Fanny & Alexander – mini review

Was Bergman’s vision as a filmmaker translated into his theatre work with the same passion, complexity and zest for life? I would not know, for I would need a time portal to place me in 1906s Stockholm. Wouldn’t that be the dream?

But Bergman’s immense legacy is a fluid totem, an endless tapestry of colour and shadows upon which we can still, if our hands are able enough, weave intricate stories of life, death love, lust and loss.
Was Bergman’s spark of brilliance spotted in London’s West End last night? Perhaps so.

Stephen Beresford, the playwright certainly understands the material he adapted, the exquisite cinematic tour de force Fanny and Alexander. The 1982 film, which lives in two formats, theatrical release and TV has now spawn a third: a 3-act stage rendition, which has had its premiere last night at the Old Vic.
As an adoring fan of Bergman’s cinematic work, I stepped into the theatre with certain expectations. Knowing the material and Bergman’s recurrent themes and visual motifs, I had already imagined how the play would be acted out.

It was not as heavy as I had expected. The sacrosanct sanctuary of grandmother Ekdahl was somewhat missing, along with elements of Alexander’s imagination, which stood at the heart of the film version. The playfulness was beautifully captured, but Alexander’s rebellion seemed to fall flat, through no fault of Misha Handley, who played Alexander with the passion of a tried Hamlet.

When asked about the film, Bergman was quoted as saying that he found inspiration in Charles Dickens’ work for the execution and I almost wished director Max Webster had done the same. I found myself thinking of the marvellous production of A Christmas Carol, which coincidentally was performed over the Christmas period on the same stage, as envisaged by the brilliant Matthew Warchus.

Max Webster’s direction isn’t lacking in bergmanesque beauty. However, the silent wonder of witnessing the human condition unfolding before our very eyes in all its splendour is upstaged by something else. The seemingly endless red velvet curtains and mahogany furniture do give us a taste of a day in the life of the Ekdahl family. We are even invited at their Christmas table to enjoy a kinglike feast (the three Ekdahl brothers are all named after Swedish kings, after all).
But the whole setting fails to make us as nervous as it should. There is no complex tension in the performances, only a flat anxiety, perfectly embodied by Catherine Walker’s Emily Ekdahl, who seems to be staggering timidly through, asking the important questions but failing to believe the urgency. The mystique is too often replaced by an exaggerated humour, which Penelope Wilton excels at, as matron extraordinaire Helena Ekdahl. Only Kevin Doyle manages to chill the blood, especially in the whipping scene, the only time where Bergman’s darkness is truly rendered on stage.

Whilst still appreciating the difficulty of taking such a close-to-perfect piece of cinema and transposing it onto the stage, as a spectator I was left wanting more.

Fanny and Alexander is on at the Old Vic Theatre until 14 April 2018

Inner revolution

When the mortal remains of our immortal gods are no more
Who’s going to sing our generation’s pains?
When the fight isn’t done, about to be undone
Whose chant can we turn into the hymn of struggle?
When the summer of love is just a memory of a distant memory,
are we ready to love again?
When change needs yet another change
where are our poets with voices of angels and disguised as scary monsters?
When our cheeks are burning red from the slaps history has given
We’re waiting for new prophets and davids to slay the blind goliaths of hate.

Buster Keaton – cinematic butterfly

keaton-sherlock_optComedy has always been a film genre slightly looked down upon. It’s not considered as classy and meaningful as a drama or a love story, or as imaginative and insightful as a sci-fi film.

Looking at comedies today one can’t help but agree. As funny as The Hangover is, you can’t put it in the same category as Inception; The Dictator has got more disgusting jokes per minute than any other comedy prior to it. Romantic comedies have become a genre of their own, the sentimentality allowing us to laugh and cry at the same time, whilst the brainier part of our body acknowledges the silliness of the entire scenario.

However, if we take a look at silent comedies, notably the slapstick genre, we discover a kind of subtlety and intelligent humour that’s missing from movies nowadays. This type of humour seems to have only been revived briefly by comedy geniuses such as Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Fry & Laurie and to a lesser extent Mel Brooks. Their time has passed unfortunately and there seems to be no one valiant or talented enough to try walking in their shoes.

What’s left for comedy lovers to do is to back to the beginning. It all started with The Sprinkler Sprinkled  in 1895 and it peaked with the genius of Buster Keaton. Some may say of course that it is Charlie Chaplin who holds the title of the greatest slapstick comedian of the silent era, but given that Chaplin’s sound films exceed the quality of his silent ones, it would be unfair to limit him to his silent career only and label him as a slapstick comedian. Moreover, Chaplin’s silent films haven’t aged as well as Keaton’s.

It is true that, judging by box-office success, Chaplin was the more famous and financially successful one. He was also a good business man. His humour however was fit for a 1920s – 1930s audience. Buster Keaton’s comedy style may have been too subtle and mature for the audience of the day. That may be the reason for which he was hailed as a genius only towards the end of his life, when he was “rediscovered” by a younger, more sophisticated audience. However, at that point he was no longer making movies of the same calibre and he was still seen by some of his peers, Chaplin included, as a bankrupt old man who had to do menial TV appearances for a living.

