Posts Tagged ‘ingmar bergman’

The Lives of Others

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

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The Lives of Others

(Das Leben der Anderen)
2006, 137 minutes
directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

You may or may not notice that this film is being screened in place of what was scheduled, that being Fanny & Alexander, a late film by Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, Fanny & Alexander would have made a great contrast to the earlier films in the series, being a study in the late style of an established and accomplished career of an international moviemaker. Not only did Fanny & Alexander win four Academy Awards in 1984, including Best Foreign Picture, but the movie was also one that Bergman himself was especially proud—enough to make him consider quitting filmmaking altogether, as he tells in this amusing anecdote:

“Making ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was such a joy that I thought that feeling will never come back. I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn’t understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.”

I think that’s a fairly amazing idea to have at so late a stage in life, as Ingmar Bergman was when he said that, that you only have one love in your life and that once you’ve had it, it’s hard to continue. It’s a powerful idea, and one that has certainly propelled many an artist towards whatever pursuits they’ve endeavored towards. The idea that there is one perfect love that may be attained is certainly a potent idea, but maybe also fairly dangerous.

However, we’re not going to be watching Fanny & Alexander. The film is over 3 hours long and I know nobody has that kind of time in this kind of place. Instead, we’re going to watch a newer film, a film that potentially has more relevance towards architecture.

Towards the beginning of the semester I wrote about the relationship between film and architecture, and the nature of the cinematic apparatus as an implicit subject with political and therefore organizational implications. This film, a German film which won this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is about surveillance in mid-century Germany. Surveillance has lately been, in conjunction with the ubiquity and incomprehensible power of common electronics, taking on the presence of another metaphysical subject.

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Michel Foucault wrote about a certain physical manifestation of this idea when he popularized Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison in his book, Discipline and Punish. The panopticon and what, for lack of a better term, we’ll call the idea of surveillance, both share the idea of the political power of vision. And they both assert the power of a presence of absence. But they way that surveillance is different from the panopticon is in the ubiquity of surveillance; it is, in effect, a new omnipresence distinct from theocentricism. What this heralds is uncertain. Even politically it is uncharted legal territory, as anybody who’s been paying attention to the national currents events is aware. Politics and architecture have always been connected, though, so it is no doubt worthwhile to spend some time pondering the culture into which we’re entering.

The next film architecture theme I will be writing about is “The Future is Asian.”

Originally written November 27, 2007

The Seventh Seal

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

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The Seventh Seal
1957, 96 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

The image of a man playing chess with Death, from this movie by Ingmar Bergman, is one of the most lasting and poignant images in cinematic history. The story is about a 14th century Crusader knight who returns to his homeland only to find it ravaged by the plague. Death, played by Bengt Ekerot, appears to the knight, played by Max Von Sydow, and informs him that it is his time. The knight then challenges Death to a game of chess for time and his life. Throughout the ensuing journeys of the knight and his squire, his discussions with Death and his meetings of countrymen, Bergman questions the nature of God and existence.

This movie is essentially about doubt—in many ways, the mother of intelligence. But the difference between the way Antonioni and Bergman go about interrogating doubt has proven to be an interesting contrast. Bergman questions doubt through an essentially theatric method—existential doubt is fore-grounded through a combination of character development, plot events, and symbolic imagery. We know the characters doubt, and by implication, the film director, because the characters themselves say so. In an Antonioni film, in contrast, the doubt is expressed through a renegotiation of the conventions of filmmaking.

In an interview with Beatriz Colomina, Rem Koolhaas said that his entire career is founded on the idea that architecture is in doubt, and each of his project aims to reassert the validity of architecture. In a way, Rem’s meta-architectural practice is a paragon of doubt and an example of a productive assertion of that questioning.

Originally written November 13, 2007

Virgin Spring

Monday, January 26th, 2009

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Virgin Spring
1960, 89 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

Quite frankly, at this point I’m not sure if Ingmar Bergman, who, according to Woody Allen, is “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera,” is actually that great of a study for the relationship between film and architecture. Thus, it may be helpful to discuss the idea of a project as it relates to both film and architecture.

This movie, Jungfrukällan, as it was called in its native Swedish, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a story about the rape of a young girl in medieval Scandinavia and its repercussions. It is one of Bergman’s most important films in his oeuvre of 50-some films over 40-odd years and sealed his status as one of the world’s most important directors when it was released in 1960, on the heels of Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, and Wild Strawberries.

Bergman’s films are about the issues of love, death, religion and God. They are movies about morality and existence; and they are profound, beautiful meditations upon those subjects. The problem is: I’m not sure that architecture can be about those things, and therefore I’m not sure whether or not Bergman belongs in any study of the intersection between architecture and film.

