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August 2000, Week 3


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"Edward R. O'Neill" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 20 Aug 2000 23:12:13 -0400
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I was a bit puzzled by some recent comments about Bergman.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that Bergman's films have *no* merits
whatever--aesthetic, philosophical, etc.

Yet couldn't one love them *anyway*?  Can't one love something one admits is
total crap?  Who's really to stop you?

I personally can't understand enjoying, let alone loving, certain films by
Ed Wood, but I understand that some people do.

And this disposition is not limited only to devotees of cult films.  There
are many films I enjoy without claiming for them specific intellectual

And one could talk about *this* experience of film intelligently, too.

That is:  although we often act as if we're measuring aesthetic objects
according to criteria, and although groups of people tend to agree on
certain domains of objects and how they fit within these criteria, one is
also talking about something much more irregular, private, and
unpredictable.  One is talking about pleasure and love and similar things.

We may like to picture ourselves as kind of taking the aesthetic yardstick
down from where it hangs on the wall and measuring each film:  "oh this one
falls short on the irony scale, whereas that one...."

But this picture is incomplete.  And to talk about pleasure and love and
similar things, as I've called them--well these things aren't inexplicable,
since we can describe these feelings and how they arose, at what moments,
and we can speculate about why.

I certainly was drawn to "cin-ay-muh" by Bergman--as by Welles and Fellini.
Now their films can seem overly self-serious:  it took time before I could
appreciate Maria Montez.  They occupy a certain place in my life, in what I
laughingly sometimes call my "development."

But I didn't "graduate" from Bergman to Maria Montez.  And if we sometimes
try to nudge our students from _Titanic_ to _Citizen Kane_, we have to be
careful about imagining that this is a "step up."

Finally, in one's mind one can imagine that Bergman is dull, dull, dull.
But try watching some of his films:  _Wild Strawberries_, _The Magician_,
_Smiles of a Summer Night_.  When I do, I am won over.  In _Smiles_, Bergman
even makes fun of seriousness.  True, it's in a serious-witty-theological
way, but that's him.

Even if Bergman's films have no other purpose than to show that a certain
kind of thing is possible--something no one had really achieved before in
cinema--then at the very least his films have a kind of pedagogical use.

Edward R. O'Neill
Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow
Bryn Mawr College

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