Leonard Cohen – “This Isn’t China” (2002)

March 31, 2009 at 7:37 pm (Leonard Cohen, Poetry & Literature)


Hold me close
and tell me what the world is like
I don’t want to look outside
I want to depend on your eyes
and your lips
I don’t want to feel anything
but your hand
on the old raw bumper
I don’t want to feel anything else
If you love the dead rocks
and the huge rough pine trees
Ok I like them too
Tell me if the wind
makes a pretty sound
in the billion billion needles
I’ll close my eyes and smile
Tell me if it’s a good morning
or a clear morning
Tell me what the fuck kind of morning
it is
and I’ll buy it
And get the dog
to stop whining and barking
This isn’t China
nobody’s going to eat it
It’s just going to get fed and petted
Ok where were we?
Ok go if you must.
I’ll create the cosmos
by myself
I’ll let it all stick to me
every fucking pine needle
And I’ll broadcast my affection
from this shaven dome
360 degrees
to all the dramatic vistas
to all the mists and snows
that moves across
the shining mountains
to the women bathing
in the stream
and combing their hair
on the roofs
to the voiceless ones
who have petitioned me
from their surprising silence
to the poor in the heart
(oh more and more to them)
to all the thought-forms
and leaking mental objects
that you get up here
at the end of your ghostly life

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Stephen Holden – “Ingmar Bergman: In Art’s Old Sanctuary, a High Priest of Film” (2007)

March 31, 2009 at 5:01 am (Cinema, Reviews & Articles)

Written by Stephen Holden for the New York Times, comes this rumination on the films and career of the late, famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman…


Certain screen images, no matter how often they are parodied, resist the demolition of ridicule. Take the image of a knight playing chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 allegory, The Seventh Seal, set in a medieval world reeling from the plague. This will always be Mr. Bergman’s defining signature: a joke perhaps, but also not a joke.

If you revisit The Seventh Seal with a smirk on your face, you will likely be struck anew by the power of this life-and-death chess match and the scary ashen face of a black-robed Death. What may seem the essence of portentous symbolism when taken out of context retains its primal force within the film. You are inescapably reminded that in the metaphysical and emotional struggles portrayed in Bergman’s films, the stakes are all or nothing and extremely personal.

“Not a day has gone by in my life when I haven’t thought about death,” Bergman mused in Bergman Island, a recent, extraordinarily intimate documentary portrait, filmed on the island of Faro, where he lived in semi-isolation for four decades. The image of a chess game, he said, was inspired by a painting in a church he visited as a boy with his father. Until many decades later, when he underwent anesthesia that left him unconscious for several hours, he harbored “an insane fear” of death. Losing, then regaining, consciousness partially alleviated that fear, which seeps into the core of many of his finest films.

Mr. Bergman’s ruthlessly honest investigation of his demons is what lends such images their crushing weight. However fictional, they are undeniably truthful expressions of one artist’s personal torment, redeemed by fleeting glimpses of eternity and redemption in a long, dark night of the soul.

Intimations of divinity, he says in the documentary, can be found in classical music, in which he finds “human holiness.” And his use of classical music, especially in what to me is his greatest film, Persona, adds an incalculable profundity to his work.

Even Bergman’s comedies have a powerful undertow of sadness, of time rushing by and of dark shadows gathering. Geography has a lot to do with it. The chilly winter light of his films, most of them exquisitely shot by Sven Nykvist, emanates from a sun low on the horizon. Looking for the sun is tantamount to searching for God.

In Mr. Bergman’s films, the figure of his own father, a stern Lutheran preacher and fearsome disciplinarian, is almost indistinguishable from the recurrent image of a remote and punishing God. In the autobiographical Fanny and Alexander, the 10-year-old hero’s terrifying stepfather is the kind of authoritarian figure who could haunt your nightmares for a lifetime. Most recently, that vengeful patriarch appears in Saraband, Mr. Bergman’s bleak and brilliant 2003 epilogue to Scenes from a Marriage, his 1973 masterpiece.

An existential dread runs through the entire Bergman oeuvre. Among the major directors who spearheaded the international art film movement after 1950, he was the one most closely in touch with the intellectual currents of the day. Freud and Sartre were riding high, and Time magazine wondered in a cover story if God were dead. Attendance at Mr. Bergman’s films was a lot like going to church. Though many of those films are steeped in church imagery, God is usually absent from the sanctuary.

As a college student and avid art-film goer in the early 1960s, I was overwhelmed by Mr. Bergman’s films, with their heavy-duty metaphysical speculation and intellectual seriousness. In those days, you would no more argue with Mr. Bergman’s stature than you would question the greatness of the modern Western literary canon; like Mann, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, et al., Mr. Bergman was an intellectual god whose work could reward a lifetime of analytical study.

Today the religion of high art that dominated the 1950s and ’60s seems increasingly quaint and provincial. The longstanding belief that humans are born with singular psyches and souls is being superseded by an emerging new ideal: the human as technologically perfectible machine. The culture of the soul — of Freud and Marx and, yes, Bergman — has been overtaken by the culture of the body. Biotechnology leads the shaky way into the future, and pseudo-immortality, through cloning, is in sight. Who needs a soul if the self is technologically mutable? For that matter, who needs art?

That may be why Bergman’s spiritual malaise seems less relevant than his flesh-and-blood experience. No filmmaker has explored relationships between men and women with such depth and passion. His achievement is inseparable from that of the extraordinary actresses — like Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and, most of all, Liv Ullmann (with whom he made 10 films) — who people his work and who embody both the women in his life and his own feminine side.

Whereas the majority of men in Mr. Bergman’s films are selfish, grown-up little boys, at once grandiose, lecherous, feckless and narcissistic, the women whom they love and betray are their connection to what really matters in everyday life.

“I usually say I left puberty at 58,” he jokes in the documentary. From the evidence of his life — five marriages and many affairs — the men in his movies are unvarnished reflections of himself.

In Saraband, Ms. Ullmann’s character, Marianne, visits her former husband, Johan (Erland Josephson), 30 years after Scenes from a Marriage. As much as she remembers their furious strife, she is able to forgive. Through all the darkness of Mr. Bergman’s films, the humanity glows.

Stephen Holden

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