Saturday, 21 February 2009

Bergman's The Magician

It is Sunday, a day when I work for at least eight hours as every other but try and reflect on matters of faith, belief, spirit and soul and view conventional films about religious issues and those which concern aspects of the supernatural. Some I watch over and over again as the Shoes of the Fisherman, Quo Vadis and The Ten Commandments, and the Mission, Some I want to watch but find the experience too overwhelming as Mel Gibson’s Passion, although I do plan to view again on Good Friday. Others are less well known such as Preminger's, The Cardinal, The Devil at 4 O'clock with Spencer Tracey and The Garden of Redemption. I also appreciate work about different faiths such as Kunden and Seven Years in Tibet, together with Epics with a spiritual theme with Ghandi the one I return to from time to time..
There also those produced as science fiction and fantasy entertainments What Dreams May Come and Vanilla Sky, Constantine, Dogma, Revelation, The Body and the Sin Eater, Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth and countless others, some dealing primarily with the Occult.
Tonight I have decided to reconsider three or four of the others viewed over recent months beginning with a disappointment, Bergman's the Magician, although it contains several haunting images, particularly the opening sequence when the small troupe a Magician, played by Max von Sydow, a young male assistant who plays female parts and speaks for the dumb Magician, and his 200 years old aunt witch figure selling dubious love potions and making money for her future, together with a young "normal" coachman.
The opening sequence begins with a derelict scaffold building next to the coach in scene of desolation before they move on through a dark and frightening forest where on stopping they encounter an actor dying, and they take him with them, but he dies and is placed in a coffin when they arrive at a town where they are asked to do a private performance for the Consul, a kind of Mayor.
The scene is set for some genuine magic and reflections on the nature of God and man. While the aunt does appear to be able to manipulate nature in her own interests, we quickly learn more about the nature of the hypocrisy and misuse of power by civil authorities, a chief of police and medical officer health figure, than we do about the true nature of the universe.
I will resist the temptation to spoil some of the fun, but suggest that close attention is paid to the young man and to suspend judgement, from the time when because the wives fancy the Magician, the good burghers are only willing to immediately cut up his body after he is killed, to establish if his powers are genuine, but then become sacred when he reappears after the dissection has been completed!
The accompanying film notes are helpful because they explain the Bergman message is less conceptual and based on the prejudices of his early experience. He and his wife, Bibi Anderson, had a great time where they were struggling actors, leading a bohemian existence, in a small flat in the town of Helsingborg where on Saturdays they were invited into a pastry shop to have free cakes and hot chocolate with whipped cream and they were frequently invited to the homes of people where they could eat their fill. Their credit was extensive and they were invited to local castles and mansions to sing, read and act while performing at the theatre
This contrasted with what happened when they moved to Malmo where they had little contact with the locals who expected much but were unwilling to pay. He represents the good citizens through the Consul who keeps his distance, and who tries to formulates rules about relationships and panics when he discovers that his wife has become involved with the players who he considers to be a rabble
Bergman has also explained why he made one of the civic figures particularly obnoxious. He is reported to have said that there is a tendency to marry within the theatre and for actors have an illusion about their existence forgetting how "we actually appears when we are not stage." Henry Schien, a critic was married to Ingrid Thulin who plays the assistant in the film and wanted her to give up the theatre and films and devote herself to art and to craft. "I invited him to Malmo to try and prove him wrong" says Bergman
He admits that the character of the health official had a real life counterpart, the husband of Thulin who Bergman regarded as arrogant, and is said to have treated him in a humiliating manner, although this was subsequently contested and the man is said to have become a close friend. Bergman also admits a malicious streak with the couple picked up in Wild Strawberries who were also based on people known to him. Bergman adds that he sold the film to the studio executives as an erotic comedy!
My next venture was to find out if the remake of the Wicker Man measured up to the brilliant original.

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