BY RICK JACKSON
Tonight at 7 p.m.,the Screening Room is showing The Seventh Seal (1957) from Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. He has been one of my favourite film directors ever since I saw Wild Strawberries for the first time in the 1970s.
What impresses you the first time you see an Ingmar Bergman film from the 1950s is Gunnar Fischer's stunning photography. The depth of each shot has distinguished the director's work ever since. When Fischer died last year at 100, it was revealed that the early works of Bergman were shot with unparalleled beauty and it is through his use of black and white he was able to achieve the right emotional depth to convey what he wanted. Expressionistic and brilliant are two words often used to describe the director's early films.
The director was taught how to make films by producer Lorens Marmstedt. In his autobiography, The Magic Lantern, that The Seventh Seal is uneven but close to his heart. It was made under difficult circumstances in a surge of vitality and delight.
He then goes on to explain the image of the death beneath a dark cloud was made at a hectic speed because all the actors were finished for the day. Assistants, electricians, a make-up man and two summer visitors never knew what it was all about when they had to dress up in costumes as victims condemned to death. A camera with no sound was set up and the shot was made before the cloud went away.
To introduce you to The Seventh Seal, it opens as a knight named Antonius Block returns to Sweden in the 14th century after a long crusade. He is accompanied by his squire, Jons.
On a desperate shore, he plays a game of chess with death. If he wins, he gets his life. The game is interrupted by the knight's heroism when he saves two jugglers from Death.
The religious fervour of the time is captured in the burning. The knight is praying later in the church when he talks to a painter who tells him how stupid man has become by torturing himself because he is never satisfied.
Despite the fact that the knight is convinced the statement is true, Jons saves a man and his wife and later saves a young girl from being burned as a witch.
The knight asks Death about God's reasons for allowing man to be punished for no reason, while Jons accepts man's behaviour and death as inevitable. H doesn't believe he will have a long life and comes across as a modern agnostic who is skeptical about everything. Death and thw knight argue about God's existence, which is what Bergman believes, although he doesn't discuss his religious views in his book.
Toward the end of the film, Ravel, a man with the plague enters and there is concern that the girl Jons rescued earlier will get it, too. He is also skeptical about God.
Religion was a theme he used in other films, notably, Winter Light (1963) where it is more clearly defined and far less symbolic. In the latter, a priestThomas Ericson in confession, asks God, "If we are to believe in the believers when we ourselves do not as ministers of God, what will happen to us who wish to believe but cannot, and what will become of those who neither wish nor can believe? This could well be what Bergman was also saying, too.
The Dance With Death in The Seventh Seal it is symbolic of the individual in Bergman's view who as someone who is easily corrupted by his own morality and allows himself to live by an inflated ego qhich the director sees as a bad thing for mankind and something that will eventually eat away all his goodness away.
Bergman was an agnostic to be sure, he says in his book, he was surrounded by ghosts, demons and other creatures since childhood. When he was trapped inside a mortuary he was scared to death. In his 1972 film, Cries And Whispers there is a scene where the dead cannot die but are left to disturb the living.
Copyright Rick Jackson 2012