20 Jul 2016
“Lola” is a stylistic parody on post-democratic post-modernity pluralized by the dynamism of a fragmented reality (consisted of an aggressively colorful, as though, advertising themselves, pieces of life).
The day has come
When we dream of foreign lands Here where we live
Is far too small, I’m told.
The day has come
When we head for foreign lands
And soon we’ll ask
What will the future hold
A white ship sets sail for Hong Kong
And I long for those distant places
But once I reach foreign seashores
I long to return home.
So I tell the wind and white clouds –
Take me with you where you’re going
I would gladly trade those new lands
Just to be right back at home
The day has come
When we live in foreign lands
And feel like we’re
abandoned and alone.
A white ship sets sail for Hong Kong
And I long for those distant places
But once I reach foreign seashores
I long to return home
So I tell the wind and white clouds –
Take me with you where you’re going
I would gladly trade those new lands
(The song from the film and listened to by Konrad Adenauer (Chancellor of Germany from 1949 to 1963), about the absurdity and morbidity of militaristic and economic “globalism”)
Lola – Why you say that soul is always sad?
Esslin – Because the soul knows more than the mind. That’s why it is sad.
Lola – For me it’s the other way around. For me, the mind knows more than the soul.
(From a dialogue between Lola and the real father of her daughter – Mr. Esslin, in the “Lola)
Von Bohm – The first, Lindenhof project. Give me your honest opinion. without the slightest hint of fear and manipulation. Please, be frank and honest.
Esslin – The Lindenhof project is a conspiracy.
VB – A conspiracy? Interesting. Let me hear your proof.
Es. – First, the land registry abstracts. (Except inheritance, no significant change of ownership had taken place since the turn of the century. But in the last five years, transfers have increased dramatically. I know several of the new owners. They are power elite of the city.
VB – Very nice. Power elite.
Es. – Secondly, property prices. They are now triple the 1952 prices and ten times those of 1938. When the new construction plan goes into effect, profit from speculation will at least double again. Thirdly, the construction committee. Its membership is an amalgamation of the city’s so called “good families.”
VB – What about proof of conspiracy. How does Schuckert fit into this?
Es. – You know, if the others are circling waiting crows, he is a bird of prey.
VB – Power elite. Profit from speculation. Amalgamation. Bird of prey. And what about me? How do I fit into all this? What do you expect from me?
Es. – To impose order. To clean up.
VB – That I scatter the crows and forbid the bird of prey to hunt. Do you want to revolutionize our economic system?
Es. – I reject revolution. I am a humanist.
VB – You reject revolution. You are humanist. Then you’ll have to put up with birds of prey.
(From a dialogue between the city’s new Building Commissioner and his special assistant Mr. Esslin)
Schuckert (the rich real estate developer) shares with his mistress Lola his problems with von Bohm, the city’s Building Commissioner
Sch. – Von Bohm wants new apartments to be built, but he cannot build them himself, because he is just a planning official. So he needs a pack of pigs and slime-balls. You see? It’s ingenious and forward-thinking too. He knows what progress is. He ought to get the Wartime Medal of – I mean The Distinguished Service Medal.
Lola – You can put him on your payroll.
Sch. – No, he’d never allow it. But you are right. He has to be recognized somehow.
Lola – You could give him a chunk of your ass. He could make a pork chop out of it.
Sch. – I’ll give him a part of your ass. He gets one night with you.
(From a dialogues in “Lola”)
Von Bohm – What does a humanist do after a working day?
Esslin – I am a member of a group against rearmament.
VB – I’m always intrigued by fruitless passions.
Es. – In another group we’re studying Bakunin. He wrote an interesting book about land and property.
VB – What was his conclusion?
Es. – That the Earth belongs to everyone, not just a few.
VB – I don’t understand. It obviously belongs to just a few, not to everyone. Does he really think it or is it just wishful thinking on Mr. Bakunin’s part?
Es. – It’s reality in a higher sense.
VB – I understand. That’s why we complement each other so well: you’re busy with reality in a higher sense, while I’m busy with reality in a lower sense.
Es.– I dream and you act. That’s what you mean.
VB – You think and I function. That’s what you mean.
Es. – And Schuckert profits. That’s what I mean. Fascism will triumph.
(Another exchange between von Bohm, the building commissioner, and his special assistant)
“You can ask anything of men who accept money from others – even to take their pants down.”
Fassbinder films are so packed (visually and aurally) with information, references, asides, questions and unexpected connections (and, as a result so demanding) that most other contemporary movies look puny in comparison.
Vincent Canby, The New-York Times, Sept. 9, 1980
Socio-political Climate in West Germany under Konrad Adenauer
Lola’s Mirror Reflections
Lola – a person with proclivity for poetic inspiration. Here, she is reciting her love poem – reflecting her childish shyness and not less – her childish boldness – to von Bohm, the city’s new Building commissioner.
This shot of Lola’s mother and daughter shows Lola in her absence (she is a very busy woman) as a unifying link between the past and the future and, may be, even as the personification of Western post-WWII modernization.
Lola’s Amorous Social Façade – Her Professional “Candy-colored” Career
Lola (Barbara Sukowa) – an emancipated woman and a cabaret singer-dancer is shown by Fassbinder in a perspective of the expectations of mass viewers looking for a new Marlene Monroe or Marilyn Dietrich, as a not-so-talented performer, although a person with quite a sharp mind (not to mention her genuine business acumen.
Lola’s Amorous Existential Career
The father of Lola’s daughter is worrying about his future with Lola and their daughter – he is poor and proud intellectual. He doesn’t know that his future salvation is in the greasy hands of the business Magnate Schuckert.
Lola and her future loving husband. Pay attention to very particular lighting of this scene. Von Bohm with his idealistic love for Lola is in “metaphysical” light, while she is in usual light of regular life, business deals and entertainment
Work for men and women
Fraulein Hettich (Helga Feddersen) is the secretary of Mr. von Bohm. The visual effects Fassbinder uses for her characterization, emphasize Miss Hettich’s tormentingly intense and contradictory emotions towards her boss.
Fraulein Hettich is a secretary secretly in love with the commissioner, and her love expresses itself by worshipful dedication. In traditional totalitarian systems loyalty to superiors is almost always rooted in a worshipful and even sacrificial love for the leaders. And because Miss Hettich as a traditional woman didn’t adapt yet to the new totalitarian socio-psychological configurations characterizing the post-WWII Germany (of economic miracle), she is as she is.
Schuckert (Mario Adorf) – Lola’s steady lover and the wealthiest and the most entrepreneurial man in the city, must find a resolution to his conflict with von Bohm – governmental administrator. We, Americans, who live in 21st century, know very well the nature of this conflict between bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires) and government bureaucrats. And for us it is not difficult to get, how Schuckert will tame von Bohm.
Von Bohm, in his office, is preparing materials against Schuckert (who in the film is the equivalent of the American Cough brothers, Lord Bankfein or Shelter Dailyson, though as belonging to the German economic situation in the 50s – not to American predatory atmosphere of 21st century, he is much less straightforward in his corrupting and manipulative business practices)
The governing elite of the city is alarmed by von Bohm’s “treason” – he has joined protesters standing not far from the local government building with slogans for peace and freedom for the people of Africa and Asia. Around the table we see from the left – the Mayor of the city (Hark Bohm), Wittich, the rich financier (Ivan Desny), standing behind him, the editor of local newspaper, the Schuckert’s wife, the Police Chief Timmerding (Karl-Heniz von Hassel), looking at our direction, and Schuckert himself (smoking).
