Monday, July 30, 2007

There is an old superstition: death comes in threes. Today, the news of three deaths: Ingmar Bergman; Michel Serrault; Tom Snyder. Snyder's death reminds me of the era when talk shows weren't just publicity fodder, and when talk show hosts weren't just show biz stand-up comics. When Snyder had his talk show, he was always talked about as if he was "combative", but he wasn't, not if you consider what people like Bill O'Reilly do now. Snyder (at least) was really interested in debate, not in simply haranguing his guests. But Snyder really tried to have a show that didn't pander and insult his audience.

Michel Serrault was one of those character actors who seemed to pop up in so many French films from the 1950s on, but he wound up getting his greatest fame when he was middle-aged, and played the drag queen in "La Cage aux Folles".

Of course, Ingmar Bergman is one of the most important figures in world cinema. It's funny: his career went through so many phases. It's surprising to come across people who still debate his merits. (Dave Kehr recently remarked, on his blog, that Bergman is someone he considers to be really lacking in any cinematic talent.) But his career can be divided into his early phase, which started with the screenplay for "Torment" and ends with "Summer Interlude" and "Summer With Monika"; then there's the period when he gained his international reputation, which includes "The Naked Night" (a movie which, indeed, was a favorite of the collegiate set of the 1950s - prior to "Persona", it was Susan Sontag's favorite Bergman film, and it was also one of John Simon's favorites), and the three films which really established him: "Smiles of a Summer Night", "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries"; then there's the middle period, which is dominated by his "trilogy", "Through a Glass Darkly", "Winter Light" and "The Silence"; then there's the "modernist" period, which really starts with "Persona" and includes "Shame", "A Passion", "Cries and Whispers" and "Autumn Sonata", plus that TV staple "Scenes from a Marriage". Not to make light of someone's death, but Bergman was one of those patriarchs who seemed to have a protracted farewell. He was always making his last movie. From "Fanny and Alexander" on, every damned thing he did was his "last". In some ways, he even made dying tedious. Enough, already, just drop dead and leave us alone. Well, he (finally) did it.


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