A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, April 6, 2018

To Joy (Ingmar Bergman, 1950)

Victor Sjöström, Maj-Britt Nilsson, and Stig Olin in To Joy
Stig Eriksson: Stig Olin
Marta Olsson: Maj-Britt Nilsson
Sönderby: Victor Sjöström
Marcel: Birger Malmsten
Mikael Bro: John Ekman
Nelly Bro: Margit Carlqvist

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Gunnar Fischer
Production design: Nils Svenwall
Film editing: Oscar Rosander

Not long ago, while watching some YouTube videos of symphony orchestra performances, I was struck by how few women players were in the ranks of the great orchestras of Berlin and Vienna, especially in comparison to the numbers of women in the equivalent orchestras of New York, Boston, and Chicago. Even when the soloist was an Anne-Sophie Mutter or a Julia Fischer, the ranks of players behind her were almost exclusively male. It didn't take much Googling to learn that the fact hasn't escaped the notice of women musicians, especially in Europe. So I wasn't surprised when the crusty old conductor played by Victor Sjöström in Ingmar Bergman's To Joy introduced Marta Olsson, a new member of his orchestra, by commenting that her talent was "against nature." Eventually, Marta gives up her profession to raise the children she and fellow musician Stig Eriksson produce, while (mostly) patiently suffering his ego and infidelity. He's the one who, though tormented by the fear that he's mediocre, tries to move from the orchestra into a concert soloist, suffering a crushing setback when his attempt at performing the Mendelssohn violin concerto ends in disaster. The film is a flashback to their marriage after she dies, and though he's softened a bit by her kindness and good nature, he retains his egotism and self-doubt in equal measures. It's easy enough to see Stig Eriksson as the director's self-portrait, coming as it does after the failure of his second marriage. "Joy" is not an emotion that we readily associate with Bergman, though in this film it's an allusion to the final choral movement of Beethoven's ninth symphony, an excerpt from which is performed at the end of the film. The Freude of Beethoven (and of the Schiller poem that he set to music) is an emanation of the divine, emerging after struggle and pain, and Bergman tries to embody it in Stig and Marta's young son, sitting alone in the concert hall as the orchestra rehearses the symphony. It's a conclusion that teeters on the edge of sentimentality, as Bergman's invocations of the innocence of childhood often do. Still, though a lot of things in the film don't work, such as a resort to a voiceover commentary on the marriage of Stig and Marta by the conductor Sönderby that feels jarringly out of place when it occurs, To Joy is a long early step toward the mastery of Bergman's later films.

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