Looking at Buster Keaton’s career, one discovers a man who was born in show business. He wasn’t asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he just took over the family business at the age of four. He was, of course, a natural, but then again there might have been a great many things he could have excelled at if given the opportunity. One will never know how he would have been as a civil engineer, but the intricacy with which he would build up his gags and even the fact that he designed his own house stand proof that he might have been just as good at it as he was at comedy.

Most great directors are said to be/have been perfectionists and that may well be true. There is no other way to achieve greatness. Most of Buster Keaton’s film stand proof of the man’s perfectionism, which was sometimes pushed to the extreme. Many books have been written about his physical abilities and acrobatic skills and in the world of today may even be put into question, if we forget that special effects were in their infancy in the 1920s and that Buster was always one to perform his own stunts.  His grace and physical beauty were often compared to those of a butterfly and even the great Orson Welles called him “the most beautiful person to ever be photographed”. Who can argue with that when they’re looking into Buster’s big eyes who never laugh, but express many intense emotions despite him being called The Great Stone Face.

It is hard to decide what’s more fascinating about Keaton’s films: his ability to express a great range of emotions while keeping such a straight face, his ability to perform some of the most dangerous and awe-inspiring stunts ever to be captured on camera or his cinematic genius that created some of the best and funniest films of the silent era. To find proof of all of that one needs to look no further than Sherlock Jr. (1924). The gags created for this feature film, the shortest feature he’s ever released, are nothing short of extraordinary and even surrealist filmmakers like Luis Bunuel found inspiration in Keaton’s work.

Keaton’s masterpiece, however is considered to be The General (1927). Keaton’s attention to detail is most visible during the production of this film, which made it become one of the most expensive films of the silent era. He would spare no expense and the finished product would become a yardstick to action comedies and chase scenes of subsequent films and in inspiration to future directors. His vision as a director is coupled with his skills as an acrobat and his love for all things mechanical. Where Chaplin would make as much use of his persona and create a relationship between himself and the audience, Keaton would go out of his way to confuse the audience, show no mercy to his screen persona, but stoicism and determination and from this his unique style of slapstick would emerge.

Buster Keaton’s life story is no fairy tale unfortunately. He hasn’t got a successful biopic, starring an actor of Robert Downey Jr.’s calibre. He didn’t live the rest of his life as a recluse millionaire in Switzerland. He had to work until the end of his life in mediocre productions, “enjoying” his status as a former silent movie star. He was no astute business man, but a naive artistic genius who got the short end of the deal when he signed with MGM, signing away his creative independence. One can only guess the quality of his sound era productions if he had worked in an independent studio like Chaplin did. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and he faded into oblivion at the beginning of the sound era. Today he is only hailed as a cinematic genius by film scholars mostly, his legacy being preserved by those few fans who still hold dear the wonderful world of silent cinema.

Music, Technology and Lifestyle

We have arrived to an era where if one states that they’re “computer illiterate” means they’re just “illiterate” and that they’re having great difficulty with coping with the world around them. There have been a few isolated voices crying that the internet is ruining people’s lives, preventing them from communicating properly with the real world. With the advent of the smartphone, the tablet and the mobile internet, people have come to enjoy their real social life and their virtual one at the same time.  And it doesn’t stop there.

An event that I witnessed a couple of days ago made me think of this BBC documentary: Synth Britannia . About 35-40 years ago there came a new type of music and it took time for the critics to accept it as a “valid type of music”. Then, as now, it started with mixing the new technology, the synth, with the oldest and most valued type of music, the classical music, as heard in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

The concert I attended was a replica of the same experiment, only with tablets instead of synths. The concert started with a DJ performing at his table. He had the typical gear a DJ would have on his desk, with the addition of two tablets where he had sounds looped in, which he would manipulate whichever way he pleased during his DJ set.

The most impressive part was however the classical music performance, which made me think of the influence classical music still has on modern music and how fast music as an art is evolving, now with the help of technology. The act consisted of a male baritone voice, an oboe, a violin and a cello. As each of the performers played their instrument, the DJ, while still on the stage, began mixing and modifying live the sounds emitted by the instruments and the singer’s voice respectively. The only tools that he was using were the two tablets he had played with before, in his DJ set. We, the audience, know this because a camera was tactfully placed behind the desk, the images captured being projected on a big screen at the back of the stage.

This was a cutting edge experiment with an impressive result. It is all the more interesting if we think that the end result sounded like a classical music concert which had been recorded, then submitted to hours of processing in a specialized sound recording laboratory. It all sounded like an instantly remixed version of a classical piece, which of course was the DJ’s intention. Technical innovation is making its presence felt in the music industry, making lives easier to musicians worldwide and giving them more tools to create original music.

