{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Excerpt from Bergman Interview

Here is an excerpt from an interview where Charles Thomas Samuels (who asks some really insightful questions) interviews Ingmar Bergman. Taken from the book Encountering Directors.

Samuels: Let me get at my point another way. When Elisabet looks at television and sees a Buddhist monk immolating himself in Vietnam, several critics wanted to take this as an uncharacteristic expression of your interest in politics. But I think it must be related to the later scene - in her bedroom - when she studies the Cartier-Bresson photograph of the Jews being led out of the Warsaw ghetto. Both scenes dramatize the awe inspired in the artist when he faces true suffering - which, however, cannot escape some involvement with art, since both the monk and the Jews reach our consciousness through the art of the photographer.

Bergman: Let me explain exactly what I tried to express in the first scene. The monk scares her because his conviction is so enormous he is willing to die for it. The photograph represents real suffering.

S: But it is, paradoxically, also art. And I find it suggestive that during the great scene in
Shame when you show the people being herded in and out of buildings by the soldiers, you yourself recall the composition of Cartier-Bresson's great photograph. Didn't you feel the recollection ?

B: In a way, yes. But I never thought of it. The scene you mention represents humiliation, which is the subject of
Shame. The films is not about enormous brutality, but only meanness. It is exactly like what happened to the Czechs. They defended their rights, and now, slowly, they are being submitted to tactics of brutalization that wears them down, Shame is not about bombs, its about gradual infiltration of fear.

S: So that the low budget and the consequent lack of large war scenes precisely reflect your theme.

B: Yes, but
Shame is not precise enough. My original idea was to show only a single day before the war had broken out. But then I wrote things and it all went wrong - I don't know why. I haven't seen Shame recently, and I am little afraid to do so. When you make such picture you have to be very hard on yourself. Its a moral question.

S: Why ?

B: Certain things in life are impossible to represent - like a concentration camp.

S: Because the reality is too terrible ?

B: Exactly. It is almost the same with war as with murder or death. You must be a hundred percent morally conscious in treating these things.

S: You must not simply shock.

B: Exactly, to show someone dying is false.

I am becoming more and more disillusioned with depiction of so-called real-events like death and war in the films, not because on screen voilence is bad, but because, as Bergman says, such shocks are essentially false. On a related note, especially related to the still photography, a documentary, Looking for an Icon, is getting some good reviews. It takes four important political still photographs from history and try to deconstruct them.

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