The Playgoer: Bergman: "Sensualist & Philosopher"

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bergman: "Sensualist & Philosopher"

Yet one more eulogy to Bergman the stage director--a must-read from Michael Feingold, who gloriously catalogues many of the highlights from the BAM tours of the last twenty years. He also graciously points us to an official Bergman website!

Charles McNulty, in his earlier tribute, already pointed to the ending of the freely "adapted" Ghosts as an instant classic. Here's Feingold, fleshing it out for us:

Deleting the giant closing speech in which Ibsen's Mrs. Alving vacillates over whether to give her syphilitic son, his diseased brain collapsing in dementia, the poison that will end his life, Bergman guided Pernilla August, who had embodied so many heroines for him, into creating a strong, decisive, 21st-century Mrs. Alving, her deep-red dress like a spill of blood or wine against the deep-green carpet as she knelt to feed her now naked, infantilized son the fatal pills—helping him wash them down, ironically, with a flute of champagne left over from a toast the two characters had drunk earlier in the act. This was Bergman's bleak goodbye, to his life in the theater and to the era of modern drama that Ibsen had fathered. It was a true Bergman moment, a summing-up that both rebuked and quintessentialized the play from which he drew it—a moment without hope, but so densely packed with beauty, mystery, and tragic power that its existence was itself a sign of hope.

Other salient points:

1) that while Bergman's reputation amongst film critics may seem in jeopardy over the last week, it may be his theatrical legacy that holds up the longest (ephemeral as the form is.)

2) Bergman's stage oeuvre is a testament to the European state (and state- subsidized) repertory model--building over decades an intimate relationship with the great plays and with a company of highly skilled actors who could embody his ideas. (Not surprisingly many of these actors ended up mesmerizing us in his films, as well.)

As Feingold says, "no one achieves such things alone."

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