Advertising and SEO

It is easy to presume for everyone nowadays that they know the first thing about advertising. After so many years of being invaded by publicity everywhere we turn, we know the sales pitch, we can see a mile away what the product is about and whether or not it satisfies our needs. Since everything has more or less been done or said before the customer is now educated and therefore very hard to impress and surprise. And thanks to Mad Men, the customer has now a bit of background information about the business of advertising as well.

Adverts are history. Nobody watches an advert and says “hey, I really wonder if that product is what I’m looking for!” anymore. Sure, ads are still part of a selling campaign, but the tactic has begun to change. It’s no longer about the art of presenting a new product to the market, it’s about who is supporting that product. Big brands like Virgin, Gillette, Volkswagen and many others have asked the help of celebrities to advertise for their brand in order to push their sales forward. People nowadays are too distracted by their own busy life to stop to look at an ad and reflect on it. If they want something they would simply go online and look for what they want.

Big brands have begun to tailor their ads to fit in with the modern man. Google has been for a few years now the go-to place to find everything one needs. Like a town’s elderly, what Google says goes. As a result, business owners need to get their website, which advertises for their business, ranking as high as possible in the Google result pages. And that’s not all. To get that high ranking, a website has to have an impeccable content describing the business, advertising for it and offering information to the potential customer at the same time. Google gets the customer through the door, the website itself has to convince the customer to buy the product.

If anything, building a business website is making a sales pitch that doesn’t look like a sales pitch. And this sales pitch has to convince the google search engines first and foremost. They are operated by algorithms that process information in a very mathematical, yet secretive way. SEO experts are still trying to identify the exact factors that get one website to rank higher than another. They advise website content writers to think about the customers reading their content, and not about the crawlers that process the information in order to rank it on Google.

Target audience is always one to bear in mind when writing content for a website. Just like writing for an ad, only thinking at a larger scale. Content editing and web usability are all part of the SEO strategy of advertising. Online advertising has become much more popular than our traditional commercial viewing while watching TV. People nowadays spend much more time in front of their computers than watching TV, therefore businesses need to change their medium and tactic in order to have success and gain more customers.

Just like an ad on TV that prevents one from changing the channel, the website has to be appealing enough at first sight in order to prevent the web user from surfing away from the page. The website has to mirror the same values as the product the business is trying to sell. It has to have an appealing layout, it needs to be easy to browse through, be informative and focus on one thing, a page at a time. By offering the web user a good experience while visiting one’s website, one can be sure that the user will visit again that page and more often than not, become a regular customer, recommending the business to other people as well.

Its name is Words. Keywords

For those who want to have a successful business on the internet, managing keywords is one of the most important things of SEO. Looking back to the beginnings of the internet age, Google search engines were not as complex as today. The algorithms were clearer and simpler and it was easier to know how to get to the top of the search results: use the keywords relating to your business as much as possible.

The algorithms have evolved and now the search engines, the crawlers, have become much more sophisticated. They are looking at more than just finding the same keywords a hundred times in a 600 word content on a page. Keywords are still very important but the context in which those keywords are being used has become part of the search algorithms as well. Not only that, but the way in which keywords are used is not to be disregarded by content writers. Search engines are able to identify words that are synonyms with the established keywords on the page and will rank well pages that use a wider range of well chosen words describing a service.

For the better use of keywords on the page, Google has created the AdWords tool. It helps businesses to learn which keywords  and keyword combinations are looked for the most by potential customers. Thus they know what combination of words they should use on their page to go up in the search result hierarchy.

Let’s take a practical example. Using Google Adwords, someone who is in the business of selling phone insurance can check what are the most popular searches, what are the average monthly searches on those particular keywords on a 12 month period and even the average cost per click, which helps create an advertising plans for one’s business.

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The Keyword tool by Google AdWords is showing in even more detail the habits of web users and acts as an inspiration of writers. Using the same example of the “phone insurance” keyword search, one can discover multiple combinations of words and improve on their website content. For instance, many web users are looking for “cheap phone insurance”, “mobile phone insurance” and most often than not they specify the type of phone they are looking insurance for. This gives writers ideas on how to mix up their keywords with their content for great Google search engine rankings.

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Keywords are not the only factor that one has to take into account in order to have a successful business online and rank well on Google search engines. A website creator has to consider other things such as content, design, meta descriptions, links and their anchor text. These are of course made up of carefully chosen words, which should be derived from the main keywords on the page. Links from well established websites are useful in supporting a page by directing its customers to it. Social media is a very useful and important tool used to advertise one’s job and to get as many websites to link to their page. Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn to name a few, are helpful in creating contacts and generating these supportive links.

Google algorithms are only known by Google operators. SEO experts can only guess how information on the web page is fed to the Google search engines, but continuous research is made on the subject, just as continuous updates and improvements are made on anything that has to do with technology every day. This leads to continuously improved SEO strategies of online marketing and to strongly built websites.


