Ingmar Bergman: All These Women (1964) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
1Feb/110

Ingmar Bergman: All These Women (1964)

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

Andrew COMMENTARYAs mentioned last week, I was able to acquire a couple of Bergman films that have been unavailable via American DVD channels so far.  This was a bit of a treat for me because my favorite director was so damn prolific that it's been nearly impossible to find and view every single one of his films.  With that excitement clutched tightly in my heart I must now sadly inform everyone that if next week's bonus film The Rite is as bad as All These Women then it is perhaps best left unwatched.

I'm engaging in a bit of negative hyperbole here (much like Bergman was prone to).  I still have high hopes for The Rite but All These Women is almost as bad as the reputation preceding it.  All These Women is one of Begman's only comedies - a farce about sexual politics, music and censorship.  It's also thunderingly stupid with bland, broad comedy and a staggering number of idiotic characters.  But there's still a bit of interest here, mostly because of the time that it was filmed in.

The year it was released, 1964, Bergman had just completed his trilogy of Through A Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence.  Bergman's experimental period had not yet fully formed but was hinted at with a lot of the shot's in The Silence and the sickness which inspired Persona and Hour of the Wolf had not yet attacked his body.  So he was in a state of flux, not entirely certain where to proceed and ended up making this film, written by Erland Josephson (a Bergman regular that appears more in the 70's and 80's).

I've been prepared to talk about how bad All These Women is for some time because Bergman himself pretty much completely disowned the film as a disaster.  Approaching it with the hindsight of history it certainly must have seemed like a great genius went completely mad at the time, because it is so different in tone and quality from the previous trilogy.  It doesn't help that it was Bergman's first color film and, while he did try to do some interesting things with the palette, it was still clear that he was taking baby steps into a new style.

The theater background Bergman finally managed to work around makes a terrible comeback in the visuals for this film.

In an attempt to protect the innocent I will only drag the name's into this production previously mentioned (Bergman and Josephson) and leave everyone else out because Lord knows they tried.

All These Women opens at the funeral of a master concert cellist.  A music critic and biographer presides over the body of the cellist as each one of the cellist's mistresses is introduced to grieve over the corpse in each their own fashion.  The seemingly never-ending precession of seven women each come up and say a variant of "He looks the same, yet different" in regards to the corpse which matches their supposed emotional state.  I say supposed because the film is barely over an hour long minus credits and we've already got eight different characters that need characterization pronto.

In an attempt to provide some emotional gravitas to the funeral we flash back four days ago to when the critic arrived to begin his biography of the cellist.  The rest of the film details the slow progression towards the cellists death as the various women surrounding the cellists home each sleep with the critic or are lusted after by the critic.  They all want to sleep with the cellist too, but they'll settle for the critic in a pinch.

That's about as deep as the film goes with the story and characters.  Time marches on to the death of the cellist without anyone saying or doing anything of much interest and, in many cases, of much annoyance.  There are a number of "comic" set pieces that show Bergman's gifts for comedy were in characterization and defiant tone, not Chaplin-esque slapstick.  The worst example of which comes very early when the critic accidentally knocks over a bust of the cellist and spends two minutes clumsily trying to put it back onto the pedestal.  Finally there are a few "chase" moments that would have been more in line with a Scooby Doo mystery than a comedy by Bergman.

 

The man wants to have sex with the woman, the woman wants to have sex with the man. There's your character depth.

What little characterization exists paints each of the women with a simplistic emotional response at the funeral and then spends the rest of the time having them fawn over the critic and cellist.  This disturbingly broad portrait of women is in stark contrast to the amazing complexity of his female characters in The Silence, Persona, Fanny and Alexander - pretty much every other Bergman film made.  The cellist is never seen but the critic just comes off as an arrogant sex obsessed weirdo that would have been better off in a Porky's film.

If there's one thing that prevents this from being a total waste of time it's Bergman's unending desire to play with film.  Even when he makes a bad movie, and All These Women is most certainly that, he at least tries to play with the form somewhat.  He's not really doing so with the look of the film, it's too theatrical and staged, but with assorted elements and sequences.  The narrative is fractured in time, Bergman addresses the audience directly in a number of asides, and some of the sequences are just downright bizarre.

For example, there's a distressing tendency for every woman in the movie to carry around a gun and fire it at random moments.  This is played to a gross extreme in a sequence that combines hundreds of fireworks, spontaneous nudity, and general chaos.  It descends into it so suddenly that I was completely stunned.  There are more than a few moments like that in the film, which show that Bergman really was as bored with his own work as I was (he wrote very little about his displeasure of the film, but it's nice that dislike actually shows up in the film as well).

Inflatable swans in a Bergman film. That's the joke.

It's not that Bergman can't do comedy.  After watching Smiles of a Summer Night again a couple of months ago I realized it was one of his best films and doubles at being absolutely hilarious.  But this broad farce is way out of his league.  As much as I love him, he can't do everything, and this is a fairly spectacular failure.

Next week I'll be taking a lot at one of his many made for Swedish television productions, The Rite (and hopefully yielding far better results).
The Films of Ingmar Bergman

All These Women (1964)
Directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Written by Erland Josephson and Ingmar Bergman.

Posted by Andrew

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