Saturday, June 16, 2018

Cries and Whispers

Viskningar och Rop
(Cries and Whispers)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
1972, 91min

In just a few weeks it will be what would have been Ingmar Bergman’s one hundredth birthday, hence grand celebrations here in Sweden all this year, and for me a chance opportunity to rediscover a filmmaker I’ve not been too fond of until these past years. But growing into Bergmanmania, I found my own way of reading him, as I’ve been exploring the Bergman through the perspective of a horror fan and his film through horror/genre aesthetics. 

Three sisters, Maria (Liv Ullman), Agnes (Ingrid Thulin) and Karin (Harriet Andersson), and maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) are gathered together as Karin faces death. As Karin goes through the throws of her last day in life from an unmentioned painful slow death, the sisters reminisce of life and their relationships.

Cries and Whispers is a tour de force of Bergman filmmaking. It’s a no-holds barred, ruthless spiral of death and emotions with some of Bergman’s most haunting and disturbing images.

The silence. That’s what strikes me with this film. The silence. At times there’s almost no ambience at all, to such an extent that it’s nauseating. The silence lies like a wet blanket upon your senses only to be yanked off as screams are hurled at your eyes and ears. The titles Cries and Whispers is perhaps the most fitting title ever to describe a movie, because that’s EXACTLY what this movie is; Cries and Whispers. 

This is also the movie where genital mutilation is featured (Again a deliberate provocation by Bergman to shock and disgust his audiences). One of the sisters, Agnes (Thulin) so shut off from her emotions shoves a shard of glass up her vagina and then invites her husband into bed only to feel something and to provoke a reaction from her husband. In a way it’s a first resistance against the patriarchy that oppresses the women of this movie, because it’s only after she’s stripped of all the bondage of clothing that she’s free to rebell and break away form the “tangle of lies” that she repetitively speaks. The tangle of lies being confirming to the patriarchal structure, something that Agnes breaks out of along the way. As the film reaches its end, it’s still only Agnes who’s had a change in character. She’s gone from the passive cold stern older sister to the active one who wants to stay in a loving bond with Maria.

Bergman’s obsession with ghosts, a clear Strindbergian influence of his, the ghosts and otherworldly presence is present again. (He also points out in one of his notebooks that the character Agnes is a homage to Strindberg’s A Dream Play and it’s lead character Agnes), Even though Karin is dead, and this is no spoiler, it’s inevitable, she strangely gives an impression of being alive as she cries and asks to talk to each of her sisters, and if you want to take it even further, she actually tries to bite Maria, which we all know is the characteristics of a ghoul, to feed of human flesh after death. Which also leads me to point out that the fade to black between scenes, is fade to red, symbolic for both life and death.

Noteworthy, the sisters read to Karin from Dickens The Pickwick Papers. A chapter where Pickwick meets his companion Sam Weller. Now Sam and Pickwick have at times been compared to Sancho Panza and Don Quixote, which can be read as a metaphor for mental illness, and in an intertextual way, this links into Harriet Andersson’s character Karin in Såsom I en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly) 1961 both by name and by the symptom of suffering from persistent disillusions. 

I also think that there’s a vague hint of lesbianism in here. The way Anna tends to Karin and the imagery that it ends up in a stylistic image that leads the thoughts to17th-century Madonna imagery.

With all that said… try to comprehend that this movie was co-financed by Roger Corman and distributed at the drive in’s through his New World releasing… WHAT ON EARTH did those poor drive in patrons make of this piece of dark, depressing Scandinavian art cinema? 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

. . . A N T I C H R I S T . . .

. . . C H A O S   R E I G N S . . .
. . . A L L   W O M E N   A R E   B A D . . .

