Picture it: Tucson, Arizona, 1955. A very sophomoronic sophomore attending the sun-baked U of A longs for a dash of sophistication. But where to find it? Fashion? Forget it! Sexual panache? Puh-leeze! Global travels? Not for another five years.
So what's available? Foreign films, of course. A small theater near campus specializes in the flicks from afar. The tiny lobby boasts serious art posters on the wall (Van Gogh--even a freshman can identify Van Gogh and feel safe); and after the late showing, offers free cigarettes and tiny cups of CPR-certified black coffee to the movie buffs, who stand around exuding smoke and hilarious baloney-cum-critiques of what they've just seen.
The sophomore (that's me) doesn't take advantage of the cigarettes or coffee,
and, being alone, lacks an audience for any baloney she might serve up. But, boy, does she soak up the atmosphere of the films. It doesn't get any more sophisticated than black and white cinema in French, Italian, German--and most high-falutin' of all--Swedish.
The great Swedish director Ingemar Bergman died today. And I'm here to say that I never really got a grasp on any film he made. Even the later masterpiece, Fanny and Alexander, which earned the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, left me somewhat mystified. Even the first film of his that I saw, that 1955 movie that had my classmates buzzing over their coffee cups, Smiles of a Summer Night, floated just over my head like a tantalizing balloon.
Doesn't matter, though. The bits and pieces I did understand, the scenes that did leave a lasting impression on my "inward eye," were more than enough to let me see a new vision of cinema, give me to understand that things would never be the same after this man had done his work. If nothing else, Bergman set me up for the countless ways Woody Allen would spoof and salute his acknowledged
hero. Smiles of a Summer Night would spawn Woody's own film, Midsummer
Night's Sex Comedy; Allen's Love and War is filled with parodies of a dozen Bergman films--well, that list goes on. But a dozen dozen directors did things differently because of Ingemar Bergman.
It doesn't matter if I understood only glimpses of what the Swedish genius tried to show us. Seeing his art drew me out of the sophomore playground and a bit further into the wider world. So rest in peace, Mr. Bergman, and thank you.