Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Nobel Prize for Film

Another season of Nobel Prizes has come and gone. I was happy to see Orhan Pamuk win the Literature prize--I keep holding out for Philip Roth, but given that the Swedish Academy had only awarded one lit prize to a Muslim, this was both predictable and deserved.

However, I want to take this opportunity to promote an idea that Stanley Kauffmann discussed in a column a few years back--the need for a Nobel Prize for flim. Not only is film a beautiful art form, but one that is tremendously popular around the world. Certainly the prize money would be no issue. The recent deaths of Gillo Pontecorvo and Sven Nykvist, both of whom would have been worthy winners, convinced me to renew the call for this award.

And since I like giving out made up awards on this blog, I am going to start giving a Nobel Prize for film. I'm no Swedish Academy, but I do have a bit of Swedish blood in me and I certainly look Swedish. That's good enough.

Therefore, and this will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, my first Nobel Prize for film goes to Ingmar Bergman.

If a real prize for film came up, Bergman would make the most sense. First, he is Swedish. Second, who is more deserving? No one. The most accomplished film maker alive today, Ingmar Bergman is beyond a master of the genre. He has put together more films of amazing import, emotions, and power than any other living director. Most of his films aren't exactly fun, nor are they mass entertainment. But they are mirrors into some of the darkest recesses of the human soul and the search for the meaning of life.

Just a few examples of Bergman's greatness:

The Knight's search for meaning in The Seventh Seal. There really is no meaning of life except for life itself. Nothing else matters. Bergman also created the iconic vision of Death in film. Much copied and parodied, watching the Knight and Death play chess is one of my favorite moments in film. The film would be too dark if it wasn't for the circus family, who not only provide lightness but show that life is worth living for its own sake.

The scene in Wild Strawberries where the old man visits his family's summer property and remembers back to scenes of his youth. Has a greater film about aging ever been made?

The scene in Cries and Whispers when the woman cuts her own vagina with broken glass and smears the blood on her face so her husband won't touch her. The fear of intimacy that is a problem within Lutheranism really floods to the surface in this film, particularly in this scene. Sven Nykvist's beautiful use of red in the picture also raises this film to true beauty.

All of Scenes from a Marriage. Bergman knew breakups. His autobiography mostly consists of him running from one woman to another and claiming that Sweden had a cultural revolution second only to China because some young people dared criticize his films. The interplay between Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann is brillant here. Bergman perfectly captured the depressing complexity of the failing marriage. Thankfully, Criterion has put out the entire TV miniseries as well as the cinematic version.

I could go on--the emotional intensity of Persona, the surprising light-heartendess of Smiles of a Summer Night, the scene where the minister tells his depressed parishoner that there is no meaning of life in Winter Light, leading the depressed man to shoot himself in the head; the exploration of insanity in Through a Glass Darkly. When no one has won this prize, it is hard to choose one person. But no one is more deserving than the great Ingmar Bergman.