wag the dog (barry levinson, 1997)

This is the thirtieth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 30 is called "'Playwrights Turned Screenwriters: Mamet Week".

Our main challenge is an examination of writers switching mediums, with their filmographies including adaptations and original screenplays. You can see how well their writing transfers over from stage to screen.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film written by David Mamet.

Not sure how this slipped by me over the years ... I was always intrigued by the premise, wherein a presidential adviser cooks up a phony war to distract attention away from an affair the president has had just before election day. I run hot and cold with Mamet. I liked The Untouchables, for which he wrote the script, but that movie has Brian De Palma all over it, so I wouldn't say Mamet was the guiding force. The only movie I've seen that he directed was House of Games, which I liked but can't recall. In short, while I watched this because Mamet wrote it, my response to the movie wasn't really affected by Mamet one way or the other.

It was fun watching Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman play off of each other, and they were clearly having fun, as well. Anne Heche wasn't handled as well ... she brings quirkiness to her roles, but here, quirky was all they gave her. They (Mamet? Levinson?) let her down. I can't stand Denis Leary, so I was surprised that his role was fairly small and not as obnoxious as usual.

As for the plot, it was clearly meant to feel real in that way satire does by exaggerating the possibilities we live in. But I thought too often the point was the gullibility and stupidity of the people, who are shown as being willing to fall for anything if the people doing the trickery are smart enough. I've never liked that kind of angle, and I didn't like it here.

So for me, Wag the Dog had some enjoyable acting, but didn't deserve the feel of self-satisfaction it exuded.


where have all the people gone? (john llewellyn moxey, 1974)

This is the twenty-ninth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 29 is called "'70s Sci-Fi Week".

Science fiction films of the late 1960s lit the fuse for the boom that was '70s science fiction. Maybe people were sobering up from the drugs and ready to express themselves. Maybe the political landscape of the time was the inspiration, or perhaps some just wanted to tell cool stories. However they came to be, they are apart of a huge wave of sci-fi that would go on to shape the future of the genre forever.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen science fiction film made in the 1970s.

I admit in advance that I didn't realize I'd chosen a TV movie. Where Have All the People Gone? was part of the NBC World Premiere Movie, which featured movies made for television. As such, it was more representative of made-for-TV films than it was the kind of movie that made up "the boom that was '70s science fiction". We're not talking Westworld or Soylent Green.

The movie begins with an inexplicable solar flash. Oh, it gets explained by the teenager/scientist who has a year of college, but it made no sense to me. Part of a nuclear family (dad, son, daughter ... mom left earlier) are all that is left. They head back to home (Malibu) and meet a few other survivors along the way, including one played by Verna Bloom, who later played Dean Wormer's horny wife in Animal House. Eventually we find out that after the solar flare a virus broke out that killed most of humanity. (Yes, this hit close to home.) The end finds our plucky survivors headed to Northern California, full of the inspiration that apparently comes from surviving. It's an open-ended finale that was a bit anti-climactic, but apparently there was hope it would become a series (it didn't).

I was reminded of other movies that, if not better, were at least more interesting. My beloved cheapie Robot Monster also featured a handful of people in a post-apocalyptic nightmare, and while that one gets my vote as the worst movie of all time, it's still endlessly watchable, which can't be said for Where Have All the People Gone? Closer was Panic in Year Zero!, a low-budget "classic" that featured Frankie Avalon as the young man. At least that movie had Les Baxter's intrusive music.

There was some talent involved. Peter Graves, who had been making this junk for 20 years, and who had just finished Mission Impossible, played Dad. Future Oscar nominee Kathleen Quinlan played Daughter. Lewis John Carlino, another future Oscar nominee, was the co-writer. John Llewellyn Moxey, who has his fans and who directed a billion TV episodes, was in charge. Despite all of this, Where Have All the People Gone? is pretty bad. And it didn't help that the Amazon Prime print was crappy, with bad color and lots of scratches. At one point, Son/Scientist uses a Polaroid camera to test for radiation, saying if the air is radioactive, a Polaroid photo will show spots. I guess his experiment was a success ... it was hard to tell, since the entire scene was filled with spots on the print.


apart from you (mikio naruse, 1933)

This is the twenty-eighth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 28 is called "Eclipse Week".