Esslin (Matthias Fuchs) desperately concentrating on mass-cultural – souvenir representation of our humanistic historical aspirations, as if, is trying to comprehend how it is possible to profane noble traditions through entertaining
Esslin, on his part, is ready to sacrifice his intellectual idealism for the sake of keeping (silently) his old and eternal love for Lola and their daughter (and becoming a part of the elite). The solution, like in many situations, is merging (consolidating the efforts to fight more effectively for common interests)
It’s necessary not to underestimate the role of the mayor of the city (Hark Bohm) who, “for the sake of prosperity of the city”, helps the different sides to unite “for the goodness of the community”, of course.
Democratic Freedom for Political Demonstrations
On the placards it is written (from the left to the right) – “Freedom for the People of North Africa”, “Freedom for the People of South-Eastern Asia”, and “We Are for Peace”. It is impressive, that protesters here (obviously, “Arian” Germans) care about other people’s problems more than about their own. Isn’t to feel like this means real democracy (rather than competing for one’s rights, material gains and benefits)?
New apartment buildings – the way to a prosperous future
Fassbinder in “Lola” has changed his representational style of the reality of human life. The characters from modality of living – mainly being as they are, started to exist according to advanced modality of surviving/succeeding – trying to upgrade/advance their material existence and their status inside the social hierarchy. There is no time anymore for living as such, like there is no time for us, when we’re watching “Lola”, to read subtitles on time and form our opinions about what was just said. Lola is at least a three-hour-film compressed into less than two, with too many emotions and ideas, and psychological and behavioral events. The characters are rushing to achieve, project themselves into the world, to influence others. Their facial expressions, as they interact with one another, tend to move to over-certainty, as if, they wanted to be sure, that they‘re understood as they intended to be understood, that they really successful with others. The characters want to be effective with each other – they want to be taken seriously as possible partners … in business, in mutual support in advancing their career. The characters permanently posing and maneuvering, even with casual people. The situation is complicated by the fact that they are personalities that are not only formed by life, but by their own thinking about life – they are not limited by few, as if frozen, facial expressions, as many characters/stars in Hollywood movies. Their uniqueness is without idiosyncrasies, and their particularity resisting simplifying exaggeration.
We see how human beings moved by their intense desire for achievements (Schuckert, Lola, Esslin and minor characters) or for the chance to assert their value (Lola) or to restore one’s self-respect (Esslin), or not to lose one’s authority in danger of being belittled by the amorous passion (von Bohm), cannot avoid becoming emotionally vulgarized, but even then they still keep their humanity intact (not without help by the incredible acting by the exceptional actors – Mario Adorf, Barbara Sukowa, Matthias Fuchs and Armin Muller-Stahl).
In Fassbinder’s films before “Lola”, the characters still lived (when they were already overstressed by the necessity to reach social success this despotic imperative didn’t penetrate yet the very structures of their personalities). Of course, in some of his previous films we see a foreboding of a world of “Lola” – a world we all live in today. For example, in his “Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?” (1970) the main character (Kurt Raab) loses the ability to adapt to the social and existential environment, which was transforming people into a soulless robotic philistines, but together with his adaptability he lost his being – became a murderer and then committed suicide. Similar destiny swallowed the hero of “I Only Want You to Love Me” (1976), where a young man (Vitus Zeplichal) overburdened by the work necessary to keep alive the dream of material prosperity (inseparable from his merry marriage), loses his psychological balance succumbing to paranoid distortions of reality. In both of these cases the impossible reality pushes human beings into breakdowns, while in “Lola” the characters are ready to do whatever it takes to go on living in a psychologically unlivable circumstances. They adapt and become somebody else, the impossible possibilities, mutated human beings, although still human, in a way.
Another examples of Fassbinder’s warnings about the new life, as it depicted in “Lola”, and a premonition of his new cinematic style corresponding to this reality, is “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972) and “Despair” (1978). In “Petra” the main character – a successful designer of women’s clothing (Margit Carstensen), is, as if, playing herself in her very life – as if, impersonating herself as a master-manipulator and at the same time as a self-sacrificial fetishist of love. For her to manipulate her muses-models by loving them is, as if, the psychological equivalent of creating for them fashionable clothing which, as if, corresponds to their new souls – both of which designed by Petra. In other words, in essence, Petra thinks about herself not so much as a women’s fashion designer but as a creator of new women as human beings. In reality, Lola is not less ambitious than Petra, but her ambition ends in a cave filled with gold coins, while Petra’s still belongs to the human universe moved by the energies of psychological creative power, not the power of money or technology. In “Despair” the hero (Dirk Bogarde) has lost the ontological and social coordinates of his self – the very atmosphere of pre-Nazi and Nazi Germany made his soul disoriented and lost (he, as if, became a chaotically nomadic refugee from his habitual life). Hermann-Hermann starts to impersonate/identify with another person with completely imaginary identity (in a belief that he is this person). As a result, it was no psychological agency, which could take responsibility for Hermann’s feelings and actions. Of course, in this two preambles to “Lola” (which supersede it as a depiction of the human soul’s search for the meaning of itself, not just a masterful socio-psychological portrayal of human being running from its own humanity), the main personages are more sincere and honest, while in “Lola” they are conformists following the twisting rules of fight for material and social success. Petra, Karin and even Marlene in “…Petra…” are much more “sublime” and holistic human beings than the characters of “Lola”. And this is almost as true about Hermann-Hermann and Felix in “Despair”, in comparison with the “fallen” creatures in “Lola”, because their society is not a democratic one anymore. In “Petra” and in “Despair” people still, although deliriously and destructively, look for their ideals, not for financial gain over other people.
The fact that Lola happens to be a “fatal magnet” for the three men (all of whom are in a desperate need for her) – secular intellectual (Esslin), bill-mill (billionaire-millionaire) – Schuckert, and the monolith conservative – von Bohm, seems at the first glance a bit crude, although it emphasizes the symbolic connotation of Lola as the character impersonating not just German women of post-WWII, and not even German soul of the same historical period, but Germany of economic miracle. Lola also refers to the various emancipated women as mass-cultural toys for a pluralistically versatile men of the epoch, when sexual consumerism and pop-entertainment became a very important behavioral features (obsession settled in the German soul emptied from the Nazi utopia of world domination). The events of the plot (the situation that Lola is the greedy focus of sharply different male personalities) should be taken with relative importance – she can be interpreted as not a woman but as women who make amorous success as a part of their careers. In any case, Lola is perceived by her three men as – family relationship (by Esslin), as eternal mistress (by Schuckert) and as marriage/marital relationship (by von Bohm).
In this new way of life when people come to others because they want something from them, not because others are part of life, comes Fassbinder’s new style – of placards, of people’s permanent self-advertising, of registering and parodying how people all the time are, as if, posing for photo ops before others. Personal relationships reflect this “mutation” in the social atmosphere which “poisons” the very heart/soul of human intimacy.
Relationship between Lola and Esslin started before “economic miracle” had a time to grow muscles. Fassbinder wants us to reconstruct how their mutuality could start. They came to each other by pure feeling – there were no calculations and no money- planning in their love. Esslin had a modestly paying job, and this was the only material basis of their relations. But this in a new world based on calculation and financial prowess was not enough. They both had to come to the cabaret – she as a pretender for local stardom, and he as a pop-musician. Elegant whore house and Schuckert came soon, making Esslin humiliated and desperate, with an inferiority complex growing in his soul like a malignant tumor. He had to share Lola not only with her casual clients, but with Schuckert, who besides his sincere financial generosity was quite an amusing person. Esslin’s tormenting helplessness and, finally, “moral surrender” to the new, corrupt world of permanent calculation and rivalry is typical example of the corruption of liberal intellectuals in a new, post-democratic (neoliberal) world. We see it in our own country (US) even more articulately. Esslin didn’t want to lose Lola, he loved his daughter, so he made a “democratic” compromise with the reality as it happens to be. Eventually Esslin is financially helped by Schuckert, who tolerates his ongoing relations with Lola on top of financially taking care of his daughter whom he, Schuckert earlier officially recognized as his own child.