Lars Von T said in interviews that with this horror film, just like his attempt at making a musical, Dancer in the Dark, he failed. And he couldn't be more right. He failed miserably. As far as horror films go this is simply a high-brow wank of genre conventions jumbled up in a vague juxtapositioning as Von T gives Tarkovsky his best hand job.
Bear with me this is most likely going to get rantat, but it will conclude with thoughts on Antichrist and the Gospel of Lars von T.
T R U E !
The reason it's a high-brow wank is because that's where it was pigeonholed when elitist critics “once again” decided what was horror and not. Honest to god true story, the largest public service TV channel in Sweden ordered an eight-part series that was to focus on horror ten years ago based SINGULARLY on the basis that St. Lars Von T was making a horror film. So scared shitless that they were gonna miss out the cultural elite of SVT commissioned this series and when they had no fucking clue where to start they lifted some rocks where they found someone that pointed down some deeper rabbit hole that led them further past the stink of fetid death right to me. From the first fucking meeting, I was treat as a piece of shit… but a piece of shit they needed to get the job done. Naturally all the sweet stuff I was catfished with like “yeah sure you can do the Japanese episode and sure you get to go to japan” was nothing but sales pitch and all I got was shafted, milked of my insights and then kicked to the curb as the trash I obviously was to them. (I wrote the best fucking script ever to the Japan show, containing interviews with Koji Suzuki, Hideshi Hino and Jan Fukuda, if you know your genre stuff you’ll be able to recon out the three segments that those interviews gave.
But horror was a losers game except for a few (the common big five according to film history canon) and now Meister Lars Von T was getting his depression series horror film out to the masses and they had to get onboard to show that they knew the genre. Enough to make an eight-episode exploration of horror.
But the people working with it didn’t’ really want too, seen as horror was a silly thing, and they were all form the intellectual department…
…an example, one “in charge person” skated into the office in his tight-tight bike shorts on rollerblades, swirled a couple of times around the office desks blurting out “I watched horror film last night and it was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. I can’t understand why people watch garbage like that. You people are such immature nerds!” In most cases I’d take that as a compliment being called an immature nerd, but blurted out by a sweaty bloke in a bike helmet wearing spandex shorts on fucking rollerblades… that’s just pushing it.
Anyways as to not detour too far off course, I got intellectually milked, the show got the episodes done, they got the backslaps, I went back to selling my soul to mindless commercial tv and a smashing depression feeling mentally dehydrated, used and abused… waiting or the next punter to venture into my well of misery dangling a piece of lucrative “we need you” bait in front of me.
But they never got the Lars Von T interview that the whole fucking show was supposed to wrap around and lead up to! He declined and rose in my awe even more.

T H E   G O S P E L   O F   S A I N T   L A R S   V O N   T . . .
Where Antichrist may not be much of a horror film, it must be watched as a piece psychological drama, where I feel that one can place all of Von T’s films. Because as a psychological drama about two people falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of psychosis, Antichrist is fucking amazing, profoundly dark and absolutely relentless.
YES, it’s a nasty piece of film and it is so because this is his depression movie, the one that he wrote after learning that his father wasn’t his real father as the old man lay on his deathbed (I think it was, could have been his mother though) It threw him into a depression and he questioned his whole existence. And above all he questioned what his mother had told him was truth, and hence also her. Out of that depression and time spent in hospital due to same depression, he crafted what ended up being Antichrist.
Of course all women are bad. Nature is woman, and woman is bad, woman is selfish, and woman would sacrifice her own child for a perfect orgasm. That's Antichrist in a nutshell.
The Gospel of St Lars von Trier is that he can show you anything in the name of “art”, whilst I’m absolutely a hundred percent certain that he’s fully aware of the fact that everything he does the high-brow audiences will lap up and intellectualize upon whilst the sleaze-gore-pain-and-suffering horror genre fans can appreciate the story with it’s at times quite familiar themes, motifs and imagery. Like Bergman, Lars Von Trier is one of those few directors who can, and does, titillate high-brow and low-brow audiences at the same time. This skill is one that is tremendously advanced in filmmaking, you have to have the right amount of diamonds and shit, dirt and gold, art and trash. Bergman never really got out of the trash/exploitation groove. His first movies where marketed as part of the Swedish sin, and his final theatrical film StateSide was screened at the drive ins as part of Roger Cormans New Line Distribution. 
It's the same with Von T. although he's deliberately flirting with the "low-brow" crowd with is use of alternative actors like Michael Elphick and Me-Me Lai in serial killer drama The Element of Crime 1984, Udo Kier in plots for drama that balanced between surreal horror and psychological drama with Epidemic and the breakthrough Europa, that also starred Ernst Hugo Järegård and Max Von Sydow (as the narrator, but still Max), the provocation of the story in Breaking the Waves, the sexual content and authentic fucking in Idioterna. It keeps on like that film after film, bringing in elements of the fantastic film history with the traditional art cinema mixed through Von T's provocative auteurism, Diamonds and Shit, Art and Trash... as the high-brow lap it up because it's art and the low-brow seek it out because it's got all those alternative elements that we love in them. Deconstruction of the human psyche, deterioration of mental health, sex, death, torture, creepy shit in the woods, genital mutilation, fucking, panic, fear, chaos reigns.

Lars Von Trier might just be the last living cinematic genius alive today. 

Yes, Lars Von T is still fucking laughing about how everyone gobbled up Dogme as he made films that looked like shit on a micro budget. He’s just unleashed a serial killer movie upon us, and at the end of the day, I might have been treat like shit during that job, but I also got to spend three days with H R Giger and make friends with John Ajvide Lindqvist, so in the words of Lars von T, one has to take the bad with the good.

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