31 July 2007

Antonioni & Bergman

While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest parity between the talents of these two towering figures in the history of 20th-century filmmaking, nevertheless there is something fitting in the news that Michaelangelo Antonioni has died just a day after the death of Ingmar Bergman -- in the fact that his death will be obscured by the parade of tributes and retrospectives given in Bergman's honor.

While both of these directors (along with Fellini and Godard) came to symbolize foreign, “art house” cinema for American audiences of the 50s, 60s, and 70s, Antonioni’s stature and notoriety paled in comparison to Bergman’s. That’s undoubtedly appropriate. The depth and significance of Bergman’s work are (arguably) second to none in the history of film. Period. But whilst Antonioni’s films were light and accessible by comparison -- no chess-matches with death for this Italian -- they have been, I think, somewhat short-changed.

Dumbfounded by Vanessa Redgrave and the swinging mania of 60s London, it is not difficult to overlook the fundamental questions raised in Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966). At its core, this film is a remarkably deep interrogation of our preconception that perception is essential to the apprehension of reality: as deep a topic as any raised by Bergman. Not that you’d know it from the trailer ...

Likewise, the incandescence of Jack Nicholson’s presence in The Passenger (1975) obscures (as he does in all of his appearances) the light Antonioni is attempting to shed on the dangers of a fluid conception of identity.

These are serious issues worthy of -- dare we say it -- Bergman. And so they were, but so were they also for this Italian auteur, dead at 94, just hours after the Swedish master.

Other Antonioni films of note:
  • L'avventura (1960)
  • L'eclisse (1962)
  • Zabriskie Point (1970)
  • Beyond the Clouds (1995, with Wim Wenders)
A few recent tributes, etc.:
UPDATE: The Guardian picks up the scent.

29 July 2007

Die Harry

Busy days, these, so I can't really justify devoting the time necessary to articulate precisely why I find Harry mania to be as stomach-turning as I do. Fortunately, Ron Charles (senior editor at The Washington Post) has done a marvelous job of it himself, thus relieving me from my duty. (Similarly minded discussions from literary heavyweights A. S. Byatt and Harold Bloom appeared previously.) Charles' insightful discussion begins with the following anecdote:

Harry Potter and the Death of Reading
By Ron Charles
The Washington Post
July 15, 2007

It happened on a dark night, somewhere in the middle of Book IV. For three years, I had dutifully read the "Harry Potter" series to my daughter, my voice growing raspy with the effort, page after page. But lately, whole paragraphs of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" had started to slip by without my hearing a word. I'd snap back to attention and realize the action had moved from Harry's room to Hagrid's house, and I had no idea what was happening.

And that's when my daughter broke the spell: "Do we have to keep reading this?"

That's as priceless as the rest of Charles' analysis is insightful. It reminds me of this fabulous moment from the Simpsons:

In fact, the parodies may be the best thing about the Harry Potter series. Some of the fabulous Mad Magazine titles from this sub-genre:

  • Harry Plodder and the Kidney Stone
  • Harry Plodder and the Sorry-Ass Story
  • Harry Plodder and the Lamest of Sequels
  • Harry Plodder Has Gotta Retire
  • Harry Plodder and the Torture of the Fanbase

27 July 2007

Simpsonize Me!

Well, with the new Simpsons Movie opening this weekend, it seems as good a time as any to unveil my Simpsonized self ...

Get yours here!