Cary Grant vs the Production Code

Cary Grant wasn’t born in Bristol in 1904. Rumor has it he was born on the set of She Done Him Wrong in 1933, having been spotted on the studio lot by none other than Mae West. She cast him in the movie and a long successful career was thus started. And what could be easier? He was young, tall, dark, handsome. He had a lot of charisma, talent and sex-appeal. He also seemed to fit very well into that mad world of 40’s and 50’s Hollywood.

He was no longer Archie Leach. Archie Leach was left in Bristol, still performing pantomime at the Hippodrome theatre. If anything, Archie Leach remains in movie history as the clumsy and naive barrister played by John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda (1988). In fact Cleese was paying a tribute to Cary Grant, borrowing his real name for the protagonist of his award winning comedy.

Funnily enough, by coincidence or not, the film that made him a star, She Done Him Wrong, prompted the creation of The National Legion of Decency. The sexual chemistry between Cary and his co-star, the sultry Mae West did not go unnoticed by the censors, the film being banned in Australia, Finland and Austria, as well as the state of Atlanta. Cary Grant’s career would soar from this point on and his talent as both a comedian and a dramatic actor would gain him international fame and respect in Hollywood.

It is easy to forget that the Production Code was set in place for the majority of Grant’s career, forcing quite important restrictions on his performance. He was one of the many actors to be working within the boundaries of the Code, but he was one of the few that seemed to thrive on it. His comedic talent of delivering double entendres helped him keep things decent enough for the censors and exciting enough for the audience to enjoy.

He helped create the fast paced kind of comedy, based on extremely snappy and witty dialogue. Comedies like Bringing Up Baby (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), to name a few, were very much ahead of their times and are still getting big laughs out of a modern audience. Even in more serious roles, Cary Grant was showing his suave leading man attributes. His collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock on films like Notorious (1946), North by Northwest (1959), To Catch a Thief (1955) has become legendary. Hitchcock never took the risk of casting Cary Grant in a role as a villain, but he did state that Grant was willing to take such a step, not shying away from challenges in his career.

He expressed a particular dislike in the style of Method acting and its three main representatives: Marlon BrandoMontgomery Clift, and James Dean. He was quoted as saying “Some producer should cast all three of them in the same movie and let them duke it out. When they’ve finished each other off, James StewartSpencer Tracy and I will return and start making real movies again like we used to”. (source

He showed thus lucidity in observing that times were changing and acting was changing as well. His style of acting belonged to the golden era of Hollywood, where the Code was making things difficult and exciting at the same time and where braving through a restrictive set of rules to make a picture was a work of art in itself.


Film Studies and SEO

What does cinema have to do with Search Engine Optimisation?

One might say the two have nothing in common and that might very well be true.

Cinema is all about creative ideas, putting one’s visions into practice and giving shape to one’s fantasies. A filmmaker has to find the perfect way to capture his abstract thoughts and structure them in a way that can be understood by the audience. There are of course exceptions to the rule, where filmmakers deliberately choose to play with the audience, giving new and original shapes to their visions, creating new types of cinema.

But if we were to look at standard traditional cinema, it is quite similar to SEO. For someone who can understand film and has no notion of SEO whatsoever the concepts are quite similar:

  •  SEO, like films, is about getting the best out of an idea and structuring it so that it can be understood, seen and liked by as many people as possible.  Well structured movies are easy to follow and enjoyed by a wide audience. The same thing applies to the process of website optimization. 
  • Like most mainstream films, SEO focuses on sending a message. If a film tells a story, then it has a message for the audience. Doing SEO for a website is about presenting that story in a compelling way for the viewer/reader. Sending the message across and having an impact is one of the most important things to do when optimizing a website.
  • Daring filmmakers are most often hailed as geniuses. They manage to get a simple idea across in a very original, cutting edge manner. Doing good SEO for a website is about doing the same thing. Getting a website to rank high on Google search engine is about being daring and creating original content that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
  • Movie stars are the best publicity a film can get. Most people check the cast before going to the cinema. They even look for a movie starring their favorite actors. In SEO world, the “movie stars” are the keywords: before accessing a website, people look for the keywords they’re interested in. Depending on the SEO ranking, they will click on the top websites out there.
  • In order to get to the top of Google ranking, websites have to have killer content: simple, but original and straight to the point, exploiting well those keywords, using their power well on the page. Similarly, to earn that much coveted Oscar, movies have to have a brilliant script: expressive, well structured and just like website content, exploiting well those movie stars and enhancing their power on the big screen.
  • Links are very important for good website optimization. When a website is being referenced by another website, and then another, people, as well as search engines, start trusting that website as somewhat of an authority in that particular domain. At the same time it helps people gain more perspective and knowledge on the subject. Similarly, in cinema, word of mouth and critical reviews are just as important for movie promotion and box office success. When a friend recommends a movie to you, and then you read a positive review in a movie magazine, your urge is to go and watch that movie.
  • Promoting a film and a website works in strikingly similar ways. Wording is very important for both domains as movie/website titles have to be catchy, memorable and to summarize well what the movie/website is about. Good metaphors work as well, as they stimulate the audience curiosity and make them want to read the article/watch the movie. Another thing that has to do with website promotion are meta descriptions. These work like movie tag lines, offering that little extra information about the website, just enough to get the reader to click on the website.