Lola’s relationship with Schuckert is, of course, based not only on his money-money-money and readiness to tolerate being not the only one in Lola’s life. Schuckert is also not like today’s American profit-makers. He is charming in Luis Bunuel’s sense – he is close to Bunuel’s discreet charm bourgeois, only under specific socio-cultural conditions of post-WWII West Germany. Schuckert in Mario Adorf’s virtuoso representation is a personality simultaneously streamlined and sharpened by money-making – streamlined into a basic positivity and sharpened into wit of inexhaustible and paradoxical investments. He is a case which is difficult to even imagine today, when the rich financial manipulators are overwhelmed by greed-and-anger (where greed is compulsive and anger is preventive) and carry a violent unconscious coloring their behavior even in the areas far from their professional occupation. In Schuckert’s times military expansionism was not allowed to West Germany, and economic globalism was not yet as developed as today, after a United Europe was added to NATO as multicolored condom.
Working with money made Schuckert almost – gentle, permanently maneuvering and adapting to changing situations to be able to suck the profits regardless of how “physically” uncomfortable this sucking position may be. Schuckert’s touch is money-erotic. For him to get his money is an aphrodisiac. To appropriate money for him is sexually exciting and it is rejuvenating for everybody around him. Lola in the film becomes the personification of currency. She circulates from Esslin to Schuckert to von Bohm, and the first and the last persons are enriching and vitalizing themselves in their transaction through Schuckert. All three became linked by money’s benevolent universality, as a kind of stock-holders of Lola as a share who from a cabaret dancer-singer and a prostitute will become, through Schuckert-Eros the owner of the cabaret and brothel. Success through money makes people blissfully “drugged”, and they forget about the world outside money, and they will be surprised if this world will dare to remind about itself.
Lola’s identification with Schuckert becomes the nucleus of their love. Lola seduces men and fans of her cabaret career. And Schuckert seduces with money and the promise of more of it. Lola feels herself as a Schuckert of the need for “sexualized” consumption of money, of the world, of the future, and Schuckert becomes Lola of the very seductiveness of profit and the seductive power of attracting dreams and money for investments. Schuckert is Lola of money, Lola is Schuckert of feminine attractiveness, of greed for the admiring gazes of the fans, for men’s sexual generosity which she is in power to consume, appropriate and possess. Lola is not a talented singer, but she is a strong personality, she is very intelligent and is in control of her own seductive capital, emotional, physical, mental, like, according to Schuckert’s compliment to her, having the “best ass in the whole NATO”.
But the human soul is larger than any existential situation, any opportunity or any limitation including death. It is larger than the demands of moments or expectations of eternity. It is more than the present, the future, and the past – it transcend the very transcendence. In Lola’s soul there is an important place for von Bohm. Fassbinder depicts von Bohm as a combination of a groomed authoritarianism and a child-like existential naiveté. Von Bohm is masculinely elegant in contrast with Schuckert whose face is, as if, always greasy (his metabolism is too intense – he is shiningly sweaty at all times). Some years back von Bohm, probably, was high-ranking officer of Wehrmacht (judging by his posture and manners). Lola as an emancipated woman, who felt guilty for being not socially successful and who sharply felt that her reputation is dirtied by her cabaret/whorehouse affiliation, desperately needed to restore her self-respect. It is at this point of her emancipation that god sent her this handsome man in his prime, whose feelings for her were as pure as the sunrise – many religious men in spite of their authoritarianism like women with initiative (it liberates them from responsibility for their sexual non-indifference). Von Bohm overcame his psychological trauma of learning about Lola’s real professions with the help of hard alcohol (devil sometimes works in collaboration with god) and by making his suffering public. He even felt stimulated to rescue her from all kinds of disgrace which could trap her on her way to redemption and… to social success.
On his way to a holistic dedication to Lola – his personality became divided like in adolescence, when a physically growing still-child discovers the fallen world of adulthood. Psychological fragmentation becomes part of yearning for wholeness. Von Bohm’s love for Lola was reinforced by his decision to marry her. Then everything came under harmony – Lola’s relationship with Esslin, her relationship with Schuckert and her alliance with him, von Bohm, the Building Commissioner, which made her a respectable lady. To overcome fragmentation holism becomes selectively blind (as a temporary condition – a small pay for total glory). Money unites the world – tarts, breads and crumbs – into one happy human family, in one successful humanistic world. Marriage is able to deflower not only into respectability, but into full-fledged humanity.
But what about Fraulein Hettich – von Bohm’s dedicated secretary who went through all his ups and downs, difficulties, successes and his final triumph, a woman with the appearance of an old imp and heart of an angel? She suffered though Von Bohm’s wedding and his marriage to Lola to the point of her complete… happiness. Miss Hettich is a marginal character with a maximum of close-ups – she represents the importance of the majority in totalitarian propaganda and totalitarian leaders’ success. She is also Lola – Lola of the traditional totalitarian system. She is a woman with need for love completely socialized – transformed by the social hierarchical relations, by the importance of social power, while Lola as a sexual object is completely privatized (exists for private consumption which is the veiled model for ultimate – privatizing consumption – of profit). Extreme socialization and extreme privatization become undifferentiated in a despotic world.
01 Jul 2016
Veteran suicide claims on average the lives of 22 veterans each day, or one every 65 minutes (Department of Veterans Affairs – DVA)
“Every day, 22 American veterans commit suicide, totaling over 8, 000 veteran suicide each year”
(Washington Post, Feb. 2, 2015)
With suicide, a person is much more desperate than when he is risking his life in war. During war he is equal to his enemies: both have the same goal – to kill the enemy before it will kill you, both equally hate one another. But with suicide you are transformed into a prisoner of hate. It is, as if, self-hate is more hateful than hate, it is the ultimate defeat when your hate is turned away from the enemy outside and became focused on yourself, when you are imprisoned inside your own death (when you betray yourself – as if, take the side of your own enemy).
The torturing thugs in Janco’s drawing give the captured person a “choice” – to be killed or commit suicide. Self-murder is even more murderous than murder – the self-victimized, as if, joined the enemy against yourself. It could be like a treason, if the command to kill yourself was not perceived as given by our superiors.
For soldiers, veterans and civilians, suicide is the identification with an adversary environment which is trying to repress and suffocate a desperate individual. In Janco’s drawing we see two torturers as “demons” of sadistic inter-human environment. The first – on the left of the victim (to his right) tortures him by mock or real execution. He looks up (to god – asking Him to permit to finish off the arrested or because he feels ashamed for torturing the prisoner). But the second torturer, the younger one, is completely taken by his “creative” idea of how to transform the homicide into suicide. His face is innocently fascinated with his joke – the forcing the victim to pull trigger on himself. In his radiant excitement he doesn’t think about god – he all belongs to this moment, like a kid playing a videogame of overpowering zombies, aliens, monsters and villains. From murder to suicide (from murdering to forcing suicide) – two phases of environment’s domination over people, of political and economic system over human beings. From homicide to suicide. From sending young people to kill and be killed to statistic of veterans’ suicide. From giving people jobs that will allow them to eat, procreate and laugh while watching entertainment, to pushing them into the swamp of chronic unemployment and despair.
But look at the victim – he is resigned in front of inevitability of violent death from the hands of torturers (persecuting society or political system operating through violence, and helped by the indifference of those who are still prosperous and entertaining themselves with consumption of things, services and images, and praising their destiny as being a part of human civilization).
