Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Death Of The Death Artist (Ingmar Bergman)

If you want to understand how fully "modernist" secular subjectivism has discredited secularism, you also have to look at "modern art." (Both words, "modern" and "art," need to be put in quotation marks.)

Modern art has done its best to present the bleak obliteration of values as the secular alternative to religion—though John Podhoretz, in the surprisingly insightful article below, incidentally notes the way in which modernism's obsession with the bleakness of life on this earth can be seen as the secularization of a kind of dour Calvinist asceticism.

Podhoretz writes about the modernist filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, who recently passed away, whom the caption that accompanies the article describes as the "movie-hater's filmmaker." Podhoretz describes how Bergman entrenched the militant distinction between "art" and "entertainment"—a false alternative built on the premise that art has nothing to do with the affirmation of values and thus has nothing to do with enjoyment.

Meanwhile, Heather Mac Donald makes a similar observation about a grim trend toward nihilistic "re-interpretations" of the great operas in European opera houses—a trend that may be coming to America, too. As Mac Donald observes, this trend is based in a rejection of Enlightenment values.

"Death and the Director," John Podhoretz, New York Post, July 31 Bergman had been the key figure in a painstaking effort, by him and by critics worldwide, to elevate the cinema into an art form equivalent to novels, poetry or classical music.

These were not the kinds of critics who wanted people to believe that westerns or gangster movies or musicals could be great art on the order of Tolstoy and Dickens. These critics wanted the movies instead to mimic the forbidding demands and even more forbidding themes of high modern art—from the difficult poetry of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound to the assaultive aesthetic of Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp.

Bergman was their man. In a relentless series of films—one or two a year—made between 1950 and 1982, he punished his audiences with a view of life so dark and foreboding that he made his fellow existentialist artist, Samuel Beckett, seem as upbeat as Oprah.

The darkness of Bergman's vision of the world and his uncompromisingly bleak expression of that vision resonated with those who viewed art not as a form of the most sublime entertainment—entertainment that transcends the merely pleasurable to offer a transformative experience—but rather as the secular version of a stern sermon.

Art, in this view, wasn't supposed to be easy to take or pleasurable to take in. It was supposed to punish you, assault you, scrub you clean of impurities….

As for the society of people who needed Ingmar Bergman to stand as the greatest example of what the cinema should do, they too had had their day by 1982. For the basic truth is that the critics who described Bergman as the greatest of film artists were people embarrassed by the movies…. They believed the movies were a low and disreputable art form and that its only salvation lay in offering moral and aesthetic instruction to its audiences about the worthlessness of existence.


John Gibbons said...

My response to the Mac Donald article is at Regietheatre: It's a fad.

Her best line?

“Regietheatre directors undoubtedly think of themselves as sophisticated when they unmask courtly decorum as just a cover for fornication. The demystifiers’ awareness of desire is so crude that they cannot hear that the barely perceptible darkening of a voice or the constricted suffusion of breath into a note can be a thousand times more erotic than a frenzy of pelvic thrusting.”

That passage could only have been written by somebody who loves and understands opera. However, we differ politically...

T. Nelson said...

Do you people hear yourselves? Are you really suggesting that something simply enjoyable like "Harry Potter" is in the same universe as T.S. Eliott? Are really saying a fun western compares to the genius of Ingmar Bergman? And the same composers you hold up now and think are so sacred were revolutionary in their day and would have been railed against by people with the exact same tought processes exhibited here. It is so ludicrous, and overtly mediocre.

T. Nelson said...

Oh, one other art isn't about being enjoyable, that is entertainment and not art. Sometimes art is enjoyable and sometimes it is horrifying. Art isn't about being likable, it is about stimulating an emotional reaction and the possibility of catharsis for the open minded. Look at the Greeks that invented drama - were those plays "likable" or "enjoyable"? Absolutely not, they were about more than that. Living off of things that are simply "enjoyable" is like living off a diet of cotton candy.