Ingmar Bergman: Crisis (1946) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Ingmar Bergman: Crisis (1946)

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Each Tuesday Andrew will be going through every available film of Ingmar Bergman.

Andrew COMMENTARYGoing back and revisiting some of the earliest Bergman films may prove to be more painful an experience than I am prepared for.  I'm not giving up, not because of the angst and pessimism that blankets most of his films, but because of how damned amateurish his first few movies are.

Today's film, Crisis, is a stunning example of a legendary director frozen to a single moment in time when it didn't seem like he knew what he was doing.  Crisis is inept, and a fine example of how not to shoot a film.  If there's anything that I want you to get from today's picking apart of this film, it's that it's better to start off with Bergman of the 60's than Bergman of the 40's.

Still, there are many of his films from the 50's that I have yet to see, so that stance is subject to change.  For the moment I'm stuck with post-WW2 Bergman, and the results aren't so pretty.

Crisis was the first film that Bergman ever directed.  He was offered the chance after some of the head honchos at Svensk Filmindustri looked at his work on Torment and though him capable to helm a production by himself.  At this point in his career Bergman had only directed a number of stage plays and written a few scripts.  So fueled by the studios confidence and an ego that would quickly be dashed to pieces, Bergman began production on Crisis.

Blurred shot after blurred shot make for a very annoying film.

Going into the film there are a few unfortunate elements at play.  The first being Bergman's own inexperience.  He knew how to set up his actors and actresses on the theater stage but still had no idea how to move a camera around an enclosed space.  The second would be Bergman's ego.  Torment wasn't a smash hit, but it was the kind of commercial and critical success that can give a young artist the beginning stages of delusions of grandeur.  The third, and strangest of all, is that Bergman himself thought that the story for Crisis was "grandiose drivel" (according to the accompanying essay with the Eclipse edition of Crisis).  It was strange that he would waste his time on something he thought was beneath him, stranger still that he decided to go with that same material as his directorial debut.

The results are kind of painful, but more so if you (like myself) are familiar with the highs he would hit in later years.  The story is thoroughly pedestrian and reeks of the kind of heavy handed moralizing present in some of the post-Code Hollywood films of the 40's and 50's.

The basics - a young girl lives in an idyllic paradise unspoiled by technology and progress.  Her birth mother lives in The City, and arrives with her conniving step-son to take her back from the young girl's well meaning caretaker.  She slowly becomes intoxicated with the allure of the city and has a falling out before returning home and marrying her long-lost sweetheart.  All is forgiven, and the church bells ring through the land of a new day.  There is not a single surprise or twist at play in the whole film and that synopsis is as deep as it gets.

The story carries none of Bergman's signature stamps aside from a sad attempt at articulating his philosophies about life.  While the screenplay for Torment wasn't amazing, there were no embarrassing strains of dialogue like "One day I'll leave this puppet theater and enter the darkness."  Such a line says more that Bergman has worked with the theater before and less that he has something original to say about the collective human experience in the face of the void.  But, as is the case with any weak script, it can be elevated with good visuals or good acting.

In ten years Bergman will know how to make this man creepy.  Now he's just annoying.

Sadly, Bergman seemed to learn nothing after his experience of working on Torment.  The film is incredibly stagy, with incredibly stiff placement of actors and no real sense of space in the homes and outdoors.  A key tip off to Bergman's theatrical past are the number of curtains involved in the production.  They're all over the place - used in the beginning to signal the opening of the film as a curtain literally rises in the home, and placed in-between separate characters during key tense moments.  All of this might (and I feel a bit generous saying this) have worked in front of a live audience but it's incredibly distracting here.

What's worse are the performances.  We have a narrator that gives us the thoughts and emotions of each character during pivotal moments when we should be seeing them in force.  The step-son reaches levels of cartoon villainy that would make Snidley Whiplash jealous and is thoroughly unconvincing as a jazz performer (in a rather strange interlude).  Then there's the matter of the young girl, who over-articulates every smile or frown with her face that there is little room for emotional ambiguity.

Bergman can't even get the focusing right half the time.  Any time the evil birth mother is onscreen the camera focuses on her to the detriment of any surrounding characters.  This could be seen as intentional, but similar lapses of focus occur at other seemingly random times in the story.  What benefit of the doubt I could grant on that matter was shattered by Bergman's memoir as a director, Images: My Life In Film, when he said that half the film stock he shot was completely useless because of his inexperience.

There's very little to praise about Crisis.  I liked the introduction of an elderly host that reminded me of similarly jolly characters in Smiles of a Summer Night and Fanny and Alexander.  But he's quickly shoved aside so that Bergman can insert a quick jazz number.  There are two films by Ingmar Bergman where I've heard him use jazz;  Crisis, and The Serpent's Egg.  Since those are the two worst films he's ever done, I will be very paranoid if I start a film of his I haven't seen and hear a jazz score.

Crisis is clearly the work of a beginner that still needed a stronger guiding hand.  Next week I'll be revisiting Port of Call, and hope that time has treated that one far better.

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The Films of Ingmar Bergman

Crisis (1946)

Written for the screen and directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Posted by Andrew

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