It is difficult to imagine Janco’s plots and topics realized not through the medium of drawings but through, let say, watercolor or oil paint. It could essentialize the evil of human making which Janco depicts. In his “Two Guns to the Head” drawing the evil is sketchy – ontologically not solid or dense. The evil is ghostly, as if imaginary. It’s revealing the ephemeral vanity of miserable human existential imagination. When humans imagine super-human or pre-human (for example, elementary particle reality), they feel themselves better than human life (in their theology or in astro- or quantum physics). It is human life – which they cannot and aren’t able to make decent – they concentrate on a more pleasurable/clean realities, on what is too big or too small. After the nightmares of the planetary and human history these intellectual escapists from human reality are too happy with their comfortable life and cognition.
Until human wars, especially the frivolous ones – for geo-political domination – will continue, our troops and our civilians will continue to be murdered, not only by the enemy (homicidally), but by wars’ influence on our own souls (suicidally).
The two thugs in Janco’s drawing carry the connotation of being “demonic” agents of the destructive/manipulative social and international environments.
19 Jun 2016
The first four paintings seem to belong to a different psychological category than the last two. The first model (in “Nude on a Divan”) barely tolerates the gaze of the viewers – the artist and the public. Her gaze can be interpreted as expressing her “tiredness” of being a model and even reproach to the consumers of her nudity including the painter. The second model (“Grand nu”) lets herself to be observed, but with a drop of sadness, as if, she accepts her posing job as inevitable routine, se la vie. The third one – “Female Nude”, pretends that she is resting – she is trying to ignore the whole event. She could prefer not to be where her bare-naked body is. And the fourth one, “Nu allonge”, is coming to a full ontological contact with the gazes of those who have transformed her into an object of their staring – she is, as if, emphasizing her equality with her audience. She matches the gaze of the audience, and this challenge can be the first step of flirtation and, may be, even the imposition of her emancipated-ness. In this sense she is the younger sister of Manet’s “Olympia”.
With the last two paintings the situation is radically different – here we are already not in the land of perception at all, not in the theater of the gazes. Nude on the red cushion and the pink nude (the same model, but…), as if, has eliminated the very possibility of her own gaze – her eyes are not closed and not opened. More exactly, they can be either open or closed, but Modigliani, as if, suggests that this is not the point, that the punctum of the paintings is elsewhere. It is the very body of the model which starts to be the focus of interaction with those who approaches the model via the paintings. In “Nude on the Red Cushion” and even more in “Pink Nude” the human soul (of the model) is communicating through the body. The human soul became body in order to seek contact with the very personalities of the viewers.
The body of the model here is not only alive, like in preceding paintings, but it is living. It’s moving, not externally, but internally. We are not just in the presence of an attractive or even irresistible woman’s body – woman in her body, the bodily woman, woman fully incarnated, woman as body, we are involved with this body, that is, as if, “physically” interacting with us. The model is responding to our emotional response to her being in front of us – she activates our desire by putting us inside the sexual situation before we are awakened to it. There is no question of peep-hole perception anymore. This model is reacting on our presence in front of her before we started to react on her. She doesn’t belong to our perception, but to our desire which unexpectedly became maniacally aware of itself.
We are not perceiving woman’s body giving itself to our greedy curiosity – we are already unified with this body in a blissful abyss instantly staged inside our imagination. We‘re semiconsciously sexually involved with Modigliani’s model, and our involvement is framed by the work of art. We, appropriated by her, appropriate her. The difference between two paintings, the “Nude on a Red Cushion” and “Pink Nude” – is the coloration emphasizing various tonalities (various degrees of intensity) of the model’s body. In the first painting the woman’s flesh is still an object of neutral coloration, while the second addresses her body in a process of being transformed by her own ardor, which, as if, making her blood circulate much more intensely. In the second painting the woman is involved in a sexual intercourse with us. We feel the hotness of her body. We feel the resilience of her body – this irresistible effect of resistance in collaboration. She took us much before we took her.
The painter inserts his “Pink Nude” in between our voyeuristic greed and our feeling of sexual participation with the model – we are able to surpass our sexual dreams or our factual sexual pursuits – we discover the model’s sensual trembling in the depth of a physically static – cognitive interactional experience. Modigliani’s Pink Nude is ahead of life and ahead of imagination.
The artist leads us into the painting, and he abandons us on this way, when we are already there. And soon after this very moment we feel that we are anointed into becoming the monarch of the situation – chosen by the model for love with her, and then we notice the very absence of the artist, and more, that we don’t need him anymore, and still more, that we never needed him, that all the miracle is between us and her, her and us. And we visit her again in the painting, which in reality is a magic theater making us happier than we ever are in real life. To get the woman in response to her getting us, to find ourselves as the sexual object of the model right during sexual act – without any amorous and sensual preparation is like to find ourselves right in the middle of paradise existing without hell or purgatory and against everyday life with cane of imagination and crutches of entertainment.
When Modigliani was creating his “Nu couche/Pink Nude”, he was understanding his spiritual responsibility according to the principle of aesthetic privilege – his right to de-existentialize the sublime: to take sublimation out of life, to occupy the desire to sublimate with instrumentality and delights of art, and with this “trick” triumphantly squeeze the excess of “de-sublimated” pleasure for himself and the viewers of the painting. Even hundred years later we find ourselves as beneficiaries of his sophisticated boldness.
Modigliani achieves with us what he wanted – making us the poppets of his talent and craft. He forces us to meet his model who is sexually dedicated to us before we discovered her, and her sexuality in action treats us as sexual slaves. Modigliani’s canvass is a magic membrane imprisoning us into an irresistible primordial orgy*.
*Of course, in the big world of mass culture people are exposed to naturalistic/de-sublimated “pantomimes” that overstimulate people’s sexual energies. Uniqueness of Modigliani’s “Nu couche” is that it is satisfying our de-sublimated desires as de-sublimated ones but in a sublimated context. It mobilizes the viewers’ cognitive resources to process but not modify their de-sublimated impulses in the depths of their physically static interactional experience. Modigliani uses our cognitive focus against the naturalism of imagination.
09 Jun 2016
“Silence” is a foundational metaphor of the film whose meaning is the silence of something like the human soul in a world of triviality, blind impulses, greedy consumption, indifference and hate armed with military technology. But what is exactly silent in the human world depicted in the film? The term “soul” is drastically over- and out-worn long before the beginning of the 60’s in the previous century, when Bergman was concentrated on working with the idea and, finally, with production of the film.
Two sisters and a child, the son of the younger one, are crossing Europe, which is transformed by the chronic war and outrageously monotonous “survival” in an impossible circumstances, into a chronically ill patient – habitual and depressed alertness impregnates the atmosphere of the city, where action takes place. The hotel where Ester, Anna and Johan stay, is, as if, without air – it is like human history without present tense, when past and future seized the present, transforming it into a kind of timeless purgatory. But it is in this kind of a city and in such an hotel the most psychologically significant events of the story take place – relations between Anna and Ester took the most dramatic turn, relationship between Anna and her son Johan became more articulated, relations between Johan and his aunt Ester took prophetic turn, and Johan‘s relations with the Hotel room service steward, the old man, became the backdrop for Johan existentially spiritual growth and his growing attention to his aunt. Even casual meeting (ephemeral anonymous contact) of Johan and worker in the hotel gave Bergman the chance to explain how work, when human beings become dependent on it too much, leads to psychological degradation and distortion of human interaction.
In Bergman’s films of the mature period (“The Silence” belongs to) commercial calculations (which cinema in general as a very expensive medium and even films of non-commercial kind are forced to dignify) are always subordinate to their (interwoven philosophical) content and their (aesthetically loaded) form. Universal human problems (as always in Bergman rooted in clearly differentiated socially objectivized conditions of life and the human psychological participations in these conditions) define the films’ content and the emotional perception, feeling, intuition and understanding of these problems define the form. “The Silence” is an exemplary film in which social, political, religious and economic dogmas usually dissolved in their anonymous factuality, matter-of-factness and it-is-as-it-is-ness, have an encounter with personages and viewers’ unconscious and conscious minds.