Ultimately both cinema and SEO are all about selling a product or an idea and getting to be at the top of the box office or the Google search engine results. Both processes require practical skills, creativity, originality and structure. Essentially, the film industry can benefit a lot from SEO and online marketing, thus finding yet another way to promote their product.

Ingmar Bergman – famous works

From Jean Luc Goddard to Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen and Bernardo Bertolucci, Ingmar Bergman’s body of work has influenced many great directors, who have recognized and appreciated his unique style. As Bertolucci puts it in an interview shortly after Bergman’s death, he managed to capture “the depths of the human spirit, going even further into the interiors of men and women, in a black and white that turned his characters into ghosts and his ghosts into characters”. Inspiring himself mostly from his reality, learning from the pain and suffering of others, his recurrent theme in his films is death. Two of his best known films, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries have death as one of the main themes, but the way in which it is presented differs greatly from a film to the other, even though there are many similarities in style between the two.

Unique style

Thomas Elsaesser writes in his study ‘European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood’ what he finds to be the things “that make Bergman a great film director: his use of close-ups, his work on the sound track, the composition of these incredibly complex, yet fluid action spaces within the frame, in both indoor and outside scenes”. One can find all this in both The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, which appear to be two very different stories when first viewed, but at a closer analysis, similarities arise from all corners, establishing Bergman’s style unique. Yet he doesn’t make a template of his work. His films remain “Bergmanesque” but they never become dull, being approached as a lesson on life.

Two journeys

Wild Strawberries is a story of an old doctor and his journey to be honored for his entire activity, while The Seventh Seal presents a knight of the Middle Ages returning home from the crusades. The journeys presented in the two films have apparently simple goals: the doctor has to go to Lund to receive an award, and the knight is coming home after ten years of crusades. Yet the style in which these two journeys are presented shows that there is much more to it than to reach the physical destination. The protagonists from both films (Isak Borg and Antonius Block) are threatened by death and haunted by questions of their own existence, life and the regrets they have. The style in which both stories are told brings them together and helps us understand one character by understanding the other.

Threat of Death

The threat of death is depicted differently in both films but there are certain elements that are central to both scenes. In Wild Strawberries Borg sees his own death in a dream. The whole dream sequence is played beautifully and most effectively, with the contrast between light and darkness, silence and sudden noise being central to the whole scene. The setting plays also an important role, as through the deserted street, where one can’t see where it starts and where it ends. It can make reference to the deserted beach in The Seventh Seal, where Antonius Block first meets with Death and they start a game of chess. In this second film, silence and sound also play an important part, as once Death has made an entrance, one can no longer hear the sound of the waves crashing to the shore. It is dead silent as well as on the empty street in Borg’s dream. The pacing is of the essence in these scenes as the slow action allows the viewer to observe all the details, which prove to be more important than the action itself, revealing key information on the characters (their fears, their questions and desires).

Godless and godly characters

Antonius Block and Isak Borg are quite similar characters portrayed in very similar manner. They both have questions about life and death, about God and his existence. Borg has acted all his life as if he was God and feels now that the day of his reckoning has come. Block has fought all his life in the name of God and finds all his struggles have been in vain. They both embark on a journey that is meant to help them find an answer to their questions; they both meet interesting people on the way, which helps them to some degree achieve their goal. The style of both films is very dark but contains many elements of humour inserted in the story telling. 

Family portraits

One of the recurrent themes of Bergman’s films is family. It is true that the ways in which family relations are looked at are very different in both films, but the central idea of redemption remains in both films and the style is quite similar. In the midst of all kinds of threats from all sides, family remains unified at the end of the film even though not much seems to be resolved. Darkness and light are intertwined in both films, suggesting the viewer an inner struggle within both characters. At the end they are both somewhat at peace with their imminent deaths, knowing that they leave a happy and united family behind, that have just escaped from death’s trap. We notice that both Mia and Jof and Marianne and Evald are threatened by the concept of death, only that in Wild Strawberries the threat comes from the inside, namely Evald’s view on life and death and his refusal to have any children.

Life changing experiences

Both films focus on issues of existence, on how fear and constant struggle can be at the same time human and grotesque, how life experiences can transform a person, turning them into outcasts in the middle of society. The difference between the two protagonists is that Block realizes how he has estranged himself from his own persona. War has changed his view on life and God, making him question everything and in the end feeling more lost than ever. Just as Borg, Block needs to solve unfinished business before he dies; both films follow the same style when it comes to fulfilling that last task by using the journey motif. Block’s journey has begun long before he is presented to us, while Borg seems to reinvent his own life by embarking on a rather unplanned journey. Borg had slipped into a state of oblivion, living in denial of his own self. It is the dream of his own death that makes him realize he’s not immortal and that he too has a task to fulfil before he dies. Death thus is a strong element in both films, but the style in which it is presented and the effect it has on the protagonists differs greatly. In The Seventh Seal death has a face and represents almost a constant threat. In Wild Strawberries, death is not seen but merely feared of and this fear acts as wake-up call on Borg’s conscience.

