Persona was premièred at the Spegeln cinema on 18 October 1966. The editor Ulla Ryghe has described how the famous scene where the film burns up, often interpreted as if the actual celluloid cannot stand the friction between the two main characters, caused a number of problems at the initial screenings. After a number of projectionists had stopped the film, the film cans themselves had to be marked with red labels assuring them that the actual film does not catch fire, even though it appears that way.
This post is the beginning of my triple-ply, stronger, more absorbent re-look at Bergman, mostly through the lens of auteurism, starting with Persona which I watched again, fortuitously, a few days before reading about Godard, auteurists and cineastes. The Criterion version of Persona is currently available on YouTube. The naughty bits are in, so this must be Bergman’s cut. On the Criterion website, a set of essays on Persona and a 1.31 min. video essay without an oral/aural essay attached, which neatly catches some of the bits you’re bound to look for again in the rewind! If you’re fortunate enough to be able to watch the YouTube on a nice big tv screen, all the better. It’s good definition, but watch it while you can, you never know.
I feel I ought to say – which has probably been posted here and there before – that I’m not an academic (clearly) or a formal film student. How I’m learning about film is piece-meal and fragmented. And full of half-understood things. It seems at times like a person dragged off the street and pressed down in a chair in front of an old-fashioned editing machine, strips of film of various lengths hanging all about in the way we see in shots in films about editing rooms, and made to create a film, ending up with an out-takes ‘film’ just like the at the end of Cinema Paradiso but with some other subject apart from kissing. Or more appropriately, here, pre-credit sequence astoundingly similar to the ‘mad’ sequence in Persona.
In the previous post, the conversation I picked up the comments stream in a recent Girish post mentioning the publication by Caboose of an English version of Godard’s 1978 Toronto ‘lectures’, with the title Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television. A commenter made some remarks about auteurists and cinephiles as distinct, in opposition, which Girish had a distinct view on. All this seemed to be something I ought to get clear.
Anyone interested in films beyond watching them and a like/didn’t like, ends up with auteur theory, mentioned almost every time someone writes a film book or essay, which ineluctably leads to Truffaut’s “A Certain Tendency of the French Cinema”, back to Andre Bazin et al. and trillions of academic papers, essays and articles.
The auteurist vs. cinephile apposition which Girlish deals with made me realise I couldn’t blague my way through this with scant knowledge but needed to sit down and take some time over it.
And so for a while to Bergman, considered auteur de auteurs, how he made his mark, put his thumb-print on his work (and why even..). Having watched Persona before reading the post, I was primed, motivated, and ready to go.
As the opening paragraph of Ingmar Bergman the filmmaker, says:
The history of the cinema has seen directors whose works have been more “original” or “groundbreaking” (such as Eisenstein, Ozu or Godard). And there are plenty of directors who have made as many, if not more films (Griffith, Hitchcock or Chabrol). Yet the question remains: is there anyone who so epitomises the concept of the auteur – a filmmaker with full control over his medium, whose work has a clear and inimitable signature – as Ingmar Bergman?