The Compleat Ingmar #16: The Passion of Anna (1969)

Okay, he’s pulled it off: I’ve finally got to a film on my Bergman odyssey that has left me entirely non-plussed: The Passion of Anna. Obviously there are elements here that I recognise and that I have an idea what to do with: we have the old Bergman staples, shame, despair, marital unhappiness, infidelity, as well as the stock characters, male cynics who only see senselessness and react with an aloofness that makes you want to slap them, women who in turn cling on to a belief in something real and pure in the face of shallow existentialism under the guise of worldly intellectualism. The faces, too, are very familiar – Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson – as is even the landscape, Bergman’s beloved island of Fårö.

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Headspace Oddity: I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)

I sometimes wonder: does Charlie Kaufman actually believe that anyone outside his mind is real? His main characters definitely seem to have their doubts. At times they seem to think that they’re the only real people in the world – and they’re not even sure of that. These characters also tend to b the Charlie Kaufman stand-ins in the films, the solipsistic, self-doubting sad sacks struggling with a distinct sense of unreality. If you need others to affirm that you exist, yet you’re not sure that they do, not really? Well, you’re in a bit of a pickle.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #36: Marilyn Monroe – The Icon, the Movies, the Legacy

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e32020 being the year in which you make plans only to see them dissolve, we originally had a different topic and guest planned for the September episode – but Robert Burns had it right after all… which means we took the opportunity to bring back Alan and talk about one of the greatest icons of Hollywood cinema: Marilyn Monroe. Join us in a trip through Marilyn’s filmography, as we wonder what could have become of the actress if her life hadn’t cut tragically short.

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Lost in Winden: Dark (2017 – 2020)

I don’t like being a snob about pop culture. I don’t like pooh-poohing films or TV series, books, comics or video games, that others seem to love. I generally try to find things to appreciate in most media I consume, and if others like them but I don’t, I try to put that down to personal taste. Sometimes, however, I look at what others say about a piece of pop culture and I simply don’t get it. I cannot reconcile what they say about it with the thing itself. It’s almost as if they watched, read or played something entirely different from me.

Dark isn’t entirely like this for me. There are things I genuinely appreciated in the German mystery series. I recognise some of my own reactions in those of others, but the longer Dark went on, the less I felt I could appreciate the things it was good at or ignore what I thought was decidedly less good. Undoubtedly, the makers of Dark are skilled stylists and the series excels at mood and atmosphere, especially in its first season – but then I read articles that call Dark smart, by people who pat themselves on the shoulder for enjoying such a smart, smart series, and my eyes roll in their sockets so much that all I see is blotchy, shapeless darkness.

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The Rear-View Mirror: Takashi Shimura (1905)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When people think of Akira Kurosawa, many of them will think of samurai fighting first and foremost, and the face that they will think of most likely is that of Toshiro Mifune. It’s no surprise – Mifune was an actor of tremendous charisma, he had a crackling, mercurial quality that makes it difficult for the audience to take their eyes off him.

Mifune and Kurosawa were frequent collaborators, making sixteen films together. Which sounds like a lot – but Mifune wasn’t the actor that Kurosawa worked with most often. That honour goes to Takashi Shimura (1905-1982), who co-starred with Mifune in Seven Samurai. Mifune’s character and acting were more immediately noticeable, but Shimura and his character Kambei were as key to the film’s success.

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Anyone you can be, I can be better: All About Eve and The Talented Mr Ripley

I must have seen All About Eve at least half a dozen times so far. Its writing retains the sharp wit it had when I first saw it, its performances still shine: Bette Davis is perfect as Margo Channing and delivers Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ lines with relish, but the rest of the ensemble, just as central to the success of the film, is also top-notch. As a piece of filmmaking, All About Eve may not be as audacious as its contemporary Sunset Boulevard, Billy Wilder’s 1950 caustic tale of an ageing actress, but its appeal has not diminished. I had the opportunity to see it again a few days ago – while cinemas are open again in these parts, you’re more likely to find them showing older films rather than new releases – and it remains a delight.

It has taken me these half a dozen viewings, however, to come to the realisation that All About Eve shares some striking similarities to Patricia Highsmith’s thriller The Talented Mr Ripley (and, to a lesser extent, the film versions made of Highsmith’s novel) and that the title characters of the two works can be seen as mirror images of each other.

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The Rear-View Mirror: James Stewart (1908)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

When I think of James Stewart, I think of his everyman persona, not too dissimilar to that of, say, Tom Hanks. I think of him as the perennial regular Joe, the guy next door. A decent man. Exasperated, perhaps, but fundamentally good. So it always comes as something of a surprise when I watch one of his films – Vertigo, obviously, but even Frank Capra’s Christmas evergreen It’s a Wonderful Life – and find something more interesting, more complicated.

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The Compleat Ingmar #15: Shame (1968)

The cliché of an Ingmar Bergman film seems to be that of a melancholy, existentialist treatise on the meaninglessness of life and of relationships, most likely in black and white. You know the kind of thing: people standing at the beach, being depressed. I’ve said so before, but that’s not the Bergman I’ve found, even in films such as The Seventh Seal, and most definitely not in Fanny and Alexander (both of these are yet to come in our journey through Criterion’s amazing box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema). Look at something like Scenes from a Marriage and alongside the acrimony, emotional cruelty and existential despair that doubtlessly fuel the conflict between Marianne and Johan, you’ll definitely also find warmth, humaneness and humour.

I rather wish there had been more of the latter in Shame, a film that, while recognisably Bergman in its concerns – and obviously in its cast -, reminded me of Michael Haneke in its relentless grimness. It is perhaps telling that one of the rare scenes where the film displays a sense of humour shows one of its characters to be such a bad shot that he fails to kill a chicken that’s barely half a metre in front of him.

By the end of the film, the chickens have lost their lives nonetheless and that character has become both able and more than willing to use his gun on a human being.

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A Damn Fine Cup of Culture Podcast #35: Soderbergh’s Schizopolis, Schizopolis’ Soderbergh

d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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d1ad56da-abce-4afe-9f45-79294aede9e3For our August episode, we welcome special guest Daniel Thron (of Martini Giant) to talk about what may be the least-watched film of Steven Soderbergh’s directing career: Schizopolis. How does this surreal, experimentalist and often downright silly comedy about doppelgängers, lifestyle cults and failures to communicate fit in the director’s oeuvre? How does Schizopolis point the way to Soderbergh’s later career? And how do Netflix, COVID-19 and TikTok come into the conversation?

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