“The Silence” is not about how the “human soul” reacts on the facts of life. The cliché encounters of the heroes of commercial movies can also be named as “human soul’s” clash with circumstances and/or with other “human souls”. But Bergman in his film differentiates between three type of human soul – soul of the body (soul of bodily needs and their emotional representations to the human mind), which is personified by Anna (Gunnel Lindblom), soul of the human self (the soul of holistic personality which reacts on various aspect of human and non-human environment), which is personified by Ester (Ingrid Thulin), and the childish soul (soul psychologically growing on the subject’s identifications with human objects), which is personified by the pre-adolescent boy Johan. In interaction between these three personages the viewers get the picture of how human individuals and societies can repeat (project themselves/itself into the world and into the future) and modify (change or distort themselves/itself by acting in the world and preparing to act in the future) for the better or the worse.
21st century needs Bergman’s cinema even more than the 20th century did. We personally know many people who are not able to watch “The Silence” for more than several minutes. This inability to follow Bergman’s thinking and cinematic language is an indicator of the success of commercial (entertaining) movies occupying the human psyche as did long ago Fernando Cortez’ occupation forces which used Christmas tree-like ornamental trinkets – to conquer the awkward but authentic native cultures of American archipelagos.
In comparison with what Ester is confronting in this moment, her sister (Anna, Gunnel Lindblom) and Johan are like little innocent creatures inside the womb of mindless living, when we feel safe from the intrusion of alien powers from outside of our lives.
Anna’s anonymous sexual partner (Birger Malmsten) is, probably, went through terrible experiences during the war and in no way is “scapegoated” by Ester or Bergman for “intervening into and disturbing” the life of the family. Nobody can reproach him personally for desperately needing consolation for his psychological traumas.
Anna and Johan – what more can a mother do for her child, except being nearby, with her maternal generosity. But even her overwhelming emotional power is not enough for Johan – Ester’s presence with her ascetic intellectual aura is necessary as well for furthering Johan’s development.
Posted om May 26, 2016 – Ingmar Bergman’s “The Silence” (1963) – Silence of the Human Soul and Noise of Technology Versus Meaningful Communication: The Last Part of Bergman’s Religious Trilogy (“Through Glass Darkly” – 1960, “Winter Light” – 1961-1962, And “The Silence” – 1962) by Acting-Out Politics
07 Jun 2016
Mass-cultural Americans are by no means identical with scientific Americans, but they are not necessarily on opposite poles. An Astro-physicist or elemental-particles specialist can simultaneously be mass-cultural person, if s/he doesn’t make a use of humanistic education to permanently bridge professional interests with human and societal life. Mass-cultural Americans do not read scholarly books and either form their opinions through political and ideological propaganda speeches (by people who talk in slang of pre-scholarly subjective common-sense impregnated by passionate and dogmatically structured emotions), or intellectually ignore a whole area of societal life while living their life of work and rest.
Mass-cultural Americans’ heart/soul is formed by their identification with stars of various ready-made skies – religious leaders and preachers, rock-musicians, movie-screen heroes, athletic career achievers and, of course, the bill-mills (billionaires-millionaires). For them the world is addressed by manipulation through working tools and exact formulas, and their practical or techno-scientific professions are about how to “train” nature, world and life to satisfy “human needs”. Mass-cultural Americans can be technical scientists or local workers – they are taught to deal with nature, world or other humans through instrumental actions.
Intense mass-culturization of the American soul started with post-WWII intensification of democratic and anti-militaristic moods among Americans. But this post-war anti-war cheer had substantial semantic limitations – the understanding of war was too emotional, too childishly impatient – it is, as if, democratic pulsation in the country was a matter of sunny air on the street, not of concrete people’s thinking. It looked that the trees and shrubs with their leaves and flowers were participating in a diffused enthusiasm, and a dense smell of money-investments into the peaceful democratic future joined the fiesta. It was a feeling that we had enough death, enough murders and enough destruction and human suffering as a result – that from now on it is time for life, for making a living, not war, for making love. But love is always ignorant about death, it doesn’t want to know about competitive connotations of love, the violent undercurrents inside sex, unconscious manipulative overtones in the beloveds’ treatment of one another. Because of hellishly difficult conditions of survival throughout the history, human psyche is prone to view alternative to war not as responsible life of reasonable moderation, but as a greedy consummation of living – as a life of excesses, of consuming pleasures, which we, who survived those millions who didn’t, as if, had a right to enjoy “for them”. This excess in how alive understand living after war became the nucleus of a perverted perception of what peaceful life should be about. The young people, especially from liberal families, started to build their own world on the American soil – this world was a mass culture – mass art, where the young people were the creators and performers. They did art for their peers, they didn’t care how the elder generation will take their creative twittering.
The most obvious miracle of mass culture – consumerism, entertainment and peer orientation, was that financiers from the elder generation started to financially back it up. The preadolescent children join the happiness, and their parents readily picked up the bills. From the Beatles’ innocent smiles to the microphone, to Michael Jackson famous crotch-touching dance (asserting/proclaiming children’s inalienable right for masturbation) – youthful musical self-realization was rolling like a snow ball hit. Very quickly the prosperous youthful optimism became maniacal consumerism, not wellbeing but sweaty excesses, drug abuse, sexual revolution instead of development of the ability to love the world and other humans, psychological gluttony as a way of life. A new arrogance became part of the mass-cultural ethos, a new megalomania based on pride of consumerist plenitude as a life style – as prove of our advantage as Americans over other nations. Economic globalism joined mass culture, and soon the military-industrial complex became again the central part of the American miracle. Mass culture became a new recruiting tool for new mobilization of competitive and belligerent energies, and entertainment became the confirmation of new American exceptionalism. Hollywood and rock-music become the sub-cultural highway to economic and military globalism.
Technology for mass-cultural Americans (MCAs) today is like Communism was for the Soviets, like belief in ideology of racial superiority was for the German Nazis. MCAs look at technological toys like the Soviets looked at Communist happiness and like German Nazis – at the idea of their domination over the world. MCAs believe that their military technology will dissipate their “envious enemies”, like Soviets believed that they will be saved from the “world of evil” by the super-wisdom of Communism, like German Nazis expected to beat other nations by their racial exceptionalism. Mass culture combined with the ideology of money omnipotence has become radical tool of corrupting the young American’s souls, the fundamental justification for overcoming humility and the need to learn how to treat dissimilar people as equally human.
Now, the American neocon decision makers, while exterminatingly hating the drug-takers and addicts and feeling panic in front of the sexual revolution and feminism, use these “vices” as indicators of superiority of democracy over other countries in their propaganda of “our” exceptional right to subdue and control them. They accept “gay rights” as soon as gays yearn to serve in the military, law enforcement and surveillance apparatus, and they will accept “gay marriages” as longs as gay-spouses are among neocon voters and political activists.
Entertainment forms of thinking about life in society became solid structure inside the brains of the young people who react on the world according to James Bond movies. Humanistic sciences or liberal arts are in a process of being destroyed through limited and non-financing. Psychology and sociology, for example, became disciplines analyzing human beings and behavior without any connection with conditions of life. Without humanistic knowledge and natural proclivity to try to understand human life and destiny, people are losing the ability to be critical – silent adaptation to what decision-makers expect and encourage becomes the only possibility for human beings to continue to live – without existential intelligence.
