...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Though the goal of this blog is to be a wit machine. I'm leading with the events that originally inspired me to start bloggin'. I promise to follow up with something lighter...


In the span of 24 hours Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Bill Walsh, and Tom Snyder left this life. If one is a particularly spiritual person, how does that sit? These four were taken away, but gems like this fellow remain. I can’t imagine that bodes well for those of us still living, if you believe there are reasons for these sorts of things. To me they were people to whom I've associated images from memories and moments.

I can’t say that I’m Bergman freak. Viewing his films proves difficult for me. Nine years ago, I thought I’d start somewhere near the beginning and end of his career and work my way to the middle.

Smiles of a Summer Night was interesting, but I found it much too unhappy (and not funny enough) to be called a “comedy” as it often is. With this distance now, I see it as a comedy in the more old fashioned, almost Shakespearean sense – a comedy of errors, and scheming, between the sexes. Though, I think, Rules of the Game annihilates it (and every other such comedy, past or present), it wasn’t bad and it was surprisingly sexy. There’s a particular undressing sequence that remains in memory.

From there I rented Fanny and Alexander. Thought I was starting with the easy stuff, the lighter things. And perhaps I was. But I only got about one hour into F&A when I had to shut it off, gripped by my first taste of full blown adult melancholy. And it didn’t go away, for 48 hours. This I cannot explain. But I can remember it, like a flavor. Once our California move is complete I’ll rent the Criterion Collection version of F&A and try it again. That melancholy has since become rather familiar to me, so I have no fear of that movie anymore. But it did take 7 years before I watched another Bergman film.

Persona proved perversely pleasurable. I finally couldn’t resist those two lovely Nordic blondes on the poster/DVD cover. And I’m a big fan of duality stories. The avant-garde freakout in the beginning of the movie is spectacular. I don’t gasp often, but I think I gasped at the beginning of the sequence, the middle (is that a flash frame of a big erection in a 1966 film?), and the end…when the story actually begins. Then later the film literally (actual definition of the word literally) melts down, then it propels back to the story which itself seems to have been pushed into a different dimension. And I was riveted by the xtended erotic monologue, which kept going and going and pushing cinema into a more mature place from which it could never return. So, yes, I’m a fan of that one.

Antonioni has proven more elusive to me. L’Aventtura is lovely, in a depressed empty-soul sort of way. The cinematography is fantastic. The acting, in Italian terms, restrained and subtle. And the mice-en-scene does all of the storytelling. It’s a very visual film. Very quiet. Barren of people. From what I can tell, this is a theme that Michelangelo A. returns to in most of his films. I’d describe Red Desert, but it would be in almost the same terms as L’Aventtura. The main differences are that Desert is in color and wide-screen, 1.85:1. The color (per the title) is actually the most memorable part of the film. And Monica Vitta is easy on the eyes. I saw the film (on film, not video) during film school. I remember the movie to be almost hypnotic in its rhythms, or maybe I was hungover at the time and just fell asleep. More to the point, Antonioni created visual stories of emptiness, loss, and wandering better than anyone else – though many have tried. A completely separate memory of Antonioni: Syd Field used to hang out with him, called him Il Maestro. Would have loved to have been there for those conversations.

Bill Walsh, Mr. West-Coast-Offense-that-later-became-the-offense-every-NFL-team-used Guy. His name is like a radio ad jingle from my pre-pubescent years. I don’t know much about him personally, aside from the fact that he was one of the first true intellectual coaches, too bad he used it to help the 49ers rather than say, the Jets. It’s safe to say that he changed coaching and strategy in this country’s leading sport mostly on his own, and then lost the battle with leukemia…

…as did Tom Snyder. Tom was a full generation ahead of his time. His informal, but directly challenging approach to televised interviews brought more artists and fringe figures than any other journalist at the time. He interviewed Kiss, Ayn Rand, and Johnny Rotten when the networks were searching out British royalty. He gave the final John Lennon interview. Like Mr. Walsh he’s also a distant memory figure from my childhood, as my parents used to watch him on ABC and (the young) CNBC in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I remember him to be much more fun than Larry King (whom we also watched, unfortunately). I remember his habit of talking to his off-camera crew, which was both funny and engaging since no one else did that back then. And I like his opening line from his Tomorrow show, "Fire up a colortini, sit back, relax, and watch the pictures, now, as they fly through the air."

New artists, journalists, and sports leaders will ascend, establish their imprint in our consciousness, and later fade away. But no one replaces Bergman, Antonioni, Walsh, and Snyder. For all of us, July 29th was a better day than the next because these four men were alive. But for them, all in pain, July 29th was not a better day. The next day was the better day. And somehow, some of us will have to learn that the next day will be a better day as well.

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