Dear Interweb

I was listening to an old mix tape the other day, and I happened upon this song:

I can’t for the life of me figure out who this song might be by.  Shazam doesn’t recognise it and I can’t find any of the text snippets on Google (“dreams of what could be if you love me”, “dreams of love and sunshine”, “I can show you happiness”, etc).

I thought that perhaps it might be Mimi Goese because it’s weird drum’n’bass-inflicted craziness which she was doing around this time.  The tape is from November 1995 to April 1996, and the surrounding tracks are, among others,  from albums like Protection by Massive Attack, … I Care Because You Do by Aphex Twin and Born Slippy by Underworld.

Could it be some weird atypical thing from somebody in 4AD?  A random track from a compilation?

Anybody know what this could be?  It’s rather nice.

Hm…  Perhaps I could upload it to Youtube and see whether the automatic Content-ID system tags it and blocks it.  🙂

mpv Is Nice

I’ve been watching movies and TV using an Emacs interface since 2004, according to the movie.el file.  Under the hood, though, I’ve hacked away at mplayer to make it do what I want, which includes a convenient way to switch audio outputs and output progress info so that I can store that to restart the video in the same place I left off.

And various bits and bobs.

But with the advent of 4K Bluray, it seems like mplayer just doesn’t hack it anymore.  So I started watching 4K material with mpv and the rest with mplayer.

And then I got a new TV machine (because the old one wasn’t fast enough to play Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 4K) and, as usual, mplayer didn’t really want to compile on the new Debian version, so I thought it was time to switch completely to mpv.

I thought I was going to have to do the same hacking on mpv as mplayer, but it turns out that mpv is really nice: It has almost all the features I need, and in a very pleasant-to-work-with interface: Just talk to mpv by sending JSON via a Unix-domain socket.

The only thing it didn’t have was a way to set the screensaving prefix on-the-fly (which I need for making GIFs), so I hacked that in.  The mpv people have really cleaned up the mplayer source code, I have to say.  Everything is nice and logical and clean, apparently, and I adding the feature took like 15 minutes.  Kudos.  I’ll try upstreaming the patch… if I can figure out how the mpv people like receiving patches.

Just one note on building mplayer and FFmpeg: Some things in Debian break if you have the new FFmpeg libraries in /usr/local, so put it somewhere else.  In case somebody needs to build mpv from git in Debian, this is what works for me, and is non-breakey:

/usr/src/FFmpeg $ ./configure --prefix=/usr/plocal --with-gnutls 
/usr/src/FFmpeg $ make
/usr/src/FFmpeg $ sudo make install
/usr/src/FFmpeg $ cd /usr/src/mpv
/usr/src/mpv $ ./bootstrap.py
/usr/src/mpv $ PKG_CONFIG_PATH=/usr/plocal/lib/pkgconfig ./waf configure
/usr/src/mpv $ ./waf build

And then the mpv executable is in /usr/src/mpv/build/mpv, and can just live there without being installed.

87 Bergman Things Redux

When I embarked upon my majestic Ingmar Bergman journey (ahem) there basically were two reasons for doing so: 1) I really wanted to, and c) it’s silly, and XIV), this box set had been released:

I thought it was a complete collection, but it’s basically half his output.

I’ve seen most of Bergman’s films before, but it’s been a long time, and I’ve never seen them in any sort of chronological order, so my sense of his career wasn’t anything beyond “hey, his early films were a bit naff or what?” I vaguely thought that there were The Three Stages of Bergman: Early, Good, Late.

There’s a danger in getting too detailed and losing the knowledge by providing too much data (i.e., every single film getting its own category would be pretty useless), but I think chopping his career into five parts is somewhat useful:

The Early Years of Bitter Struggle

In the beginning, even if he was a child (er, 20s) prodigy, the films he was involved with the first five years are mostly not very interesting. If you’re a Bergman fanatic, you can recognise a few Bergman tics in these films, but they’re things Bergman did because he wanted to make films, not because he knew what he was doing. The exception here is “Prison”, which is rather thrilling. But if Bergman had stopped making movies after this run, nobody would have remembered him.

