Pollard, film critic

Stephen Pollard isn’t just an expert on cycling (“the team element is missing”, etc.). He also has sophisticated opinions on postwar European cinema. Here he is, for example, discussing the films of Ingmar Bergman. It’s already been labelled “the dumbest thing I’ve ever read” by one of the cinéphiles over at the Criterion Forum.

I should say that I’ve not seen much Bergman: Wild Strawberries once upon a time, and lengthy snippets of The Seventh Seal. So it’s just, just possible that I might agree with Pollard were I to see the rest of the oeuvre (which I’d like to do). But given that he lumps Bergman in with James Joyce and Harrison Birtwistle — my favourite novelist and one of my favourite living composers respectively — somehow I doubt that he and I are going to end up seeing eye to eye on this one, as on so much else. [Yo, bro.]

UPDATE, UPDATE: The same brother reminds me I’ve also seen Bergman’s Magic Flute (and it’s stupid of me to forget this, as I’ve got the DVD at home), which is just fantastic. And it probably has the best Pantomime Walrus in cinema history. YouTube clips over here, though I’m not sure they’ve got the PW in there.

2d UPDATE: And here he is, the darling:

[images nicked from over here]

18 thoughts on “Pollard, film critic”

  1. which is just fantastic

    Yes, yes it is. Probably the single most important element in arousing my interest in opera. Absolutely fantastic. I’d never knowingly heard a note of the opera before watching the film, never been to an opera, never heard one. Changed everything.

  2. Yes. One of the things, I think, which is so impressive about The Magic Flute is that as a musical performance, it’s not that good, and yet the whole film is utterly captivating. It’s a wonderful reminder that good opera can be about so much more than just terrific singing — and as long as all the different elements are good enough, well, put it all together in the hands of someone like Bergman and the result is magnificent.

    I’m delighted to hear it turned you on to opera; I’d been an opera enthusiast for years before I saw Magic Flute, though I’m not sure I knew that opera at all beforehand. And then I think the next version I saw was a stage production in English in Melbourne, and after that a stage production in Czech in Prague, and eventually I bought myself the German original on CD, which I still have. But I thought it worked well in all of those languages (expert on Slavic and Scandinavian languages that I am, oh yes).

  3. It’s well worth pointing out that even if Bergman had never made a film his position as one of the great theatre directors of the past century would be pretty rock-solid.

    Apparently the two Swedish documentaries that BBC4 showed (unnervingly presciently) a fortnight or so ago were originally a set of three, but the third was entirely about his theatre work and the Arena head honcho apparently decided that there wouldn’t be enough interest in Britain. Which is a real shame: the programme on Bergman and the cinema was great, but pretty familiar, whereas one on the theatre would have been entirely new to me.

    Still, maybe recent events will lead the BBC to reconsider.

  4. Oh dear — much of an afternoon lost to Bergman’s Magic Flute on Youtube. Many thanks for the link.
    Has anyone seen the recent, Branage version of the Magic Flute, and is it worth tracking down?
    And can we look forward to irregular pantomime walrus blogging to join the cat, beaver and elephant blogging?

  5. I’m not sure what Dave’s getting at – I mentioned School of Rock as an aside in one of my more recent MovieMail pieces, but I think that’s the only time I’ve brought it up it online.

    (I do like the film, as it happens, but it’s not the first thing I’d think of when discussing Bergman!)

  6. I think he’s referring to this comment in the thread at the Times underneath Pollard’s stupid article:

    *** Actually, Justin E.A.Busch, ‘School of Rock’ is very far from being rubbish – it’s one of the very few recent US mainstream comedies that’s genuinely witty and touching, and certainly one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in a cinema this side of 2000 (I saw it as the “surprise film” at the London Film Festival, so was completely unswayed by hype).

    Dare I suggest that you haven’t actually seen it, and merely jumped to conclusions on the basis of the title? And dare I also suggest that this makes you just as guilty of knee-jerk philistine prejudice as Stephen Pollard, whom you otherwise rightly condemn?

    Michael, London ***

  7. Oh right – definitely not me. To be honest, I didn’t even bother reading Pollard’s original piece beyond the first couple of sentences – the link “the dumbest thing I’ve ever read” and the name of the author told me all I needed to know!

  8. Thanks for that – very funny.

    Mind you, Pollard and Podhoretz aren’t the only ones making fools of themselves – a rather surprising colleague of theirs was Jeremy Paxman, who asked a toe-curlingly crass question along the lines of “Bergman wasn’t exactly big box-office, was he?”

    Sadly, although Richard Eyre’s answer was a good one (he pointed out that the producers of the ultra-low-budget The Seventh Seal would hardly have been slitting their wrists over its performance), he could have gone further – because in fact virtually all Bergman’s post-1955 films turned a very healthy profit, and Cries and Whispers was a hit of such unlikely proportions that it was the catalyst for the notorious tax difficulties that forced Bergman to leave Sweden for a few years in the late 1970s.

    Granted, we’re not exactly talking Pirates of the Caribbean, but then again Bergman probably made his entire output for less than the catering budget of one of those films.

  9. Oh, and here’s Simon Heffer’s eulogy:

    Pseuds the world over have had a bad week, with the almost simultaneous deaths of film directors Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. While their families have my deepest condolences, I never saw the merit in either of them. The Seventh Seal I regarded as about six too many and as for Bergman’s alleged masterpiece, Fanny and Alexander, I lost the will to live shortly into the third hour. I recall watching Blow-Up with complete mystification about 30 years ago. Thinking I had been too young and had missed the point, I tried again a few years later: I then realised it had no point. I can do arthouse with the best of them, I hasten to add, but the conspiracy to regard this pair as geniuses is beyond me. Give me Carry On Up The Khyber any day.

    Don’t you just love that “conspiracy”? I suppose I must be part of it myself as a regular contributor to Sight & Sound, but I don’t recall ever being invited to one of the conspirators’ meetings. They’re probably held in the BFI basement after hours, with all sorts of painful initiation rituals for newcomers.

  10. Effectively – after being arrested and publicly charged with tax evasion, he suffered a breakdown as a result of the publicity (it was one of the biggest international scandals to hit Sweden in decades) and declared that he could no longer work in his native country until his name had been cleared.

    Good summary here:

    The worst of his crises came in 1976 when, at the height of his career, he was arrested at the Royal Dramatic Theatre during a rehearsal of Strindberg’s “Dance of Death,” hustled off to a tax office and grilled about an alleged 1971 tax violation, which — after Bergman’s nervous collapse three days later and a public outcry — was dropped by the public prosecutor. Miffed, the tax representatives of Sweden’s Social Democrat welfare state (which Mr. Bergman supported) tried again, focusing on a dubious 1974 case.

    This time, Mr. Bergman responded by announcing his self-exile from Sweden (though he vowed to pay all taxes and penalties) and the closing of his studio, leaving for an unhappy sojourn in Germany. The resulting scandal helped cost the Social Democrats the next election, followed by a 1979 settlement of Bergman’s case in which he paid 7 percent of the original demand and the government was ordered to cover all court costs.

  11. Podhoretz just may be the worst living film critic. If he werent Norman and Midges son, nobody would pay attention to him, or print his garbage. He actually had the affrontery to call The Searchers”leaden”.
    However, in fairness to the folks at NR online, they did carry an excellent piece on Bergman by Dean Thomas Hibbs of Baylors Honors college..so there are a few conservatives left with taste.

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