Ingmar Bergman

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Richard Schickel

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Ingmar Bergman likes to speak of himself as a magician. The film maker, he notes, bases his art on the use of a machine that exploits a weakness in human vision in order to impart the illusion—not the reality—of motion and therefore of life. (p. 175)

I have never been able to definitely decide whether Bergman is, indeed, a consummate magician or merely a mountebank. I change my mind from film to film and even from sequence to sequence in the same film. He is a journalist—not quite a philosopher—of the guilty soul, and the necessity to probe the unconscious states of his characters leads him to a heavily symbolic, sometimes expressionistic, style in which he has created (a) some of the most memorable screen images of our time and (b) some of the most annoyingly obscure and/or pretentious images of the same period…. [The] hold he has on me—and, I suspect, on almost everyone else—is based on his attempt, and ours, to resolve the basic tension between the artist and the trickster which exists in his personality and in his work.

It is no wonder that Bergman, so aware that his art—perhaps all art—is based at least partly on trumpery, should be obsessed with the tragedy of the artist figure who suddenly, mysteriously loses the power to cast his magic spells. Persona, released a year ago, and his latest film, Hour of the Wolf, both deal with this theme and are, in fact, twins more understandable and rewarding considered together instead of separately. (pp. 175-76)

Hour of the Wolf carries [the logic of Persona] one step further. The basic situation is the same. (p. 176)

There is, however, one important difference. The companion will not allow herself to be drawn into the artist's insanity, perhaps because she is defending her unborn child, perhaps because she knows the wiles and dangers of her "case" more intimately than the nurse in Persona knew hers.

Anyway, the painter … cannot fight off his demons…. [He] becomes the means of openly stating what was only implicit in the earlier film: that madness undischarged in art or in human relations must be discharged through self-destruction. Somehow or other it will out.

As a kind of journalist Bergman is always an objective observer of such phenomena, and he betrays little overt emotion over this denouement. He accepts self-destruction as coolly (one is tempted to say coldly) as he accepted in Persona the destruction of an innocent bystander. He is—as all his films testify—the sort of completely committed, perhaps self-absorbed, artist who has long lived with full awareness that the creative spirit can turn rogue, can destroy with the same passionate intensity that it builds. (pp. 176-77)

I trust his motives in all this. They have, I think, a purity rare among film artists. His methods, on the other hand, are sometimes dubious. In Persona, for example, he took very great risks, striving for an elliptical austerity of statement that deliberately puzzled and frankly bored…. (p. 177)

In Hour of the Wolf Bergman is back to his older, more familiar tricks, mixing memories, visions and external reality in a deliberately confusing, though ultimately decipherable way. (p. 178)

Richard Schickel, "'Hour of Wolf'" (originally published in Life, April 26, 1968), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–1970 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon and Schuster, 1972, pp. 175-79.

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