Mass-culture (or – mass sub-culture) becomes a complex tool for marginalizing and destroying humanistic (scholarly) thinking, and promotes a “thinking” identifying with irrational human complexes and childish-toyish imagination. From childhood we are impregnated with animation cartoon’s depictions of innocent and “funny” violence – when the characters are so violently abused, that according to existential logic they should die, but unexpectedly and victoriously survive. Without this existential experience of watching innocently belligerent cartoons, the American military posture in the world today or relying on privately owned high-tech guns in everyday life could never exist with such a naturalness and a matter-of-factness, as we see it in the 21st century. Violent videogames prepare the population for new wars (when death is as instant as breath, and as much expected as not taken seriously).
01 Jun 2016
Ernst often used fragments of birdcages in the collages that he produced in the mid-1960s Jose Maria Faerna (Ed.), “Max Ernst”, Harry N. Abrams Publ., p. 56
Pre-democratic – proto- or true totalitarian systems kept the mass people (ignoramuses) in, metaphorically speaking, birdcages – so they couldn’t express their genuine opinion about their lives in any other way besides to their spouses – over meagre meals (after some alcohol made holes in their mental shells of fear) or during the night (between blurry episodes of sexual delirium). But Western democracies with pompous solemnity, under the velvety banners of free speech (which supposed to promote democratic justice and equality in the middle of crude money-making) broke the birdcages for ignoramuses and transformed the broken pieces into equipment for athletic exercises and mass aesthetic gusto. It is this important moment in the development of democratic potentials of humankind that Ernst, it seems, is immortalized in his “The Great Ignoramus”. Plain ignoramus became “the great ignoramus” – liberated into free market, free choice sexuality, free choice of your own gender, encouraged and celebrated consumerism, available dope, etc.
In Ernst’s collage you see great ignoramus right in the center, in a process of being liberated – full of curiosity about what democracy will pluralistically provide for him – computers, high-tech guitars, Hollywood blockbusters, high-tech weapons, videogames, cell phones, cheap artificial food, global warming (enveloping human worming) that soon will give great ignoramus chance to walk in shorts whole year even in North and South Poles, and other pleasures. What we have here is the difference between homo-ignoramus and homo-great ignoramus. Homo-ignoramus was a type of a bird, but homo-great ignoramus is the embryo inside the colossal egg of unimaginable super-high-tech future of democracy. The wizardry wisdom here is obvious – better to be the embryo in democracy than a bird in pre-democracy.
Suspended in the brine of hydrogenated blood – consumerism and entertainment – especially created for the growing post-human embryos, the great ignoramus is full of precocious optimistic pride about the future super-high-tech paradise on earth – for the great ignoramuses. He is already full of intuitive, not pre-verbal but post-verbal dreams and questions. And he expects to get answers in a form of super-goods, super-fun, super-food and super-services for future super-prosperity, super-targets for target practice and toys for adults – playing at living.
Over the great ignoramus we see a giant tag for his future code name – he is part of the elite of the future. It is for him and his peers our Founding Fathers spent sleepless nights trying to invent the best political system in the world.
After years of depicting the post-WWI and pre-WWII monstrous barbarians, Ernst, following the historical development of modern societies – shifted to a representation of robotized/dehumanized (and looking much less frightening) innocent monsters of a consumer society, a kind of hybrids between Herbert Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi. This very hybridization of rich and poor, top and bottom, is, it seems, Ernst’s parody on today’s democratic equality.
26 May 2016
The silence of human soul as a political problem is the last version of and, at the same time, a radical shift from the issue of the “silence of God”, which Bergman developed earlier in his “religious trilogy”. The silence of the human soul includes speech without (existentially spiritual) meaning – ideological propaganda, commercial ads, everyday life clichés and (nonsensical) commonsense “wisdoms”. Speech without meaning as a component of “silence” is present in the film in endless “pantomimes” of prosaic life – army officers in the train, people on the street, customers in overfilled bar, day- and night-workers.
We’re not saved by God, but by love. That’s the most we can hope for… Each film of the Trilogy has its moment of contact, of human communication: the line “Father spoke to me,” at the end of “Through a Glass Darkly; the pastor conducting a service in empty church for Martha at the end of “Winter Light”; the little boy reading Ester’s letter on the train at the end of “The Silence”. A tiny moment in each film – but crucial one. What matters most of all in life is being able to make that contact with another human being. Otherwise you are dead, like so many people today. But if you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be – and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult – then you are saved.
Ingmar Bergman (quoted in Paisley Livingston, “Ingmar Bergman and the Rituals of Art”), Cornell University Press, 1982, p. 253
Following the première in September 1963 the press was full of headlines such as ‘Moral outrage’ and ‘Indignation and abhorrence for Bergman film’. The Christian magazine Dagen was especially harsh in its censure, and even though none of its staff had seen the film, they had declare that the film not only showed scenes of intimacy, but also ‘other abominations, such as a girl’s self-abuse’. Pastor John Hedlund summed up their feelings: ‘If Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, however artistic that may be, he is still Satan nonetheless’.
I have never denied my second (or first) life, that of the spirit.
Ingmar Bergman, I. Bergman, “The Magic Lantern (An Autobiography)”, Penguin, 1988, p. 204
Bergman and Johan’s future
Bergman is making a point to Johan that the world of military technology (here – tanks transported by the cargo trains into places of their use) are toys of childish imagination which adult people take seriously because they are not able to live with (spiritual) seriousness. Bergman is trying to make Johan psychologically stronger than the technological phantoms of human irrational fears.
Lilliputians in the film as personification of the condition of males involved in war, but also of the artistic ability to personify them critically
Lilliputians in the film belong to a wandering troupe of circus artists performing in Variety Theater near hotel. In their numbers we see unambiguous albeit veiled satire on war-making. Here, in their hotel-room they’re entertaining themselves and their unexpected guest – Johan.
War stimulates blind and maniacal sexuality
Suddenly understanding what she semi-consciously was looking for – causal amorous partner, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) went to the bar on the corner, where she was quickly “discovered” by the man looking like soldier in spite of his civil clothes. Pay attention to the marks on her anonymous partner’s shoulder.
Hotel room service attendant (Hakan Jahnberg) personifies in the film the ennobling influence of human mortality on those who are spiritually sensitive to life
War as everyday life
Human soul and sexual nucleus of body-ness
Bergman in “The Silence” shocked the audiences by depicting a masturbatory act (performed by one of the world cinema the most serious actress Ingrid Thulin) not just matter-of-factly but with reverie.
To make an orgasm by the “trivial vice” a part of life of a person whom Bergman depicts as role model, is more than just violation of philistine’s etiquette. Bergman and Ingrid Thulin were able to challenge the international public opinion influenced by bad faith, conformism and fake chastity.
Hotel room steward, Ester
His facial expression is that of a person who is in between his life and his death, who is in an existential – not religious “purgatory”. He is not tired of his life and he is not afraid of dying. He is suspended in nowhere-land – in a pure self-contemplation, pure perception of his own memories and knowledge.
Ester, on the other hand, questions over and over her approaching death. She belongs to what she understands as her obligations before people, as her mission, and she could prefer to postpone the inevitable, not for the sake of herself, but in order to finish what she lives for – helping people to understand ideological and political lies. Her illness fuels her passionate, rebellious nature and makes her more idealistic. She is a martyr of spiritual humanism, a personification of a not yet existing – wise humanity.
Ester with her dedication to world culture
Ester’s life is thoroughly devoted to her analytic reading and thinking about life and the world, and to caring about her sister and nephew Johan. She needs to keep her illness under control to continue to train her ability to explain to people the existential traps and the necessity of carry on with cognitive enlightenment. Ester tries to distract Anna from wasting her life on casual and empty affairs and especially gently – to weaken intensity of bodily symbiosis between Anna and Johan in order to stimulate in Johan the development of his soul and mind out of swooning identification with his mother. Adult males are either in wars of domination or in business of profit at all cost, and these wasteful obsessions distract them from being able to help their children to overcome intellectual conformism and blind rivalry.
