Film, Media and Music

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Robert Jackson

This article provides an introduction to this special section of James Baldwin Review 7 devoted to Baldwin and film. Jackson considers Baldwin’s distinct approach to film criticism by pairing him with James Agee, another writer who wrote fiction as well as nonfiction in several genres, and who produced a large body of film criticism, especially during the 1940s. While Agee, a white southerner born almost a generation before Baldwin, might seem an unlikely figure to place alongside Baldwin, the two shared a great deal in terms of temperament and vision, and their film writings reveal a great deal of consensus in their diagnoses of American pathologies. Another important context for Baldwin’s complex relationship to film is television, which became a dominant media form during the 1950s and exerted a great influence upon both the mainstream reception of the civil rights movement and Baldwin’s reception as a public intellectual from the early 1960s to the end of his life. Finally, the introduction briefly discusses the articles that constitute this special section.

James Baldwin Review
A Conversation with Bill V. Mullen, the author of James Baldwin: Living in Fire
William J. Maxwell and Bill V. Mullen

William J. Maxwell, editor of James Baldwin: The FBI File (2017), interviews Bill V. Mullen on his 2019 biography, James Baldwin: Living in Fire, along the way touching on both Baldwin’s early internationalism and his relevance to the current wave of racial discord and interracial possibility in the United States.

James Baldwin Review
Terrance Dean

Reading works on Baldwin from 2017 to 2019, the author tracks the significance of Baldwin within the Black Lives Matter movement and our growing need for police reform in conjunction with a revaluation of the lives of racial and ethnic minorities within the oppressive systemic biases of American social and political life.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Justin A. Joyce

Recalling the insurrectionary violence that descended upon the US Capitol on 6 January 2021, reflecting on the baser instincts left unchecked in America by an absence of common communication and a paradigmatic shift in our media apparatuses, Justin A. Joyce introduces the seventh volume of James Baldwin Review.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Begin Again, A Review Essay
Herb Boyd

This review essay examines Eddie Glaude, Jr.’s new book Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own against several other recent works on Baldwin such as Bill Mullen’s James Baldwin: Living in Fire and Nicholas Buccola’s The Fire Is Upon Us.

James Baldwin Review
Open Access (free)
Ingmar Bergman, Henrik Ibsen, and television
Michael Tapper

While the legacy of August Strindberg has been very much in the forefront of Ingmar Bergman studies, the influence of Henrik Ibsen on Bergman’s work has yet to be fully acknowledged. This chapter demonstrates Ibsen’s influence on Bergman’s TV dramas in the early 1970s, exemplifying with an in-depth analysis of his production of The Lie (Reservatet, 1970) for Swedish television. It is one of Bergman’s least-studied works and also one of his most overtly feminist ones, contradicting the ideological appropriation of Bergman by some of his critics as a bourgeois director. The Lie merges elements of his own artistry with those of August Strindberg’s play The Father (Fadren, 1887), Ibsen’s A Doll’s House (Et dukkehjem, 1879), and The Wild Duck (Vildanden, 1884) and contemporary melodrama in order to reach a mass audience with his portrayal of a middle-aged bourgeois couple in marital crisis. By reversing the gender roles, he gives the drama a gender twist that, in the spirit of Ibsen, truly deconstructs the idealization of women while ironically undercutting patriarchal ideology. In accomplishing that, it points forward to the dramatic strategies of his later TV productions, especially Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap, 1973). The Lie was a huge success at the time of its release, first in Sweden and then in the European Broadcasting Union’s 1970 Eurovision exchange of TV plays. At the dawn of second-wave feminism, it reached an audience of approximately 50 million on TV, thus becoming one of Bergman’s politically most influential works.

in Ingmar Bergman
Open Access (free)
Notes on the director’s ‘worth in the market’
Olof Hedling

This chapter discusses Bergman’s potential worth in the commercial film market on the basis of the director’s own correspondence with potential co-producers and international distributors of his films. The author first studies Bergman’s ample correspondence with Carl Anders Dymling, the powerful head of the Swedish production company Svensk Filmindustri between 1942 and 1961; most of Bergman’s early films were produced by Svensk Filmindustri. This correspondence concerns Bergman’s potential turn to the more profitable colour-film format in the early 1960s, a turn resisted by Bergman on artistic grounds; Bergman’s first colour film would eventually be the relatively unknown comedy, All these Women, in 1964. Second, the author examines Bergman’s correspondence with New York agent Bernhard L. Wilens regarding a possible film adaptation of French author Albert Camus’s short novel The Fall (La Chute, 1956). Third, the chapter explores Bergman’s correspondence with his American distributors, Janus Films, who famously specialized in the art-house market. Here, Janus is represented by Cyrus Harvey. Bergman never made a colour film during Dymling’s reign at Svensk Filmindustri, nor did he ever direct a film based on Camus’s novel. He did have a lengthy relationship with Janus Films, however. The chapter demonstrates how Bergman’s conception of himself as an artist conflicted with Hollywood, especially with regard to filmmaking practices. As an auteur in the European tradition, Bergman would always strive for artistic control of the entire production and distribution processes.

