One of the joys of the current Criterion Collection sale at Barnes and Noble is a chance to re-visit and further explore some of the great masters of cinema. As fellow C.O.B.R.A.S. writer Armstrong Sabian and I have discussed, there are many titles in the collection that will appeal to Spy Vibers, including films by Hitchcock, Melville, Suzuki, and titles such as The Spy Who Came Into the Cold and Charade. For many years now I've enjoyed programming film events for schools and communities, and Criterion's move to Blu-ray has upped the level of our digital viewing experiences. I picked up the new copy of The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman and have found myself swept away in a fabulous re-discovery of his work. Though Bergman can't be accused of making stylish spy films, he is important to mention as a member of the small community of filmmakers who truly showed mastery of the medium through his blend of deeply human motifs and themes and outstanding (and stylish!) photography. He is indispensable as a key figure in the cinematic art scene of the 1950s and 1960s. Among my various experiences this week with Bergman, I came across two bits that may be of interest here. Fans of the stylized thrillers of Mario Bava (Danger: Diabolik) who think Bergman only made quiet chamber pieces may be excited to re-visit his 1968 film Hour of the Wolf (trailer below).
Another wonderful surprise came from one of my all-time favorite writer/directors and heroes- Woody Allen (Casino Royale/photo below), who wrote in the introduction to Bergman's Images: My Life in Film (Arcade Publishing/2007): "Bergman, for all his quirks and philosophic and religious obsessions, was a born spinner of tales who couldn't help being entertaining even when all on his mind was dramatizing the ideas of Nietzsche or Kierkegaard. I used to have long phone conversations with him. He would arrange them from the island he lived on. I never accepted his invitations to visit because the plane travel bothered me, and I didn't relish flying on a small aircraft to some speck near Russia for what I envisioned as a lunch of yogurt. We always discussed movies, and of course I let him do most of the talking because I felt privileged hearing his thoughts and ideas. He screened movies for himself every day and never tired of watching them. All kinds, silents and talkies. To go to sleep he'd watch a tape of the kind of movie that didn't make him think and would relax his anxiety, sometimes a James Bond film." Fans of Allen will recognize his many nods to Bergman themes and visuals throughout the years. The most comical being of course Woody's spoof of the dance with death (The Seventh Seal) in his 1975 comedy Love and Death, pictured below.
In our culture of compartmentalization, it is refreshing to remember that Art, and cinema is Art, can appeal in all kinds of ways as we need it to in our lives; That a Spy Viber in love with Mid-Century Modern, 60s spear guns, silencers, and Jaguar XKEs can find the style and human expression of Bergman deeply satisfying; That Ingmar Bergman, while dwelling over stories like Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Through a Glass Darkly, and Fanny and Alexander found joy and satisfaction in the exploits of Ian Fleming's secret agent 007. Look at the composition of the second still below from Persona. The tilt of the hat, elbow, piping, sunglasses, and roof lines- one of the great designs of 1966 at the height of the spy boom. If you are up for re-exploring or discovering Art House cinema of the 1950s and 1960s, I encourage you to add Ingmar Bergman to your list. His films vary in pacing and tone (he made about 60 movies), and are often worth the investment.