1944: Torment
1946: Crisis
1946: It Rains On Our Love
1947: A Ship Bound For India
1948: Music in Darkness
1948: Port of Call
1949: Prison
1949: Thirst
1950: To Joy
1950: This Can’t Happen Here

Infant Terrible Successful

Starting with Summer Interlude, he made films that were commercially successful. Perhaps mostly because they featured scantily clad gorgeous Swedish women, but the financial freedom meant that the studio didn’t interfere ever again, and Bergman could do whatever he wanted. Virtually all his iconic movies are from this period. That is, whenever you see a Bergman parody, they pick scenes from The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries or something. And all of these films are very watchable. The only thing is, the next period he stepped it up even further.

1951: Summer Interlude
1952: Secrets of Women
1953: Summer with Monika
1948: Eva
1953: Sawdust and Tinsel
1954: A Lesson in Love
1955: Dreams
1947: Woman Without a Face
1955: Smiles of a Summer Night
1957: The Seventh Seal
1957: Wild Strawberries
1957: Nattens ljus
1958: Brink of Life
1958: The Magician
1960: The Virgin Spring
1960: Storm Weather
1960: The Devil’s Eye
1961: Through a Glass Darkly
1961: Lustgården
1963: Winter Light

Golden Years

Bergman has gotten his entire troupe and crew together. He has Sven Nykvist, Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Harriet Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom… And he’d gotten influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague. He could do no wrong in the period (except The Touch, which is a harbinger of things to come in some ways). These are all non-required watching.

1963: The Silence
1964: All These Women
1966: Persona
1968: Hour of the Wolf
1968: Shame
1969: The Rite
1969: The Passion of Anna
1971: The Touch
1972: Cries & Whispers

Mystery and Confusion

The 70s were confusing. Bergman made his own production company, and he really got involved with TV. Many of the productions from this period were produced with TV in mind, but then edited down for theatrical releases. And, wonders of wonders, many of these productions were amazingly successful, and made Bergman (finally) a rich man. Scenes from a Marriage was a phenomenon throughout Europe (you can allegedly see when it was shown in each country by looking at the divorce statistics for that country), and the period wound down with Bergman’s most beloved production ever, Fanny & Alexander. On the other hand, it includes some of Bergman’s worst work ever, like The Serpent’s Egg.

1973: Scenes from a Marriage
1975: The Magic Flute
1976: Face to Face
1976: The Dance of the Damned Women
1977: The Serpent’s Egg
1978: Autumn Sonata
1979: Fårö Document 1979
1980: From the Life of the Marionettes
1982: Fanny & Alexander

Afterwards

Bergman was back in Sweden after being a voluntary tax exile, and decided to stop making films for the cinema after Fanny & Alexander. Going out on a high. The next two decades Bergman mostly worked as a theatre instructor (he’d been doing that from the start alongside his cinema career), but wrote a handful of scripts based on his autobiography for others to direct. But he also directed a few more TV theatre projects himself. But basically this period is Bergman letting go, and as with his first period, nothing of this is essential. But there are things of interest for Bergman fanatics.

1984: After the Rehersal
1986: The Blessed Ones
1992: Madame de Sade
1992: Sunday’s Children
1993: The Bacchae
1992: The Best Intentions
1995: The Last Gasp
1996: Private Confessions
1997: In the Presence of a Clown
2000: Faithless
2000: The Image Makers
2003: Saraband

While watching these films I’ve also been reading about them on the interwebs. The Bergman Institute has an article per production, and some of them are very interesting, well-written and funny. I’ve also been listening to Bergmanpodden (it’s in Swedish), and I’m not very surprised to find that the critics there judge his works less positively than I do.

But I’ve also googled randomly to see what people consider to be Bergman’s most Bergman films, and there’s something of a consensus. Most people namecheck Persona and Cries and Whispers, and these are indeed the films that Bergman himself felt were his best, most true movies.

And I agree; they’re totes amazeballs.

The disagreement comes with the third film to be included. Some people go for From the Life of the Marionettes just to be contrarian, I think: It’s a early-80s film and it’s, for once, a film that’s somewhat hostile to women. So naturally that’s the one male critics gravitate towards, since Bergman is otherwise mostly just interested in his female characters. A handful of them fail the reverse Bechdel test (i.e., there are no men who talk to each other in them), which is extremely unusual in cinema.