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Though the relationship between film and architecture has been made implicit since at least as far back as Le Corbusier’s film, L’architecture d’Aujourd’hui, in 1927 (bear in mind that the motion picture was invented around 1895 by the Lumiere brothers), it maybe worth positing that the fundamental point of intersection between these two fields is upon the meta-representational idea of media. Insofar as film can be conceived of and interpreted as an examination and rumination upon the very nature of perception, thus it can be extrapolated to also relate to an architecture that is also concerned with the project of perception.

Thus, it is worth noting at this point that the idea of an architecture concerned with perception may be inextricably linked to the idea of criticality. Of course, now we’re going to have to define what I mean when I say perception, but to exhaust my quota for the usage of a particular prefix, I would say that we are interested in the mechanics of perception, or the apparatus of perception, i.e., meta-perception. This is specifically different from a phenomological or performative definition of perception, which is not to say that either is invalid.

At the moment that cinema was invented it was part of a wave of technological innovation at the beginning of the 20th century that changed the way we conceive of space—the airplane, automobile, Einstein’s general and special theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, even the bicycle, were all invented nearly coincidentally. This superceded the single-point perspective conception of space as inherited since the Renaissance, and certain architects, most notably Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi, and Diller & Scofidio made a number of important investigative projects into the nature of perception using the idea of cinema as medium as a part of their work.

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Things may be changing, however, and certain filmmakers like Michael Haneke (the image above is the opening shot to his movie Caché) are starting to posit a new conceptual viewpoint—that of surveillance, or a collective, anonymous presence (here is a great article about Haneke). This is radically different from the idea of singularity inherent to both the Renaissance idea of perspective and the modern, cinematic one—and like any important innovation in regards to perception, it carries huge political ramifications. With political ideas comes ideas of organization, and with organization comes architecture.

Originally written November 6, 2007

Wild Strawberries

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

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Wild Strawberries
1957, 91 minutes
directed by Ingmar Bergman

I’m not sure if this is obvious, but I did select the theme for this semester’s film series with a large amount of trepidation—there are no safer, more obvious, and less objectionable subjects for a film series than the films of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. They are, without doubt, some of the most studied and written about films since the invention of cinema, and therefore their artistic merits might actually start to veer towards a level of cliché.

And so it is with equivalent parts relief and sadness that we are not going to be screening any more Antonioni films and are now going to be watching the work of that Nordic master, Ingmar Bergman, beginning with this one, Wild Strawberries. On the one hand, I am going to miss those sullen, beautiful and well-dressed actors and actresses elegantly lounge about the Mediterranean landscape and the quiet, rhythmic syncopation of their Italian. On the other hand, those Antonioni films were just so hard to watch sometimes, and it’s not really going to get any easier with Bergman. Let me explain further.

The issue of difficulty is something that we’ve been exploring a bit in the Eisenman studio—in fact, it could be seen as a key driving force to the entire oeuvre of Peter Eisenman—his theory, his writings, his pedagogy, and lastly, his architecture. Eisenman has always wanted a difficult architecture, one that initially began by an elaborately documented process of formal moves to one interested in partial figures or post-indexicality. In either case, his work has always been concerned with something other than the “easy” part of architecture concerned with opticality, which is why for his entire life he has constantly refused to talk about anything in visual terms. Though Peter’s attempt to erase opticality or visuality from architecture is as self-contradicting and as impossible a project as any other attempt to create to a closed system of logic (see Incompleteness Theorem, Kurt Godel), it nevertheless makes for some fairly entertaining discussions whenever Luis Fernandez-Galliano or Jeffrey Kipnis are around.

It is in this sense that the films of Bergman and Antonioni are germane to this discussion of difficulty. When I say that their films are hard to watch, it’s not because the images are disturbing, or because the sequence of events is ghastly. Instead, it is because the films never let you relax into a state of conditioned expectation of what will occur next. They were challenging assumptions about being, time, and existence. They were, in short, difficult. You aren’t sure why events occur or what they mean; the narrative structures and devices that have governed and organized other films are simply not present in these films. So you are kind of on edge during the entire viewing—there is, in essence, no easiness. There is no cliché.

This is why we still deride certain films as formulaic, and why you’d have to be a fairly cynical and detached hipster to find these films without value. It is in those terms that these films are valuable as studies in architecture—it is that same difficulty and challenge to assumption that charges any good architectural project with electricity. It is why practitioners as vastly different as Rem Koolhaas and Peter Eisenman are so highly vaunted within our field.

Gilles Deleuze spends the first couple of chapters in his book on Francis Bacon talking about the blank canvas as being precisely the opposite—it’s not that the canvas is empty but instead is already filled with expectation and cliché that is imperative to avoid. Bergman’s project is vastly different from Antonioni’s, but it’s not something that you can necessarily see. It has to do with the specific ways they don’t do certain things. It is their affront to cliché.

originally written October 30, 2007