Described by some as the B-sides of art house cinema. the Eclipse series by Criterion offers fairly underseen films a chance to garner a new audience through boxsets covering specific directors and writers, and even lesser known movements or moments in time. I realize that this is probably where you're going to have the most trouble tracking some of these down, but they're far from inaccessible. Well, in terms of availability anyway.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Criterion's Eclipse series.

I didn't realize until I started that Apart from You is a silent movie, despite its 1933 release. I knew nothing of the film beforehand ... I didn't know the work of writer/director Mikio Naruse, and I had only seen a couple of movies that included anyone from the cast of this one. This is a benefit of the Eclipse series. Indeed, of the 184 films in the above list, I had only seen 9 before Apart from You.

The movie only runs 61 minutes, and I admit I was glad, because I wasn't really captured by the film. There is some interesting material about the lives of geisha, and some sympathy towards them for being victims of poverty. But I never connected with the love story between the son of a geisha and another geisha who is his mother's co-worker. Also, Naruse makes good use of push-in shots that zoom in on a character, but after the 50th time, it was more annoying than effective.


festival (murray lerner, 1967)

This is the twenty-seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 27 is called "Concert Movie Week".

As a bit of a cooldown after last week, let's take some time to appreciate the efforts to transport the feelings of a live event into a smaller, more personal medium. Crank up the volume and get out the pyrotechnics.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen concert movie. Here is a more focused ranked list and here is a larger compendium.

The kind of concert movie I like is just what the name suggests: a movie of a concert. I like to see the show progress ... think Stop Making Sense. I understand that some concert movies are documenting an event, that the event might be longer than a movie would be, that multiple performers might all want their moment in the sun. In those cases, I at least want to see complete performances of individual songs among the documentation of the event ... think Woodstock for the most part. I'm not a big fan of documentaries of concerts that essentially ignore the music, but I get the impulse to foreground what was happening off stage.

What I hate, though, is when a movie provides incomplete performances of individual songs. If a song is worthy of being included, and that song runs four minutes, I don't want to see only 90 seconds of that song.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that Festival has two strikes against it from the start, because it lacks complete performances. Think Don't Look Back, which for me works better as a document of Dylan's tour than it does as an example of a Dylan concert.

Festival, which has footage from three separate Newport Folk Festivals (1963-5), has plenty to offer people who want to reminisce. Among the performers (in partial performances) are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Judy Collins, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Howlin' Wolf, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Staple Singers, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Donovan, Mike Bloomfield, and many more. But you can sit through the entire 97-minute film without seeing a complete performance of a song.

So OK, Festival at least works as a document, right? Well, yes but. The single most important cultural occurrence at those three Newport Folk Festivals came when Dylan "went electric". Festival comes in about a minute into the first of the electric songs, "Maggie's Farm", and what follows is only part of the rest of the song. Dylan and Mike Bloomfield are so fired up, even a truncated version is impressive, but it's not enough. Besides, while Festival gives a feel for what those events were like, it provides no context. You never know what year it is, which matters, especially when people in the crowd (almost always male) pontificate. And if you didn't already know the legend, all you would think of "Maggie's Farm" was that Dylan did a good job and Bloomfield sure can play guitar. The reality, which I described on Facebook as Bob Dylan opening the door while Mike Bloomfield put his boot to folk music and kicked it out that door, is missing from Festival.

So if it's enough for you to see historic performers in the 60s, either young (look at Judy Collins! look at Johnny Cash!) or old (look at Howlin' Wolf!), you'll enjoy Festival. If you want to actually experience historic performances, look elsewhere.

Festival was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary feature. 40 years later, Murray Lerner released The Other Side of the Mirror, a compilation of Dylan performances, from singing "With God on Our Side" with Joan Baez in 1963 and in 1964, to the cataclysmic "Maggie's Farm". Thus, we can watch Maggie in full glory:


simon of the desert (luis buñuel, 1965)

This is the twenty-sixth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 26 is called "Transcendental Style in Film Week".