Ester is smoking because of identification with her father who is no longer alive and who in the film is a metaphoric personification of God-father. She is drinking to be maximally alert until she is still alive.
Ester has her own euphoric moments for which she is paying dearly with her rapidly nearing death. She is a little overstimulates the importance of her soul. And her illness is made worse by her mental overstimulation. Her body is dying partially because her soul is over-active and over-passionate. She, as if, sacrifices her survival to her cognition.
Ester understands that her time with Anna and Johan is ending, and she doesn’t want to burden them with her unanswered expectations, closing hopes and unleashed dreams. This shot is registering the moment when Ester, as if, saying good bye to the quietly and innocently sleeping mother and son, her sister and nephew.
Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) and her casual lover (Birger Malmsten), feel in a way, as if, their relations were under siege. Who can reproach them for simply wanting to live even in the very middle of death/war, even though their understanding of living follows the most conformist and standard behavioral scenario?
Escapist and consumptive sex felt natural and easy, but its unconscious intention is not quick pleasure but the necessity to neutralize the hard work of human survival during war or any hard times. The meaninglessness of surviving a meaningless war can only be compensated by a meaningless sexuality. So, after indulgence you have nasty feelings coloring your relations with people.
Human body which Anna personifies in the film (more exactly, the body-ego, not in a conventional sense, rather – the body’s soul), has its own logic and its own will, but human soul (personified by Ester) as an independent psychological agency has more sophisticated logic and much more wisdom. Ester is not accusing Anna in anything, and is only trying to justify her position that it’s necessary to be less impulsive and less egocentric, and more disinterested in our decisions.
Like Ester is “crucified” by agonies of her illness for her disagreement with a world oriented on, simultaneously, killing and mindless survival, on rivalry, competition and fight/wars, Anna is “crucified” on her bed of passionate sexuality.
Johan, Johan and Anna
Lost while wandering through endless corridors of the anonymous hotel, Johan is confused by the fact that opposite directions which Bergman made the directions of Johan’s destiny, both refer to a future which not Anna but Ester has in mind for Johan – not a path to a blind (non-reflective) behavior (which inevitably leads to clash, fight and wars), but the one to a world culture and collaboration and tolerance and love for otherness.
Johan’s future which his mother cannot question or even contemplate while his aunt is terrified about, is represented by Bergman by what Johan sees through the window of the train – tanks transported to the place of the battles.
Johan and Ester
Johan’s factual life is to be locked between his mother and his aunt, between body and the soul, between sensations and contemplations, feelings and existential, not technical thinking, between rewarding heteronomy and anarchic autonomy
Johan is saying good bye to Ester. He, probably, will never see her again. But is this farewell forever or just situation? Aren’t the most important realities happening inside us and the most important relationships continue to influence us long after their factual end?
Ester and Anna (Dualism of Soul and Body)
Inevitable separation between Ester and Anna is the logical non-identity between thinking and feeling, emotions and cognition – between feelings growing into thinking, and feelings as limit of themselves
“Silence” as the absence of a culture of interpersonal confession is the basic existential metaphor of the film, the absence of communion between human souls as a condition of today’s world. The “silence” as a condemnation of human beings and communities dominates existential climate when people exchange either about what is not too important for them or, when it is important, it’s understood by them only instrumentally or through polished sticky clichés (when either shy hints or slang express/hide the real problems about life which people then left buried inside themselves). “Silence” thrives when too much noise exists – industrial, pop-musical, everyday life, of anonymous crowds, of shouts and screams, of roar of military technology. These types of noise are the symptoms of the silence of human souls.
Who are the three key characters in the film, Ester, her sister Anna and Anna’s pre-adolescent son Johan, crossing Europe during war on a train and get stuck in an anonymous city at a hotel when Ester’s illness takes a turn for worse? They are the personifications of the basic archetypes of human existence – Anna personifies the bodily self, our bodily drives and prejudices, the immanent spirituality of our body-ness and, at the same time the limitations of carnal way of perception of the world, then Ester personifies the soul’s self, soul’s needs and its conscious and unconscious in a particular historical moment of Western civilization, when after “death of God” human beings try to take charge of their life inside the parameters of secularized culture. This Western soul at the end of the 20th century (and the beginning of the next century) is as oversensitive and in most situations superfluous as it is feverish and powerless, as demanding as it’s doomed and agonizing and unable to enlighten its less mature – bodily sister. Our time, Bergman seems to be saying, is a time of decline and, may be, eclipse of the soul, but the one with hope for its recovery in future generations. It is, as if, the old soul is dying without god (without belief in god), but a new soul, completely existential (without theological prostheses) is trying to be born. The potential for harmony between soul and body, for the spiritually existential perception of the world is personified by the little Johan. And at this moment of history Johan, it seems, has to choose between his mother (body’s self) and his aunt (soul’s self) – between the neo-pagan and the post-religiously spiritual orientation. He has to eventually be able to grow away from the silence of bodily (physical and emotional) complicity with wars and soulless industrialization/technologiization, with mass culture of artificial (maniacally obsessive) pleasures and with blind sex, and to choose communion between dissimilar human beings. Johan’s communication with Ester is based on sublimated ways: reading to her, drawing for her, putting a puppet show for her, reading a letter she wrote for him, listening explanations from her containing his worries and clearing the mysterious and intimidating world of adults, etc. Johan, according to Ester, has, in his development, to take a direction on democratic (pluralistically oriented) humanism, not on the blissful swooning of bodily and emotional symbiosis’ blind yearnings.
One of the most daring aspects of Bergman’s film is the depiction of Ester’s lesbian desire for Anna not only as sexual and spiritual but as a moral position – result of her basic revulsion for the condition of the world, created by men and men’s territorial fights, hierarchical rivalries and reproductive reflexes as function of their self-assertion and self-expansion (Walter J. Ong, “Fighting for Life [Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness]”, Cornell Univ. Press, 1981). Bergman, seems, to be saying here that personal love as a completely human experience has to interact with the otherness of the bellowed person. The affair between Anna and her anonymous partner (Birger Malmsten) is another side of war (sexual equivalent of war), a regressively impersonalizing condition of life, which leads to aggressive assertion of the body at a price of denial of human soul’s needs.
“The Silence” is the third and the last part of Bergman’s “religious trilogy”, where Bergman addresses the life of the human psyche after the “death of god” – after the belief in the existence of “Heaven” as a basis of human life became flattened and marginalized. If in “Winter Light” the “death of god” is still interpreted as a “silence of god” (withdrawal of god, humans being abandoned by god), in “The Silence” the issue is human ability or inability to live with one another without theological mediation (which is “too thick” ontologically to promote human concentration on how to treat other human beings). In “The Silence” the silence is already not that of God’s (as a result of his “death”), but the future of human beings and human societal life – of human souls and bodies vis-à-vis other human souls and bodies.
The basic metaphors of the film represent the anatomy of modern life in its present condition: cargo trains with military equipment, passenger train with its cabins and corridors, monstrous “landscapes” of endless trucks – the tragic parody on Western civilization’s economic and military nomadism with a connotation of globalist intentionality; the anonymous hotel (where Ester, Anna and Johan temporarily stay); relationship between sisters after death of their father; Johan‘ relationship with his mother and, on the other hand, with his aunt; Anna’s way of life with her bodily rooted needs and moods, her sexual desires and her primordial bond with her son; Ester’s way of life with dedication to the meaning of human existence, her work as a translator of books, her drinking to alleviate the paroxysms of her illness, her smoking (sign of her identification with her father), her moments of contemplating about life and death, her communications with hotel room steward, her interest in serious music, her masturbation, etc.; Anna’s voyeuristic, exhibitionistic and sexual obsessions and her fights with Ester which meant to assert her freedom of sexual self-expression; Ester’s suffering because of Anna’s “moral weakness”; anonymous crowds oriented on survival, consumption of entertainment and military fight; hotel’s porter (Hakan Jahnberg) personifying the spirit of Bertrand Russel, and his relations with Ester and with Johan; the condition of typical male in Western societies as it is represented by the group of dwarf clowns and their “message” to Johan; Bach’s music as a drop of emotional spirituality in a world of silence – of total conformism and predatoriness; separation of Anna and Ester (of body-self and soul’s self of the modern psyche); separation of Johan and Ester (as a precondition of their ongoing relationship, their spiritual rapport); Ester’s letter to Johan as a Derridian trace and a message of hope.
