Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Ingmar & Michelangelo: Into the West

A quirk of fate: Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni dying on the same day. These deaths of old men—-89 and 94—-bring their work to everyone’s attention for a few blinks of the eye.

I have not seen the classic Bergmans. I’ve never felt drawn to his particular, highly intellectualized world, which Michiko Kakutani summed up as “a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory at best.” Many also find great beauty there. Maybe it’s a pleasure that lies before me. As for Bergman himself, at least he now has the answers to the questions of God that haunted him.

I have seen the usual Antonioni—-Blow Up and L’Avventura. (Although my favorite ambiguous b&w art film is Renais’s Last Year at Marienbad, whith those people walking endlessly through gilded, mirrored rooms.)

Steed took me to an event years ago at the Italian Consulate, where Antonioni was making a special appearance to talk about his work. The room was packed to the rafters with a very European crowd. The ambience of men in sleek suits and women in fabulous shoes was so utterly Italian that Steed and I started speaking to one another in that beautiful language. It was quite remarkable, and alas, an enchantment that dispelled when we left the marbled hall.

The Consulate gave out a stunning book of photos from the director’s career: impossibly beautiful black & white, behind-the-scenes stills, capturing beautifully dressed, cool, sophisticated men and women. I love its presence on my bookshelf. I look at those photographs when I need a sensibility shift from my own crassly colorful world. Sometimes I wish I could step into one of those scenes and live out my time there.

The directors have departed our shores, but their work continues to feed our imagination. You can’t ask for more than that.