Sunday, October 04, 2009

the seventh seal [1957]

this might not be the most obvious choice for viewing at halloween but it is the first film i watched that gave me that terrible frisson of mortality. i've long been aware of death and my own impending death, but like little elizabeth bishop sitting in the waiting room at the dentist office who suddenly knows that she is a distinct human being, an i, and elizabeth, and not no other, i had a very similar feeling when watching this flick for about the 10th time in my early 20s about my own singular demise. it was an awful feeling.

in my estimate this is a masterpiece, without qualification. a very great film. bergman's eccliastical ruminations are leavened with a hearty dose of earthy humanism taken in the form of max von sydow's antonius block's squire, jon, played by the utterly magnficent gunnar bjornstrand. bjornstrand is i think one of the world's greatest actors, a man who disappears in each of his characters, and becomes that character totally. i've never read or heard anywhere a critic make the same claim for bjornstrand as i do as his being a very, very, and let me emphasize the very, great actor, and i wonder why.

rather than blather on with unqualified praise for this flick i must admit my own bias. i was pupped out of bergman from an early age. not out of any sense of duty a young poet has to viewing and digesting the great works, and when i was growing up bergman's films were considered great works, but from being a fan of cinema. i think of this movie as halloween fare because it is both horrifying, earthy, lofty and funny, like a well-made horror movie. later when i read about woody allen's bergman's obsessions i understood bergman's influence on allen, not because of only the angst of allen's characters share with bergman's characters but also by the great swede's comedy. the scene in the seventh seal when death cuts down the tree to get at one of his victims is a riot of black humor.

hence, such comedy in the midst of despair, and it bringing home my own pending mortality makes this film, at least for me, perfect halloween viewing, the time of year when the dead demand to be remembered and shall walk the earth. you all know the movie. you've probably seen it at least once. when i suggested to some friends that we watch this film for our occasional get-together movie night i was met with silence and then a firm rebuke. i realized that this movie is not for everyone and not every one considers it as great a movie as i do. however, the composition of each frame, its photography and editing, the writing and finally the acting are all utterly magnificent. it's entered the popular culture, like shakespeare or the beatles, so that you know of this flick, at least its imagery, even before seeing it. when i watch this film, especially around the scary season, i can hear in the near-distance dogs bay at the moon, the house creak, the windows rattle and maybe, just maybe, a chess board set in the kitchen awaiting the last losing game of my life.



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