The waiter at the restaurant (Anna’s casual lover) and the hotel porter (Ester’s caretaker and Johan’s friend) are two exceptionally important and semantically symmetrical characters in the film. The first is everybody – he is a typical European, American, Russian or Eastern living in toughest of times and trying to adapt and survive by any price. The hotel porter, on the other hand, is blessed by humility and contemplative ability. Bergman makes him even physically resemble Bertrand Russel to emphasize the existential overtones of Russell’s philosophy – sobriety of anti-dogmatic wisdom, rationalism with a courage to live without surrendering to obsessive panaceas and thinking without or at least with minimum of illusions. “For Russell rational thought is not the quest for certainty” (Erich Fromm, “On Disobedience”, Seaburry, 1981, p. 53). The porter’s “mini-pantomime of human destiny” in front of little Johan reminds us the “dance of human destiny” (performed by Antoine – Jean Rochefort, in front of the little client of his wife-hairdresser) in Patrice Leconte’s “Hairdresser’s husband” (made in 1990, many years after “The Silence”).
The separation of Johan and Ester at the end of the film, when Anna leaves sick Ester and takes Johan with herself, is not necessarily making the film “pessimistic”. With the fact that the mother, naturally, occupies the center of Johan’s world and Ester is just of a marginalized importance, her influence can be stronger than that of plenitude of Anna’s overwhelming physical availability. The tendencies which dominate also disseminate themselves, but a trace of the alternative can be stable and self-accumulating. “For presence to function… it must have the qualities that supposedly belong to its opposite, absence… Instead of defining absence in terms of presence, as its negation, we can treat presence as the effect of absence or as…difference.” (Jonathan Culler, “On Deconstruction [Theory and Criticism after Structuralism]”, Cornell Univ. Press, 1985, p. 95). Ester who in Johan’s experience and perception constitutes herself as a subject “divided from herself… in deferral” (Jacques Derrida, “Positions”, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982, p. 29), can eventually become more important than Anna – as meaning, as a motto, as the dead father in Kenji Mizogucci’s “Sansho the Bailiff” (1954), who is able to radically influence his two children’s behavior long after his departure.
It is significant not only that Ester communicates with Johan through letter to him, but also that this letter is written on a solid, thick piece of paper – her being is incarnated not just in her symbolic message but in the very materiality of writing as a medium. In this sense her advice to Johan is not only to study foreign languages – to be able to dissipate the silence between people’s souls and to understand human dissimilarity, but to study the very human ability for written languages. Ester’s text doesn’t include, of course, any obvious advice and, god forbid, any trace of didacticism. It is “a speech produced without least violence… Nonviolent language would be a language without the verb to be, that is, without predication. It would be language of pure invocation…proffering only proper nouns in order to call to the other from afar.” (Jacques Derrida, “Writing and Difference”, Univ of Chicago press, 1978, p. 147). Non-violent code of communication as a model of communion is Ester’s precept to Johan.
Johan received secularly spiritual blessings – from his mother, from the old porter, from dwarfs-performers, and from Ester. They are – bliss of physical unity with another body, the message of the inevitability of aging and losing the loved ones, of loneliness and death, the message of spiritual androgyny as an alternative (to the belligerency and consumerism) model of human life and development, and the necessity for a non-violent, sublime communication with other people.
Posted on June 9, 2016 – “The Silence” by Ingmar Bergman (1963) by Acting-Out Politics
14 May 2016
In “Bless…” Kramer takes a very risky stance as a film director (who needs a solid financial backing) – he offers to the viewers a choice – either to identify with the characters who are similar with them – with the adults of this world, or betray themselves and identify with… the children in a difficult – adolescent age, when our sons and daughters are prone to target their parents with unjustified, from our, adults’, point of view, criticism.
We inherit human past which is full of unsolvable and nasty contradictions, which is very difficult to accept as inevitable (as between generations – between politico-economic system, created by the elder generation and its offshoots) and which create permanently renewed wound of human civilization. Fathers repressed, manipulated and seduced their sons by (fraudulent) ideologies where religious and secular elements were enriching one another. In the wealthy families the military service was an honorable destiny often culminating in courageous death on the battlefield. Even more disastrous was the destiny of the sons from the poor families – they were sacrificed for the gloriously aggrandized personalities of various super-stars – kings, dukes, emperors, generals etc., for the sake of the glorious images of the “our sacred lands”, “our sacred worldview”, or in the name of our collective narcissism’s sensitivity. Kramer’s film represents today’s version of contradiction between the elder and younger generation as between the American parents and the officials at the summer camp for boys on the one side, and boys at the camp who instead of dreaming about and training themselves for building their personal social and financial power and instead of consuming violent video-games and pop-music want to love nature and human beings and contemplate about and understand better human and societal life in the world.
Kramer’s “Bless…” emphasizes that “democracy”, unfortunately, is not alien to the global tradition of sacrificing young people by the war- and money-making decisions of elder males in charge of life. But Kramer is addressing not so much the physical danger of being a young person in a modern society, but the destruction of their souls through repression of their moral idealism which is a precious feature of the young minds and souls. Of course, youthful idealism of a “diffused” love for humanity and the world is always “childish” – “extreme” and “utopian”. To help it develop into a mature and nuanced moral stance it is necessary to create a sophisticated pedagogy, but, as Kramer depicts the social climate in his film, the very necessity to fight for a place in the social hierarchy and for financial success, the situation of modern family when both parents are busy working and the circumstances of children’s education where teachers are more and more reduced to the role of drill masters preparing the schoolkids for tests, make it practically impossible to address the children and the youth’s need to develop their souls, humanity and ontological (as opposite to social) confidence. We see that the officials of the summer camp are only interested in teaching kids competition, machoism and conformism. There is no place in our education today for developing taste for truth as such, if it’s not a technical-scientific one, but truth in the context of life.
The young heroes of the film resist behavioral and mental standardization, rivalrous posture and common identity. In our concept of education – obsession with calculation of one’s personal success is combined with the absence of emotional – democratic individualism. But the young heroes of the film fight for their idealistic moral utopia – liberation of the buffaloes from being slaughtered for the pleasure of those obsessed with guns and killing. They try to liberate themselves from competitive and fighting orientation, for the sake of friendship and care about the world and people.
The film depicts a permanent uneven psychological fight between kids and adults attempting to make from boys cowboys, and it is in tune with awakening of the American people to the necessity of protecting nature from corporate predatoriness and insensitivity to the world. The acting of adult actors and the children is balanced between the style of documentary and fiction films and, simultaneously, expressive and non-sentimental, and always essential, not situational. Kramer’s film becomes more and more exceptional work of art amidst commercially dedicated movies projecting into the audience the movie-makers’ obsession with shocks provided by violent gimmicks, and stimulating in viewers emotional non-sensitivity and cognitive stagnation.
The children in the film have an internal world while adults just react on circumstances which they then try to use for gaining advantage over the situations.
Posted on 4/18/’16 – Stanley Kramer’s “Bless the Beasts and Children” (1971) – Even Adolescent Idealistic Existential Utopia Is a Moral Dream Which Deserves Pedagogical Nurturing And Forming by Acting-Out Politics