Fanny & Alexander is popular with many, of course, and that’s even easier to see: It’s a really fun film to watch. It’s the kind of thing you can watch again and again because it has such sense of mood and place. And it’s about childhood Xmas, so there’s that, too.

And some pull out Saraband as their third choice, and that’s understandable, too, because it’s his swan song. And of course, Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal is very popular among, er, people who haven’t seen that many Bergman films, is my impression.

I’m going to go contrarian contrarian with my choice for inclusion in the trinity: A Lesson in Love from 1954. It’s a trifle, but Gunnar Björnstrand and Eva Dahlbeck are just scintillating in it, and it’s hilarious. It’s perfect.

So there.

BTLXXXVII 2004: Bergman Island

Bergman Island. Marie Nyreröd. 2004. ⭐⭐⭐★★★.

This is basically a long interview with Bergman. Apparently these filmmakers were the first who was given access to film at Bergman’s home at the Färö island, and it’s a rather fabulous place.

But this is not a completely successful documentary. It seems to want to wring too much meaning and pathos out of every single scene, so while Bergman says some interesting things, the editing and the soundtrack makes me want to roll my eyes.

And it’s so unstructured… It’s kinda chronological, but… It’s excruciating to watch Bergman trying to explain how he ended up marrying just about all the female actors he ever met (slight exaggeration) and why he never had any contact with most of his nine children.

Bergman says that it was difficult to do A Dream Play in German because “Det är synd om människorna” not in any way means the same as “Es ist schade um die Menschen”. Heh. The English version is apparently “Human beings are to be pitied!”? “Mankind is to be pitied!” That’s… a pity. I’d say, like… “Poor human beings.” But that has a completely different form, of course… I got this from a DVD, but it’s a weird version. There’s oodles of digital artefacts; not just because of low bandwidth, but digital errors, I think.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXVI 2003: Behind Saraband

Yes, he’s painting the leaves with yellow paint to make it look more like autumn.

Behind Saraband (I Bergmans regi). Torbjörn Ehrnvall. 2003. ⭐⭐⭐⭐★★.

This is the “making of” documentary from Saraband, Bergman’s final film (both as a director and a writer). He’s a very spry 85 year old here. Still a very hands on, not to say handsy, director.

Saraband was filmed for TV (as all Bergman’s directorial efforts after Fanny & Alexander), but it was given a theatrical release (the first one since After the Rehearsal (in 1984), which was given a limited theatrical release against Bergman’s will). Curiously enough, it was filmed on one of the first generations of high definition digital cameras. So many things from that era look weird because digital cameras were crap back then, but this looks very nice.

However, they made so much noise (fans to keep the digital circuitry cool) that Bergman’s technical crew had to spend a lot of time cladding the cameras in sound-proof material, and still they made so much noise that Bergman decided to only use one camera at a time instead of the three-camera shooting he had planned. (Bergman is very particular about how his films sound like.) So instead of the normal multi-camera aesthetic Bergman had been going for during the past two decades, this feels more like a “real” film than anything since, well, Fanny & Alexander.

This is mostly fly-on-the-wall, but there’s also tiny interviews with the cast and staff interspersed. Of all of these Swedish docus, this is perhaps the least revealing.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXV 2003: Saraband

Saraband. Ingmar Bergman. 2003. ⭐⭐⭐⭐★★.

Bergman’s winding down of his career over several decades is deliberate and well-directed: He said goodbye to directing films with his most successful production Fanny & Alexander (a tribute to his grandmother); his final film script was Faithless (where he sort of apologised for his life); he wound down his theatre career with The Image Makers (a look back at his earliest inspirations) and finally ended his TV production with this one, Saraband, which is a continuation of Scenes from a Marriage, but has so many references to his entire life.

Has anybody else in the biz been so careful in how they end things?

The film was premiered on Sveriges Television’s Channel 2 on 3rd December 2003. A few days after the premiere, Dagens Nyheter was able to announce with barely disguised relief that Saraband had attracted 990,000 viewers, a figure comparable to the popular soap of the time, Skeppsholmen, the latest episode of which had been seen by 755,000 people. History can never tell then extent of audience overlap between the two programmes, yet SVT regarded Saraband as an resounding success.

Heh heh.

Anyway, it’s an unusually structured film. There are four characters, and we get a conversation between every permutation of pairs of characters. So that’s… er… where’s my slide rule… Six conversations.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.