When I read Jonathon Rosenbaum's August 4 piece on recently deceased auteur Ingmar Bergman, I was rather stunned to see Rosenbaum, a critic I normally like and respect, slamming one of the most respected directors in the history of film. In the article, titled "Scenes from an Overrated Career," Rosenbaum made some broad-sweeping statements like this one: "The same qualities that made Mr. Bergman's films go down more easily than theirs - his fluid storytelling and deftness in handling actresses, comparable to the skills of a Hollywood professional like George Cukor - also make them feel less important today, because they have fewer secrets to impart. What we see is what we get, and what we hear, however well written or dramatic, are things we're likely to have heard elsewhere."

That last bit in particular really struck me; you could say the same of any filmmaker or any film -- any work of art, for that matter. Even Shakespeare derived from and built upon those who came before him. Everything is derivative of something else. How is that relevant to the undeniable overall influence of Bergman's work? Bergman's style of storytelling, the accessibility of his ideas, somehow makes him less relevant? The mark of a great filmmaker isn't that the ideas he or she explores have never been explored before, but that the filmmaker brings them to life through compelling characters and story -- the writing, the drama, the direction are the whole point. Even in his last film, Saraband, Bergman was taking human drama -- infidelity, communication, the peculiar evolution of intimate relationships over decades, and exploring those ideas with a depth and subtlety few younger filmmakers today could come close to.

Apaprently I'm not the only one who disagreed with Rosenbaum's take on Bergman. Roger Ebert responds to Rosenbaum thusly: "I have long known and admired the Chicago Reader's film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, but his New York TimesIngmar Bergman ("Scenes from an Overrated Career," 8/4/07) is a bizarre departure from his usual sanity." Ebert then goes on to refute Rosenbaum's arguments against Bergman's relevance, one by one.

If you haven't yet read Rosenbaum's op-ed, read it first, then pop over and read Ebert's defense of Bergman. Hey, there's nothing like a little film-critic rumble to get you over the midweek hump.

categories Cinematical