Monday, December 28, 2009

#11: The Seventh Seal

(Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

The Seventh Seal is the first movie during this project that I have re-watched, which is to say that years ago (possibly as long as a decade and a half) I watched this movie, and haven't seen it since. I remember nothing from that viewing except that the chess game wasn't as awesome (or as integral to the plot) as it had sounded, and the film had seemed longer than it actually was.

Watching this time, I was still not blown away by the film in the same way other Bergman films moved me, most notably Wild Strawberries and Scenes from a Marriage. But I was struck by how, well, typical the film was. Unlike other Bergman films, The Seventh Seal reminded me of Hollywood movies, much in the same way Kurosawa was able to intellectualize and "legitimize" action-adventure films in the 1950s. The film's characters speak like most characters in film in the 1950s, and there are the same emotions and explorations of interaction present here. And the movie is funny. There's comedy all around, most notably in the two most important characters, the knight's sidekick and the actor who leads his family to safety, and in Death himself.

Sure, there is that eternal Bergman theme of the silence of God, but it is so naturally tied to the film's themes and plot that it doesn't seem a stretch to believe that the same movie made in America would have raised similar points. So The Seventh Seal feels more like, say, Starship Troopers than, say, Cries and Whispers. OK, there are no giant bugs, but there is a clear sense of entertainment, of the respect and love for Hollywood. It's funny how so many of the auteurs of the first popular wave of foreign cinema in America - Kurosawa, Bergman, Godard - owe so much to early Hollywood, yet fifty years later are seen as the antithesis of that system. Watching The Seventh Seal this time around made this paradox that much more clear, and while it helped the case for the film's timeless appeal, it didn't make me love the movie any more.

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