In 1972, Paul Schrader wrote a book on the wave of slow, contemplative art house cinema entitled "Transcendental style in film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer". In it, he examines the three titular directors' works and how their films apply a certain style that seems to transcend language. The original book focuses on the directors named, though in 2018, Schrader released a updated version with a new introduction that applies his framework to the 50+ years of cinema following the original publishing. Feel free to select a film from either group of films.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen mentioned in Paul Schrader's "Transcendental Style in Film"Here is the original list of films and here is the list that includes all of the films mentioned in the new introduction.

I'm not sure how closely Simon of the Desert fits into a compendium of slow cinema. After all, it's only 45 minutes long ... how slow could it be? It's also interesting to consider what Buñuel is telling us about contemplative film (or anything else). The titular Simon spends his time atop a column, trying to connect with God through his ascetic life and near-constant examination of himself and the world. In short, Simon's life is contemplative to an extreme. But despite his efforts, his life is also meaningless ... at the least, his attempts to commune with God do not lead to enlightenment, and his actions are never as helpful as might be hoped. (Early on, he cures a man whose hands were cut off because he was a thief, restoring the hands to their original state. The man immediately smacks one of his kids upside the head.) If Simon is any example, Buñuel thinks the contemplative life is worthy of our disdain.

I'm surely looking at this wrong. No matter that I'm doing the Challenge, it doesn't really matter how the film fits into Schrader's framework. So from here, I'll try to take Simon of the Desert as its own work.

There are two stories about why it is so short. One is that the money ran out, so Buñuel came up with a quick (nonsensical) ending and finished. The other comes from Silvia Pinal, who plays Satan. She claims that the film was originally to be part of a three-piece anthology film, but that the concept didn't pan out (she blames herself) and so Buñuel just released his short movie as is. In any event, the ending is indeed nonsensical (it takes place in the 5th century, but at the end it jumps unexplained into the 1960s). Buñuel's work is full of things that don't make obvious sense, so I don't think the end hurts the film that much. But it is an abrupt break ... it's not like the movie is full of time shifts, just the one at the end.

Pinal makes a great Satan, because she is trying to make Simon give up his mission, and she exudes the kind of sexuality that clearly affects Simon. Does she break him down? It's hard to say ... if you count the sudden trip forward, when she and Simon are in a discotheque, perhaps she has succeeded. But ultimately, Buñuel is less interested in Simon's persistence and more interested in showing what a foolish mission it is. This is not a religious movie ... it's anti-religion.

I've liked every Buñuel film I have seen, including Simon of the Desert, with Los Olvidados at the top. Simon of the Desert strikes me as lesser Buñuel. #912 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

[Letterboxd list of Buñuel films I've seen]


the seventh curse (lam nai-choi, 1986)

This is the twenty-fifth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 25 is called "Golden Harvest Week".

From Wikipedia:

"Orange Sky Golden Harvest, previously known as Golden Harvest from 1970 to 2009, is a film production, distribution, and exhibition company based in Hong Kong. It dominated Hong Kong box office sales from the 1970s to 1980s and played a major role in introducing Hong Kong films to the Western market, especially those by Bruce Lee (Concord Production Inc.), Jackie Chan, and Sammo Hung."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film produced and/or distributed by Golden Harvest.

The Seventh Curse is the kind of movie where the IMDB parents guide gives a sense of what you are in for:

  • A baby monster bites a man's neck and erupts from his abdomen, lots of blood everywhere (looks like red paint)
  • General martial arts fighting
  • Police and villains are shot and have little bullet holes with small amounts of blood dripping
  • Man tears flesh off his face and punches hole into his belly, where maggots pour out.
  • A curse causes small spurts of blood to occasionally "pop" out of his veins.
  • Small children are lowered into a stone device that crushes them and their blood pours out. You don't see their bodies being crushed, but the concept is disturbing.
  • A woman has a disfigured face (looks like burn scar)
  • Character is torn in half by a trap and his int stones [?] are seen, group of men are skewered on spikes. Not overly graphic, but aftermath shows some blood.
  • Monster attacks people and tears at their skin. 2 monsters fight, blood pouring out of wounds. monster is shot by bazooka and explodes into bits, not overly bloody.