in Ingmar Bergman
Open Access (free)
An ecocritical examination of the birds of Bergman
Linda Haverty Rugg

This chapter explores how Ingmar Bergman’s films reflect on the non-human environment through the frequent and striking representation of birdsong. Birdsong in Bergman’s films illustrates what Timothy Morton, in Ecology without Nature (2007), describes as a ‘poetics of ambience’, which indicates that ‘ambience’ in art is not truly ambient, but constructed. Thus, this chapter shows how particular birds are chosen for specific effect in Bergman’s film narratives. Both folkloric beliefs about birds and their song and psychological responses to birdsong find expression in many of Bergman’s films, and a hint of horror enters with the creation of the demonic ‘birdman’ in Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf, 1968). In that film the ‘birdman’ is, oddly enough, linked to the comic figure of Papageno the bird-catcher from The Magic Flute. Another association with Papageno comes up with Bergman’s repeated use of the surname Vogler (bird-catcher) for figures in his films, and those Voglers, like the birdman, tend toward the demonic. The conclusion is that Bergman’s use of birds and birdsong as prophecies of death, as demonic, or as indifferent to human fate, could be said to reflect what Morton calls ‘dark ecology’, a queer representation of both beauty and terror, an expression of the desire to stay with a dying world.

in Ingmar Bergman
Paisley Livingston

This chapter identifies three rival interpretations of Autumn Sonata. A first reading describes a work that, like Face to Face, was conceived along Janovian lines, and that consequently resonates positively with the tenets of Janov’s psychology. The second and third interpretations both deny that Autumn Sonata is consistently Janovian. According to one kind of ‘non-Janovian’ interpretation, Bergman worked with significant Janovian premises as he conceived of the story and characterizations for Autumn Sonata, yet for various reasons, the director did not, finally, go on to make a thoroughly Janovian work. An alternative interpretation contends that Bergman had taken some critical distance from at least some of the main tenets of Janov’s psychological theory and successfully expressed these reservations in his film. In other words, Bergman was not thoroughly or consistently persuaded of the truth of Janov’s theoretical contentions, either at the time of his initial, enthusiastic reading of The Primal Screen or upon subsequent reflection. On the basis of an examination of the relevant evidence, the chapter argues that although Bergman undeniably sought to bring out a story along Janovian lines, he ended up with one that instructively manifests ways in which that doctrine is incomplete and problematic.

in Ingmar Bergman
Open Access (free)
Munich–Rome–Los Angeles, or ‘The last temptation of Ingmar Bergman’
Thomas Elsaesser

This chapter deals with Bergman’s close contacts with transnational film producer Dino de Laurentiis, working out of Rome, and with legendary Hollywood talent agent Paul Kohner. Bergman discussed potential film projects with both of them over the years, and their correspondence is traced in detail here. Bergman was contacted by De Laurentiis in the early 1960s regarding a possible adaptation of the story of Jesus, which in the end came to nothing. Bergman also enjoyed close contacts with Kohner, who was the agent of Bergman actress Liv Ullmann. As with predecessors like Mauritz Stiller, who had entered Hollywood in the 1920s accompanied by Greta Garbo, Bergman’s possible entrance into Hollywood was connected to his leading female star. Kohner was also involved with certain distribution deals regarding Bergman’s films in the USA. The possible projects discussed by Bergman and Kohner mainly concerned a possible Hollywood adaptation for the cinema of Franz Lehár’s operetta The Merry Widow, starring American actress Barbra Streisand, a project which also involved de Laurentiis as producer. Had the film been made, it would have become the fourth film version of this story. Although it was discussed for several years and went through various stages of development, Bergman’s enthusiasm for the project eventually waned, and Elsaesser emphasizes Bergman’s difficulties in adapting to Hollywood professional strategies. As for de Laurentiis, he would eventually produce Bergman’s English-language film The Serpent’s Egg (1977), shot in Germany during Bergman’s self-imposed exile from Sweden.

in Ingmar Bergman