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F&A kind of put Tree of Life in its place, too.
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Actually I think the movie as a whole--a whole movie, I mean--wasn't as good as it was for me last time. That was the first time I saw the full version, though, a special gift, and it's only been three years [edit: six(!)]. Also I haven't been in a position to fully concentrate, which is perhaps part of why I've only been able to read Calvino for so long, since he's the best writer who never requires scrutiny, who reliably makes you feel he'll bring you in on whatever he's up to. I wasn't up to the work I was up to last time, the grateful reconstruction of a great whole from the unwinding sequence of fragments. But this time the film was more affecting, too affecting, frightening in a way films don't frighten me, and perhaps my losing sight of the structure, the edges, was part of why.

What was sleeping woke up when Isak told his story; it gave me a piece back, much the way getting to swim did. But what hit me even harder was the grandmother's description of loss, talking with the ghost of her dead son, which I'm sure I appreciated on previous viewings but was in no position to know just how right it is:

My feelings came from deep in my body. Even though I could control them, they shattered reality, if you know what I mean. Reality has remained broken ever since, and, oddly enough, it feels more real that way. So I don't bother to mend it. I just don't care anymore if nothing makes sense.

Funny how the pauses make it mean better, though the transcription still strikes me as exactly right, exactly what it's like.

Books are so clumsy with pauses, or rather readers are clumsy and the books are helpless to help.
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Road to San Giovanni is also wonderful, especially "A Cinema-Goer's Autobiography" which is by far the most interesting thing I've ever read about movies (both what they are and what they've been to people) as well as a poignant, inevitably Cinema Paradiso-esque memoir. It's about golden age Hollywood at first, as trickled through to the Italian Riviera under Fascism, but then veers into discussing comic strips and Fellini. Apropos the latter, and modern (c. '70s) cinema in general, as distinct from the unique idealizings and escape offered by '30s films:

The cinema of distance which nourished our youth is turned forever on its head in the cinema of absolute proximity. For the brief span of our lifetimes, everything remains there on the screen, distressingly present; first images of eros and premonitions of death catch up with us in every dream; the end of the world began with us and shows no signs of ending; the film we thought we were merely watching is the story of our lives.

What I like best about that, apart from "the end of the world began with us and shows no signs of ending", is how well it describes the introduction from Fanny and Alexander ("Not for Pleasure Only"), usually the winner among the three movies I tend to think of as best (or anyway my favorite), and definitely the winner right now since we just rewatched the long version. Young Alexander goes into a sort of boredom delirium while safe and alone at home, hallucinates gentle movements in the statue of a naked woman, then glimpses a hooded Death down the hall walking steadily toward him. Works for Fellini too, sure--we saw La dolce vita this week, since Julie wanted to understand Nine a bit better, and the salvageable moments were just like that. La dolce vita was nowhere near as good as I'd remembered, though. It was one of the movies that awed me on Bravo back when I was a teenager and Bravo was Bravo.

The Death was handled perfectly, though it was a real cheese risk: we see him in close up, because he draws Alexander's attention, but also because it doesn't localize him. He's not there but coming there. The head bobs up and down. Taking his time but coming, darkness behind him, a beam at one point as though he's stepping from the nothing parts of a building into the something. Just a couple seconds we see him, Alexander watching in a wary trance. It's a Seventh Seal cameo, basically, but handled differently enough to be undistracting, like with the other allusions to previous films Bergman fills the movie with, to let you know he's putting it all together, that this is the one. Bergman never does too little or too much, though perfection is only the 19th best thing about Bergman.

I think Fellini did something similar in 8 1/2, echoing earlier films into it, but can't remember how well--we're waiting for the Blu Ray to be netflickable in a few weeks. I've never found Fellini to be up there with Kurosawa and Bergman, even in his memorable flashes, or even with Truffaut or Lynch, but after looking at him through Calvino's eyes (not always uncritical) I'll give him time to remake his case.

Nine was just okay, its high points being a performance by the actress from that terrible Edith Piaf movie that is outstandingly moving (therefore wasted, in this company) and a scene stolen by THE BEST EXTRA EVER.
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Me in all those places with all that time Bergman dead.

I don't really know how to not be happy, in the long term, though I imagine I'll find out. Seems to me most people are the same. What Bergman was usually up to was showing people pushed hard out of the nest by disappointment, a few shoves in a row often, then putting a second happiness together out of other terms in that wider world of fewer shapes but more textures. Usually: there are those other ones. Never redemption by pain, though, just new sorts of redemption now pain's in the room. New sorts of everything, really.

So much art, so many statements go out past the world, climb out onto other ones to go past all possible ones. I'm not into that, or into the glassglance into parts so deep it leaves the whole. One thing at least not porn or OCD, just at least one please. Sometimes you need the new arts so you don't have to scrape the crap off--presumably this is why there are new arts, though the art of making new arts has become a sad old art of late. Bergman is dead but so new. He's about where my skin is. His winds don't make stars move or leaves down the block, or stars and leaves in some miniature dark blue mind corner, but small hairs just outside and all over. This from movies, of all things.
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Just read Shelley's Triumph of Life for the howevermanyeth time. No wonder I found Fanny and Alexander Shelleyan, the Jewish shopkeeper's story is impossibly similar. Yet surely Bergman never read it.

This makes me happy. My favorites are my favorites for a reason.
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I haven't processed all my Christmas presents yet, having received something like fifty, but a favorite so far is the Fanny and Alexander box set. Fanny and Alexander was shot as a five-hour miniseries for Swedish TV in the early '80s. I think to get it financed Bergman reluctantly agreed to release a three-hour theatrical cut internationally, which is the version I saw on Bravo at Christmas about ten years ago, and have rented a couple times since. This is my favorite Bergman movie and just about my favorite period; also, to the extent best and favorite can be teased apart, I would venture this is likely the best movie by the best movie-maker to date. The boxed set includes both versions and a number of documentaries, as well as a little booklet of essays, one by Rick Moody characterizing the film as bildungsroman (which always struck me as a useless category--should we have awkward German labels for novels about adultery or business?).

Ingmar announced at the time that this would be his last film, though he continued making television films and writing screenplays for others until officially retiring from both television and the theater in 2003, at 85. Last or not, those seeing it notice Fanny and Alexander is in part a career summation, combining elements of Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician, Winter Light, Cries and Whispers etc. There's even a brief speech near the end that could serve as a plot synopsis of Persona.

It's not simply an anthology though. Something about the tone is new, the expansiveness is definitely new--Bergman deliberately approaches the scope of the novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (having always had their intensity). His matchless skill at conveying the bite of passing moments, honed in his midlife-crisis '60s films, is combined for once with the sense of life's splendor found in his earlier work. The film is thought-through to an extent unusual even for Bergman, and plugs the griefs and consolations of his previous films into a broader, wiser message that would have delighted Goethe or late Shakespeare. It parallels the recent (superb) miniseries Angels in America quite closely in sections. There's something quite Shelleyan about this movie also; it comes remarkably close to Prometheus Unbound (of all things) at times, as well as The Cenci.

I mention connections and parallels and talk around the film itself because I want you to see it but don't want to give its surprises away. Not easy, no wonder advertisers resort to breasts.

The message is clearer in the television version, and most of the added sequences are beautiful or haunting or hilarious. The one imaginable demerit is that the opening Christmas sequence, long even in the shorter version, is now something like an hour and a half, during which there's no sign of plot. I love the sequence but can imagine sets turning off during it.


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