Even the above doesn't really explain how loony this movie is. For that, I go to the Wikipedia description of the plot:

Dr. Yuen (Chin Siu-ho) in the jungle of Thailand attempts to rescue a beautiful girl from being sacrificed to the "Worm Tribe" she belongs to. As a result, Yuen is damned with seven "Blood Curses" which burst through his leg periodically. When the seventh bursts, he will die, but Betsy, the beauty he saved, stops the curse with an antidote that lasts only one year, so on the advice of Wisely (Chow Yun-fat) he heads back to Thailand to find a permanent cure. Action ensues as Yuen and cohorts battle the evil sorcerer of the Worm Tribe, a hideous bloodthirsty baby-like creature, and "Old Ancestor," a skeleton with glowing blue eyes that transforms into a monster that is a cross between Rodan and Alien.

I appreciate that I'm cheating here ... it's not much of a review when all I've done is quote other sources. But really, doesn't the above give you a feel for what The Seventh Curse might be up to?

I can add a little to the above. Apparently the basic plot and characters come from two series of novels by the prolific writer Ni Kuang. There are 150 or so stories in the "Wisely Series" and roughly 30+ Dr. Yuen stories. In The Seventh Curse, Wisely takes a back seat, which means Chow Yun-Fat isn't around nearly enough. His cool factor is seriously challenged by the fact that he smokes a pipe ... even Chow can't make pipe smoking cool. On the other hand, he's the one who turns up at the end with the bazooka. This film came out the same year as the icon-creating A Better Tomorrow, but I can't tell which came out first. Meantime, Maggie Cheung is involved, a year after Police Story ... she's adorable but annoying, kinda like she was in Police Story. (My invaluable source for HK culture, Steve Fore, noted in a comment to my post about Police Story, "Maggie Cheung was participating here in the standard rite of passage for ingenue female stars in HK movies, taking on roles as the whiny and/or ditzy girlfriend and arm candy.") She's only 22 in The Seventh Curse.

Finally, I should mention that director Ngai Choi Lam has quite a cult following. This is the first movie of his I have seen. Fans speak highly of his Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.

The Seventh Curse is pretty crappy, but also pretty fun. It's also short. You'd have to be in the right mood, but it's certainly possible that if you caught it on the right day, you might get a lot of goofy enjoyment.


film fatales #109: sweetie (jane campion, 1989)

This is the twenty-fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 24 is called "Southern Exposure: Jane Campion Week".

Though not as obscure as our Northern Exposure director, Jane Campion has made a name for herself, due in large part to her breakout hit, The Piano. The thing is though, as far as I can tell, a lot of people haven't viewed her work outside of that film. So if you've yet to see it, you're in for a treat, and if you have seen it, you get to see how a filmmaker develops. A win-win.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film directed by Jane Campion.

Sweetie was Jane Campion's debut as a feature director, after a few years making shorts. She's had a fine career, winning an Oscar for her screenplay for The Piano, which she also directed, helping Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin win acting Oscars. She created the television series Top of the Lake with Elisabeth Moss, and had her hand in a variety of movies over the years (I'm partial to An Angel at My Table). Sweetie was her idea ... besides directing, she also co-wrote the screenplay. And it's an odd one.

The family at the center of Sweetie is, let's say, dysfunctional. At first, the film seems to center on Kay, a young woman, shy and superstitious. She seems socially awkward at her work, and she begins a relationship with a new boyfriend, Louis, because of the tea readings of a fortune teller. There is something a tiny bit off in the way Campion and cinematographer Sally Bongers present Kay's life, but it's nothing you can put your finger on, and I settled in to what I assumed would be a quiet look at an unassuming individual. Kay's parents are just eccentric enough to suggest how Kay became Kay.

And then Kay's sister Dawn, called "Sweetie", turns up, and we see that this family is more than a tiny bit off. Sweetie is ... how to say it ... kind of crazy. As the film progresses, we learn that she has essentially demanded attention from her family since childhood, and she goes over the edge more than once in her interactions with others. The tone of the film wavers, at times a comedy, at times a family drama, often exhibiting a mean streak towards Sweetie. To the extent the movie sympathizes with anyone, it's more Sweetie's family than Sweetie herself, although the way her parents indulged her since she was a kid is a type of "explanation" for how she turned out.

