, are acts primarily done to survive. And the price is a high one to pay at the atrocious and terribly bleak finale. A bleakness that is horrifically close to the reality of today as Jan and Eva push their boat over the corpses of drowned misfortunate refugees in the cold waters of the sea they are escaping over. This movie is unlike something like Hour of the Wolf with it’s horror fantastic, a harrowing piece of horror realism, and that’s why it’s more disturbing than most of Bergman’s straight forays into horror themed film, as horror in reality will always be more terrifying than fantastic horror which we primarily use for escapism.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The Hour of the Wolf

(The Hour of the Wolf)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman, 1968, 90min.

The first time I watched Vargtimmen, or Hour of the Wolf, it was as if lightning struck. That’s where the seed to me thinking of Bergman as horror was born. Yes, obviously because it’s considered his horror film, but also because he mastered the emotions, atmosphere and visuals of that genre so elegantly.  

This is my third re-watch of Vargtimmen, and with the fresh read of the short story (which was part of the course I’m on), the movie doesn’t gain any extra points. It builds brilliantly and it has that fanatic crescendo ending with the faux necrophilia and fuckery with the human psyche.
Johan (Max Von Sydow), an artist and his pregnant wife Alma (Liv Ullman) spend the summer on a small remote island. Soon the idea of an idyllic summer becomes something completely different as Johan starts acting strange – that Bergmaninan theme of psychosis. The first half of the piece is more or less about establishing characters, the second a nightmarish fever-dream that could challenge many Gothic horrors when it comes to creepy visuals and themes. Seriously. It does. I watched Black Sunday just a few nights ago, and at times the images and atmos are very similar.

I'm not going to get into any form of analysis, I'm quite sure viewers will all find different things and meanings in this film but I will mention GUILT! Bergman uses guilt like a magician in Hour of the Wolf, because like I said, this is horror of the human psyche, Johan has a lot of things in his life that he feels guilty for. Dark things that are tormenting him profoundly. Tormenting him to such an extent that he looses his mind and goes bat shit bonkers. Hence the reason for Bergman finally, and I mean FINALLY showing us his visions of insanity. Unlike the films where we’ve head about the void, the spider-god and other terrors that torment his characters, The Hour of the Wolf takes us there… because he’s set up the rules for this specific film.  "The hour between night and dawn. The hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fears, when ghosts and demons are most powerful, the hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born."
There's a scene early on where Johan shows his secret sketches to Alma. We never see them but the way Johan describes the terrifying beings he's sketched, it's clear that he's been observing something terrible. It’s a classic moment of tell don’t show, the best way to fill the viewers mind with images way better than anything a special effects studio could come up with. Perhaps it doesn’t really pay off in the film, but does oh so mindboggling in the novel. Bergman would use this kind of approach in several other works, amongst them Persona when Alma (Bibi Andersson) tells Elisabeth (Liv Ullman) of shocking sexual adventures she’s had…

But what differs the two is that the novel is really a damned straight up horror story complete with equivoque descriptions and Lovecraftian “vague enough to put images in your head descriptions” of monsters and the deadly void. (Seriously I’d highly recommend reading the short, it’s only a few pages and would take you like half an hour or summat.)

The last half of the film is horror and boy are horror themes used. Murder, ghosts and even a flirt with necrophilia – as Ingrid Thulin lies naked upon a table top. Bergman pulls the old "based on true events" trick as this one starts, making us believe that the story is of the night when Johan Borg suddenly went missing one night as noted in his diaries, and his wife Alma's retelling of the events to Bergman. It’s basically the same way Texas Chainsaw opens…
A couple of meta references are here, there’s more of them than you’d expect in someone like Bergman’s work) and I’m starting to spot them frequently In his stuff. First off during the opening credits, carpentry and set-building can be heard. All of this ends when Bergman is heard shouting, Silence! Action! And the movie starts. Secondly the music from The Magic Flute. Music that was of deep importance to Bergman. During the night at Baron Von Merken's (Erland Josephson) castle they watch a rendition of Mozart's The Magic Flute. A few years later Bergman would direct his award winning and academy award nominated version. Thirdly, Bach's Partita, which he uses in The Hour of the Wolf and also used in Shame (Skammen) and The Passion of Anna (En Passion) the two films that followed Hour of the Wolf. All three films are commonly referred to as the Angst trilogy. One of the subtler ones is the doodling on Johan's diary, it's a chessboard. A referent to The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet).

Hour of the Wolf, weird, dark and definitely one of Bergman's movies that gets the closest to the horror genre. A definitive recommendation if you like your horror suggestive, surreal and downbeat.