Bergman the auteur

The style Bergman has applied to his films, especially during the “middle period” to which the two films we’re analysing belong, is very complex in its simplicity. The dialogue is very important in helping to portrait the characters especially when it alternates with moments of complete silence which are very expressive in creating an image around the characters. It is true that one can distinguish the theatrical style in his films, but that is of secondary importance as one cannot expect much realism in a Bergman film. His reality is what we are being presented, and as theatrical as his storytelling style may be, he can’t be accused of artificiality. In both The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries the problems the protagonists deal with are very personal to the filmmaker. It is his signature and his filter on life. He even stated that The Seventh Seal was “’excellent therapy’ for his morbid obsessions. He presented life as he experienced and saw it. Both Block and Borg can be seen as images of Bergman at different stages in his life, even though Borg resembles more the figure of Bergman’s father, who had a great impact on Bergman, while Block more like the filmmaker himself. The close-ups are a trademark of Ingmar Bergman’s style of filming and storytelling as with a facial expression he manages to make it easier to render feelings.

Style of narration

The narrative style is very reflective. In Wild Strawberries the protagonist narrates as a voice over what has been happening to him, reflecting on the points he considered to be flagrant: his two dreams namely the dream of his own death and the one of him failing at the most important exam of his life. They both suggest that Borg is afraid not only of his death, but also that he may have not achieved anything significant throughout his whole life. In addition to his dreams, his youth comes to haunt him as if to ask the same question. In The Seventh Seal, even though there’s no narrator, one might say that the narrative style is also reflective, as there are many scenes of monologue. Block is narrating his inner thoughts to the viewer. But instead of presenting what has been happening to him, we guess it from his revealing of his thoughts and torments (the scene at the confessional). Bergman gives an insight on Block’s mind and what he is thinking through his monologues, which is presented somehow clearer than in the case of Borg, where the 1st person narrative is used. 

Elements of humor

Humor is a very important part in the narrative as well as in helping portraying the characters. Borg and his maid have a very interesting almost comical relationship that hides a deep respect and appreciation on both sides, despite the obvious taunting. There is a comical element in The Seventh Seal as well, though the overall style is much heavier. The humour is induced by Block’s esquire who proves to be a very wise man but also a very subtly funny one, mocking those around him whenever he gets the chance (the relationship between the blacksmith and his wife for example, or the way in which he presents his marital status: “I am married but I have hope my wife will be dead by now”). In The Seventh Seal even Death has some sense of humour, especially when he chops down the tree where the coward and lustful actor Skat finds refuge. Though picking him as his victim is not completely at random. Skat represents betrayal and he is portrayed in contrast with the angelic family of Jof, Mia and Mikael.


The symbol of the wild strawberries is worth being taken into consideration as it relates to key moments in both films and also to Bergman’s style of using details as key elements in his story-telling. In The Seventh Seal, the wild strawberries represent the simplicity and innocence that is associated with Mia, Jof and Mikael. They are the only image throughout the film that comes close to holiness, bearing a striking resemblance to the Holy Family. Similarly, in Wild Strawberries, whose title couldn’t be more suggestive, the wild strawberries represent Borg’s lost love, youth and innocence, which he looks upon nostalgically. Both Borg and Block catch a glimpse of that long lost bliss in their life. As he helps himself with strawberries and milk from the bowl, Block says “I shall remember this moment. The silence, the twilight, the bowls of strawberries and milk, your faces in the evening light […] I’ll carry this memory between my hands as carefully as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk. And it will be an adequate sign – it will be enough for me”, suggesting that this was the sign from God that he had been looking for.

Bergman shows his unique craftsmanship by using almost the same style, almost the same cast to depict two stories that couldn’t be more different to each other, yet couldn’t be more similar. He has used his own life as the nucleus for most of his films on which he added more or less the same “ornaments”, using the same palette and the same range of “tools” but with such different effects. He is an auteur and he has created films that can be easily identified as his own, but he has never created a pattern in his work, which could turn him from a true artist into a second rate dull filmmaker. 



New Wave aesthetics

What is The New Wave?

The French New Wave is a very important movement in the history of European cinema. Inspired by the best exports of Hollywood cinema and the cinematic movement called Italian Neorealism that emerged there after World War II, the French New Wave was looking to revolutionize and reshape the state of cinema and to set in place new rules and new aesthetic priorities. It succeeded in doing more than that, establishing the “politique des auteurs” and offering to hundreds of young people passionate about cinema the possibility to make their first feature film, thus showing to the world that the French love good quality cinema. Certain things that one must bear in mind about this cinematic movement are the new aesthetic priorities that even today provide new filmmakers with inspiration for their own films.