Sweetie is different. Karen Colston and Geneviève Lemon are intriguing as Kay and Sweetie. I couldn't always tell what was intended by Campion and her co-screenwriter Gerard Lee, and the movie is not close to a complete success. But it's an interesting look at Campion when she was just starting.


the switch (bobby roth, 1993)

This is the twenty-third film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 23 is called the "Tangerine Dream Week".

You know how every film nowadays seems to go for that retro synth sound aesthetic? Well these folks are a big reason why that's a thing. As a German electronic band, Tangerine Dream lent their musical style to a number of films that gave the 80s its signature sound.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film with a soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

I can't say this was a disappointment. I can blame myself for an uninspired pick. I could have picked Michael Mann's Thief with James Caan, or William Friedkin's Wages of Fear remake Sorcerer. Instead I chose The Switch, directed by Bobby Roth. Roth has had an interesting career, directing countless TV series and movies. He has also done a few independent films, a couple of which I have fond memories of (The Boss' Son and Heartbreakers). Most importantly for my purposes, it turns out The Switch was a TV movie, and it shows. It doesn't look cheap ... Roth is an efficient pro who makes good use of what in retrospect are clearly only a few sets, and the cast is full of underrated actors, many known mostly for their television work (Gary Cole, Craig T. Nelson, and Max Gail, not to mention Kathleen Nolan, who starred on The Real McCoys and was later president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Hinton Battle, who had a memorable appearance in the Buffy musical Once More, With Feeling). Beverly D'Angelo has a fairly substantial part, although for some reason she is uncredited. Put it all together, and there is no reason why The Switch would be a bad movie. And that is true ... it is not a bad movie.

I can't go much further, though. It begins with the dreaded words, "based on a true story", which never bodes well. It's the story of Larry McAfee (Cole), who is quadriplegic after a motorcycle accident. At first, he fights for the right to end his life ... by the movie's end, he has found meaning and wants to live. (Ironically, McAfee died a couple of years after the movie was released.)

Roth and company do what they can, but they are held back by the realities of television in the early 90s. Nowadays, we're used to productions like Game of Thrones, with big budgets and bigger ambitions and big-screen cinematography, but The Switch has the 1.33:1 aspect ratio then standard for TV, and Roth makes extensive use of closeups, I'm guessing because in 1993, with our small TV screens, closeups wouldn't seem oppressive, but in fact be welcomed.

The is nothing wrong with The Switch, and the people involved gave it their best. No one seems to be just cashing a paycheck. Beyond that, there is no particular reason to run out and watch it.

If you can't resist, her is the entire movie on YouTube:

Oh, and Tangerine Dream? I suppose the soundtrack was OK ... I didn't really notice it, to be honest. On the other hand, it was hard not to notice the appearance of Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch" a couple of minutes in.


redes (fred zimmerman & emilio gómez muriel, 1936)

This is the twenty-second film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 22 is called the "Golden Age of Mexican Cinema Week".

From The Austrian Film Museum:

"Beginning in the early 1930s and continuing for a quarter-century, Mexico was home to one of the world’s most colorful and diverse film cultures: not many other countries could claim a comparable range of production, diversity of genres and number of master filmmakers. The excellence of Mexican cinema was founded on its commercial strength – Mexico supplied all of the Spanish-speaking markets in Central and South America, and delivered several box-office successes in the United States as well. During the thirties, the country also became an important refuge for European exiles. Numerous filmmakers and craftsmen had their own (usually semi-secret) Mexican Period, and German-born Alfredo B. Crevenna became Mexico’s most prolific director. In the 1940s, few other film cultures were quite as potent."

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. Try looking here or here for starters.

Another win for the Challenge. I had only seen one film in either of the suggested links (Los Olvidados), and in fact have been remiss in watching Mexican films in general (my favorite being Y Tu Mamá También from Alfonso Cuarón).

