Woody Allen Week continues here in anticipation of the Woodman’s latest movie “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” opening in the Raleigh area on Friday, October 22nd.
We started off with a top 10 of Allen’s films – check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.
This time we turn to one of Allen’s biggest influences – the late great Ingmar Bergman:
Isaac (Woody Allen): “Bergman? Bergman’s the only genius in cinema today, I think.”
Yale (Michael Murphy): (To Mary) “He’s a big Bergman fan.”
Mary (Diane Keaton): (To Isaac) “God, you’re so the opposite. You write that fabulous television show. It’s so funny and his view is so Scandinavian.”
– “Manhattan” (Dir. Woody Allen, 1979)
Nearly every tribute to the Ingmar Bergman (July 14, 1918-July 30, 2007) notes his huge influence on Woody Allen. Allen’s 1988 quote that Bergman was “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera” has been heavily quoted.
Roger Ebert quoted the line in his fine “In Memory” article and said that Allen has “made some films in deliberate imitation of Bergman.”
So lets take a look at some of those films and see just what elements whether they be thematic, technical, personal, or personnel that Woody Allen has “borrowed” from the movie master:
“Love And Death” (1975):
The first Allen film to overtly reference Bergman mainly in its use of the Grim Reaper, who oddly appears draped in white not the deathly black that Bengt Ekerot wore in “The Seventh Seal” (1957).
Set in the Napoleanic era and despite being a satire of Russian literature (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and the films of Eisenstein) the Bergman steals are what makes the thing tick.
The intense overlapping close-ups are taken from “Persona” (1966) and this strained but extremely funny Diane Keaton monologue reeks of Ingmar existentialism given a tongue-in-cheek approach:
“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer.
To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.
I hope you’re getting this down.”
“Annie Hall” (1977):
Allen’s most popular film commercially and winner of the Academy Award for best picture has relatively few touches taken from the Swedish director – a few “Wild Strawberries”-like returns to childhood memories and some leftover “Persona”-like shots, but it is amusing that the film that Alvy (Allen) refuses to miss the beginning of because of Annie’s (Diane Keaton) tardiness was Bergman’s “Face To Face” (1976).
The Woodman’s first drama (also his first film as director that he does not appear as an actor in) owes a lot and I mean A LOT to Bergman. The term “Bergmanesque” was coined by Richard Schickel (TIME Magazine) for this film and Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote:
“It’s almost as if Mr. Allen had set out to make someone else’s movie, say a film in the manner of Mr. Bergman, without having any grasp of the material, or first-hand, gut feelings about the characters. They seem like other people’s characters, known only through other people’s art.”
The story is about three sisters (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, Kristin Griffith) their suicidal mother (Geradine Page) their father (E.G. Marshall) who has a blustery new spouse (Maureen Stapleton) and all of their misery.
Again the close-ups – like that shot above (also used as the poster picture) with the contemplative looks out the beach house window – definitively pay homage to the Bergman aesthetic:
“For me, the human face is the most important subject of the cinema.”
For the lines at the top of this post alone this film should be noted but also because Allen met Bergman during the shooting.
According to John Baxter’s Woody Allen: A Biography (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998) Bergman reporatory member Liv Ullmann (and longtime companion – while she was not one of Bergman’s 5 wives she did produce one of his children) hooked up the meeting and Allen was surprised at how knowledgeable the Swedish director was of the Jewish comedian’s one-liners and film work.
Shortly Before “Manhattan” opened to rapturous acclaim Allen screened Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and “Cries And Whispers” (1972) one afternoon and confided to friend Eric Lax:
“I see his films and I wonder what I’m doing.” He needn’t have worried – he was doing just fine.
In part 2 in which we look at Bergman’s influence through Allen’s ’80s work. Part 3 will conclude with the ’90s.
This is all leading up to a review of Allen’s newest – so please stay tuned.