Precursors of the cinematic movement

In order to establish the aesthetic priorities of the New Wave one must look back at the cinema that preceded it, draw parallels and point out the contrasts that triggered in fact the whole movement. One can notice that Francois Truffaut’s harsh manifesto against “le cinema de papa” seemed to have a quick response through the works of Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte (1955), Melville’s Bob le Flambeur (1956) and Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (1958) which observed a “certain tendency” to break away from the norm and show audacity by attempting to reinvent the French cinema. The French culture and tradition had been overused as themes for the cinema and therefore directors had to resort to other tricks to find inspiration. They decided to focus less on the story and more on the telling of the story and how the story is presented to the audience. 

posterAmerican Influence

Looking at the works of Jean Pierre Melville and Louis Malle, it’s impossible not to notice the American influence on the style and motifs used in Bob le Flambeur and Ascenseur pour l’echafaud respectively. These directors were big fans of the golden age of Hollywood and they were not afraid to show it and find inspiration in it. Jazz music is specific to America and its role in these films is one not to be neglected. Transforming music into an important part of the process of filmmaking is apparent even from the opening credits of Bob le Flambeur. They introduce the viewer into the atmosphere of his world, the underground life of a retired gangster. It is interesting to observe that the intentional interruption of the narrator by the non-diegetic trumpet comes right after a simple shot of a car on a road. This has nothing to do with the story but it helps create a border between real life and cinema. Thus, even though Place Pigalle and Montmartre are real places that exist outside the story, Bob the gambler appears to be a product of the jazz trumpet playing, an American song played by Melville and his crew. Yet another element worthy of analysis is Melville’s name that dominates the credits, very suggestive of the “politique des auteurs”,  theory which is closely linked with the French New Wave movement.

Miles Davis

The music that signals the American factor more and has a greater impact on the viewer is the one present in Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows). Just like the trumpet crying out Bob’s name in Melville’s opening credits, Miles Davis’ music is crying out the love between the two protagonists of Louis Malle’s film. It is the very definition of American jazz music, captured in an amazing score perfectly synchronized with the images onscreen. Also important to bear in mind is the fact that Miles Davis improvised on the spot the entire score for this film. Improvise is a key term and one feels impelled to explore the matter further. By associating his film with Miles Davis’ music and the art of improvising, Malle is inviting the viewer to freely interpret and judge the film itself. The free spirit of Miles Davis’ trumpet is beautifully blended into the corpus of the film, further emphasizing the free spirits of the characters on-screen, projections of the directorial vision. Very subtly and effectively, the music comes to add extra sentiment to the scenes where it’s being used, most notably in the sequences where Jeanne Moreau’s character, Florence, is wandering around Champs Elysees at night looking for her loved one. One must also add that Miles Davis’ contribution to the score of Elevator to the Gallows prompted a change in his career, improvisation playing a very important role in his subsequent albums. 

Turning Jeanne Moreau into a star

The central aspect of the sequences is of course the image of Jeanne Moreau as the confused, distressed lover searching the night for answers. The narrative is not as important as the feelings it triggers, feelings displayed in the most unusual and poetic manner. It’s not about the story it’s about how the story is told. Just like in Bob le Flambeur, the focus on the little details is of central importance, and not on the fact that this is an adaptation of a pulp novel. As Richard Neupert writes “It was fairly standard for first-time directors in France in the late 40’s early 50’s, to shoot a B-grade detective story, or polar, loosely following American noir patterns. But Malle’s adaptation varies from the model in his reworking of the crime drama, his addition of personal and art cinema traits to what would otherwise be a conventional genre film.”

vlcsnap51480511viWhat it may have not been so standard was the fact that Louis Malle used only natural light and no make-up on Jeanne Moreau for that sequence, which, rumour has it, surprised the lab technicians who didn’t want to process it. As Terrence Rafferty puts it The new wave doesn’t quite get born in Elevator to the Gallows, but it’s clearly in the late term here, more than ready to emerge. You can sense it in Decaë’s remarkably daring natural-light cinematography (which he would soon be putting to good use for Truffaut and Claude Chabrol as well) […]most of all, in the unleashing of Jeanne Moreau, who, nearing thirty, was a busy actress but never quite a star until Malle turned her loose in the nocturnal city and did justice, for the first time, to that amazing, imperious, gravelly sexy walk of hers—which would, over the next couple of decades, come to seem the defining movement of the new wave, the embodied rhythm of freedom.”1 Louis Malle sees the opportunity and takes it. Adapting the story and re-telling it his way may be seen as Francois Truffaut’s answer to his 1954 article “A certain tendency of the French cinema”. With influences from both Bresson and Hitchcock, Malle is recreating society on film: recreating the image of woman in love, introducing the image of the young rebels (via Veronique and Louis) embracing the new and innovative, but using it as a canvass for his work. The focus on the protagonists’ face and the close-up seems to have been used differently and to enormous stylistic effect in these movies. Most notable is the scenes when Jeanne Moreau’s character, Florence, has her inner monologues. The camera manages to capture the imperfection of her face as well as the perfection of her performance. It may be the opening door for other directors to focus on the feminine beauty and play with it so daringly. 


New modernized society

The image of an industrialized and “deromanticised” Paris is very well created on screen in both films by the wonderfully talented Henri Decaë, who later worked with Godard and Chabrol and most notably with Francois Truffaut in The 400 Blows. Fast cars, modern buildings, futuristic motels, electric pencil-sharpeners, are all part of the picture that represents a new France, a new society and morality. A good example for this is of course the image of the car spraying the streets with water early in the morning in Bob the Gambler. The high angle camera insists on watching the process of the streets being washed, to bring a sense of reality to the scene. It is early in the morning and the first time Bob sees Anne. It should be a more romantic environment. Instead, she is picked up by an American sailor and he watches on while the car never stops spraying the road. This is just another way to deconstruct Paris: by presenting one process that’s part of the less romantic city, that one doesn’t usually witness in a film, let alone in a scene where the protagonist sets his eyes on a beautiful woman. Another very important gadget is, besides the cars that get stolen in Ascenseur pour l’echafaud and complicate the plot even more, the minicamera that Julien forgets in his car, which he so preciously holds onto until then. The same minicamera holds the information that resolves the situation at the end of the movie, namely both the proof of the love between Florence and Julien and their doom.

New Morality

One gets a glimpse of that new France with Bob le Flambeur, which presents that same type of new morality through the character of Anne, who seems to drift through life with no clear purpose. But it’s still the father figure of Bob, who represents both the old and the new Paris dominating the narrative, whereas in Ascenseur pour l’echafaud the assumed father figure, Carala, is killed off even before the story unfolds, setting the scene for the “new love”. It is interesting to observe the interaction between old and new in these two films, which is transferred to the whole style of these cinematic works. The language used is another step bringing French cinema closer to the New Wave. For the viewer it marks a change in style, from the rigidity of the “cinema de papa” to the freedom and audacity to use expressions like “belle gueule de voyou”(nice face of a hoodlum) or “casse-toi, chien”(beat it, you dog) anticipating the language and also the attitude towards women employed later on in films such as Godard’s Breathless.

The way the camera works in these two films is of vital importance to pinpoint the advent of the revolutionary style of the New Wave films. Some good examples lie with the director’s choice to film on location, rather than in the studio, to have the camera follow the characters, as well as high angle shots of great effect, like the one where it shows Bob in his kitchen. Here the stylistic choice of the decor catches the eye and may be analysed as an extension of Bob. The way the kitchen looks reminds of the appearance of the first gambling room where Bob’s being introduced to the audience. The decor is starting to be noticed, to come to the forefront as an important piece, not of the storytelling, but of the story viewing. As mentioned before, the narrative falls second place in importance of the space in the story. The directors rediscover how to play with light, like one can notice in opening gambling scene in Bob le Flambeur, as well as in many scenes from Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, like the interrogation scene, which resembles very much with the American film noir. The characters are similarly presented and played with but it seems that there’s an innovation in the way the camera captures their struggle and depth of performance.

Roger Duchesne’s performance as Bob is almost flawless not only because he’s a great actor. One wouldn’t see as much in Bob as there is to be seen if the camera hadn’t been able to capture elements from his routine. These are not important parts of the story but they are central to the “tres curieuse histoire” (very strange story) of Bob. For example there’s no change to the story whether or not he puts his clothes carefully on the hanger, or if he chooses to drink tea instead of wine as soon as he wakes up, some time during the night. But it says a lot about himself as an individual and that is not information to be neglected. Similarly, in the case of Ascenseur pour l’echafaud, when Florence wanders through the night looking for Julien, she is seen moving her lips, but one can’t hear what she’s saying. One can guess though, as the camera captures everything her face expresses, all her hidden emotions. The voiceover also indicates to those emotions, almost standing in for the narrator in Bob le flambeur.

Maurice Ronet’s character in Ascenseur pour l’echafaud is the source of future New Wave male characters like Michel from Breathless or Pierrot le fou, who both go to extreme lengths, including breaking the law, to prove their love for a woman. His performance is very subtle and convincing as the man who’s very much in love with his boss’ wife, especially if one bears in mind the difficulty of the task, given that Julien and Florence are never seen together onscreen.

The two films analyzed above are not considered to be part of the New Wave movement for various reasons, including a certain heaviness and lack of playfulness in presenting the story onscreen. However, the elements that have created artistic cinema within the New Wave are present with both Bob le Flambeur and Ascenseur pour l’echafaud and have clearly represented an influence on future filmmakers from France and worldwide, including Hollywood.