Redes has a complicated history, and is perhaps better called an international picture than simply a Mexican film. On the one hand, the film was commissioned by the left-wing Mexican government. There was Mexican co-director Emilio Gómez Muriel ... he went on to direct close to 80 movies, but Redes was his first. Redes was filmed at a small fishing town in Mexico, using a mostly non-professional cast. The score by Silvestre Revueltas, his first, is considered to be a great success, although I confess I found it overbearing at times. On the other hand, the film began as an idea from left-wing photographer Paul Strand, who was from Brooklyn. Fred Zinnemann, an Austrian who had moved to New York, was brought in to co-direct, although he didn't speak Spanish so Gómez Muriel worked with the actors. Strand and Zinnemann cited influences like Eisenstein and Flaherty, and Redes is often compared to Italian neorealism, which hadn't happened yet. So Redes is unmistakably Mexican, but with influences from many places.

Redes tells the story of fishermen who are exploited by the rich, and it's clear what side the film is on. It never looks amateurish ... there is a lot of talent behind the camera, and the non-professional actors are mostly appealingly natural. It's a small picture, to be sure, but its ambitions are large.


after the rehearsal (ingmar bergman, 1984)

This is the twenty-first film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 21 is called "Shot by Sven Week".

Sven Nykvist is one of the most well renowned and critically acclaimed cinematographers of all time. Though he's often associated with his films shot with Ingmar Bergman, he's worked with a number of high profile directors on almost 100 films. If you're unfamiliar with his imagery, its time to take a look.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film with cinematography by Sven Nykvist film.

Watching After the Rehearsal in 2021 carries the reality of the pandemic. The film, made for television, is a chamber piece with one set and three characters, the kind of structure that is a bit more prevalent right now, when it is so difficult to be expansive with film making. Of course, Bergman wasn't thinking about pandemics when he made this film (unlike The Seventh Seal, which takes place during a plague pandemic). The three characters are Henrik Vogler (Erland Josephson), who is directing a new version of Strindberg's A Dream Play; Rakel Egerman (Ingrid Thulin), a middle-aged actor who worked with Vogler in the past; and Rakel's daughter Anna (Lena Olin), who is starring in the current production.

After the Rehearsal is itself something of a dream play. Roger Ebert wrote of the confusion people seemed to have with the film:

Reading the earlier reviews of the film, I discover that one critic realized only belatedly that the younger actress, Anna, was onstage the whole time the older actress, Rakel, poured out her heart. Strange, and yet another critic thought the whole scene with Rakel was the director's own dream. Yet another suggested that Anna represents not only herself but also Rakel's absent daughter. And another theory is that Anna is the daughter of the director and Rakel, and is brought into being by the residual love between them, as a sort of theatrical Holy Spirit. The age of Anna has been variously reported as ranging from twelve to twenty, with one critic reporting that both ages of the character are represented.

The film has a supernatural feel, even though Bergman uses no obvious tricks. When the film opens, Vogler is alone in the theater after the day's rehearsal ... as we see him, he is waking up, commenting on how things look strange. Anna appears, they interact ... Anna reveals her hatred of her mother. The mother appears, despite the fact that she is dead ... a younger Anna (played by Nadja Palmstjerna-Weiss) observes it all, unnoticed by the other two. The mother leaves, Olin-as-Anna returns. It is entirely possible that After the Rehearsal comes out of Vogler's head, perhaps in a dream. Bergman doesn't press this point (hence the confusion Ebert mentions). Thus, he creates something supernatural that could just as easily be a straightforward recounting of a night in a theater.

The scene between Vogler and Rakel is especially intense compared to the two scenes with Anna and Vogler, which is perhaps inevitable, given that Ingrid Thulin is one of the most intense actors ever. (Bergman writes of one scene, "[I]n this film she couldn't distance herself from her part. When she would say the line 'Do you think that my instrument is destroyed forever?' she would begin to cry. I told her, 'Please don't sentimentalize!' To me, it seemed natural for her to say the line with cool observance. Instead she burst out crying every time. Finally I gave up.") Lena Olin holds her own in this company, no small achievement considering the abilities of Josephson and Thulin.

Ultimately, After the Rehearsal is as much a family drama as it is a commentary on the theater. As for Sven Nykvist, he doesn't have any vast panoramas to play with in this one-set movie. He uses a lot of close-ups, and overall, he suggests the smallness of the setting without our noticing. It's not as expansive as the work that earned him two Oscars (for Cries & Whispers and Fanny and Alexander), but it perfectly suits what is needed here.

The opening of the film: