Wednesday, July 23, 2014

An Echo of Silence

More Nordic Blues.... I remember at the time thinking that was a really clever title... A peculiar set of circumstances today led me back to the review below, which I wrote and posted on Amazon way back in April 2000 for the VHS edition of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence. This was the first film review I ever wrote and I was so sure of its brilliance, a job offer from Empire seemed inevitable. Still, it's not so bad, it's readable, and relatively short and painless. Amusing to see that Amazon's product review editors effectively bleeped out the word masturbation in the line: Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism - the ellipsis marks should read masturbation. And so without further ado, here's one of my early ejaculations...


Along with Cries and Whispers and The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence is his best work, a film mesmerizing in its still potent power to disturb. The film charts the deterioration of the relationship between two sisters who book into a vast hotel in a nameless foreign region. Tensions mount and hostilities soon arise as both sisters can only find futility in their search for a warm, compassionate and tender relationship. Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) has a compulsive sexuality, which prompts her to have sex with strangers, while Ester (Ingrid Thulin), a cold repressed and alcoholic intellectual agonizes over her lesbian feelings for her sister...

The Silence is a strange film fueled by strange passions and emotions. It's rather minimalist in style, for Bergman rarely ventures outside the empty hotel, which is peopled only with a ghostly elderly porter and a troupe of circus dwarfs. With Sven Nykvist's camera exploring the space of the vast hotel corridors, it may for some recall Last Year at Marienbad but I think the film has more significant parallels with David Lynch's enigmatically bleak Eraserhead, both films sharing similar themes and a dark ambiance. Symbolically, the film is not a difficult as other Bergman dramas. The sense of decay is omnipresent throughout the film - the sisters' relationship, Ester who is suffering with a terminal cancer, and the region itself with its streets patrolled by tanks, suggesting the whole damn thing is about to slip into war. And Bergman's superb use of the hotel, which the characters seemingly can't escape from, takes on almost Kafkaesque proportions. Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism. The film ended an extraordinary trilogy that began with Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light; a series Bergman made which addressed his evaporating religious faith. Incidentally, look out for the funny scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan where Allen is horrified by Diane Keaton's merciless criticism of the film...

8 comments:

  1. Great stuff, Wes, always nice to see early writings and musings from people with great talent for structure and composition. Amusing that they chose to remove the word 'masturbation', but yet leave so many incomprehensible reviews up for us to try and puzzle over... Strangely enough, I've never actually seen The Silence - despite me going through a Bergman phase a few years ago, the title somehow never 'fell into my lap' - so your thoughts on it has definitely pushed it further up my 'must see' list. My first experiences with Bergman were a double header of Cries and Whispers and Hour of the Wolf - two quite different but utterly compelling films. The Latter is one of the few of his I could watch more than once or twice, as the more overt horror elements soften the blow somewhat.

    I'm very familiar with the scene in Manhattan, which makes it even more shameful that I've yet to get to this one!

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  2. Jeez I dunno about talent, maybe lack of talent... it's not so bad I suppose - not sure if I would stand so readily over my comparison with Eraserhead ! I guess I was more excited that it was still kicking around Amazon's page after 14 years ! Amazon's reviews can be really goofy though, but I have one personal favourite - I'm taking this directly from the product page of Lou Reed's cycle of doom songs, Berlin and it's well worth reading in full, so funny...

    (five stars) A joyous, uplifting dancefloor masterpiece, 4 May 2012
    If you're not familiar with the work of one-man fun-factory Lou Reed, this is probably the best place to start your journey. From the four-to-the-floor stomp of hi-nrg classic "Berlin", through to the proto-handbag-house euphoria of "Sad Song" (don't be fooled by that gloomy title!), this album is guaranteed to get your party started right every time.

    It's a concept album of sorts, and many of the songs deal with the perils of one Caroline - a zany party girl who likes to burn the candle at both ends. If that sounds a bit heavy, don't worry: this is Lou Reed we're talking about here, and you're never more than a few seconds away from the next LOL as you dance along.

    I don't normally like songs with kids on (a bit too Pink Floyd for my taste), but for me, the zippy and thoroughly life-affirming "The Kids" is the standout track here. This being a song about the sheer energy of youth it's every bit the floor-filler you'd expect, and if you listen carefully you can just about hear the happy screams of the producer's children as they bopped wildly in the studio during the session.

    Probably one of the best all-round good-time albums you're ever likely to hear; buy it, enjoy it, live it. So rinsin', in fact, that you might just think you're on one.

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    1. Well, the important thing is that you found a connection with Eraserhead - so I'll be the judge of if the comparison holds up when I get around to this one!

      "Never more than a few seconds away from the next LOL" - that's classic! I love a good troll review, this is great stuff though. I went through a phase of calling people on their idiotic reviews on amazon - mainly on tech stuff relating to Blu Ray's where they were defending garbage transfers, etc - but I got a few of them to delete their reviews altogether, which I took as a badge of honour...

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    2. Yeah, good stuff John, I love the idea of a lone warrior of the wasteland sheparding the mutants out of the way so civilization can once again spring forth ! I wish more customers would be enlightned enough to give an accurate run down of the specs of the DVD they're reviewing - I wanted to buy Prick Up Your Ears recently and couldn't locate a single review about that particular edition, and not one of the customer reviews on Amazon had anything meaningful to say about the transfer. And then there's the "excellent service, bought this for my hubby and would buy from this seller again" time-wasting... grrrrrr.....

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  3. Impressive stuff from a beginner Wes. Re. The Empire job, if they'd taken you on I'd still be reading it, as it is I don't think I've picked up a copy in more than 10 years!

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    1. Thanks Mart ! I realy did give Empire my best shot, I collected it far longer than I should have but the gradual dumbing down of the mag was too much... I still see it on the shelf of my local supermarket and it always looks trashy, loud graphics and every cover prostituted out to some big studio movie that will be a complete waste of time. I think the last Empire I bought featured The Golden Compass on the cover which I see is from...2007 ! If I was buying a monthly these days, it would be Sight & Sound for sure...

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  4. I begin to hope you guys never find any of my Amazon reviews...

    I have a shameful lack of Bergman in my film viewing. I've seen one of his movies - and can't even remember which it was. I would watch more if they came across my streaming device or if Turner Classic Movies showed some or something so I could DVR away.

    And because this is the kind of thing I usually bring to the table - even when we're talking Serious Film Criticism - would either of you happen to have seen the comedy series SCTV's early 80's spoof of Bergman? Local horror host Count Floyd is given an "Ingmar Burgman" film - Whispers of the Wolf - to show because someone thought it was a horror film from the title. Here's a link - it's 8 minutes long - if you're interested:

    http://youtu.be/GMVrMHQk95s

    Now off to Amazon to see if I can hide my reviews....

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    1. Craig, pay no attention to me and John - we're like those two old geezer muppets who sit in the stalls and bitch n' moan... Bergman is defitnely an aquired taste - personally I like his films because that gloomy disposition really appeals to me - I'm not a big comedy guy ! And because his movies are strangely sexy as well ! Thanks for the clip, it's actually very on-the-money for anyone who knows Bergman, with lots of subtle references to his films. Very smart ! I'll defintely check out some of the other sketches SCTV too - The Taxi Driver sketch with Rick Moranis as Woody Allen is priceless !

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