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December 08, 1971 - Image 2

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The Michigan Daily, 1971-12-08

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Page Two

THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Wednesday, December S, 1971

Page Two THE MICHIGAN DAILY Wednesday, December 8, 1971

'The.

Touch:

Presenting

Bergman

at

his

worst

By NEAL GABLER
As Life Magazine reports it,
when ABC, Inc. got word that
Ingmar Bergman wished to
make an English - speaking,
American-financed picture, the
company dispatched its entire
crew of top executives to Europe
to discuss the project with the
Swedish cineaste. Fixing his
gaze on Mrs. Martin Baum, wife
of the ABC Picture prexy, Berg-
man synopsized the plot. His
film concerned Andreas (Max
Von Sydow) and Karin (Bibi
Andersson), married happily if
somewhat dully for fifteen years,
now with two lovely children
and a verdant estate in the
country. Enter David, a child-
ish, bad-tempered American
archeologist working at a near-
by dig. Irresponsibly, he eases
Karin into a turbulent love af-
fair. Andreas eventually finds
out. Karin finds herself preg-
nant. David leaves, returns,
leaves again. Mrs. Baum's eyes
well with tears. The executives
are ecstatic. And, well, every-
body lives happily (the ABC of-
ficials) and not-so-happily (the
characters) ever after. Zoom
out. The End.
Now if you gather from all
this, especially Mrs. Baum's re-
sponse, that The Touch is abom-
inable, you've said. the magic
word and get two-hundred dol-
lars. It is, quite simply, Berg-
man's worst, and though I could
temper that judgment by saying
Bergman's worst is better than
most film-makers' best, I won't.
The genesis of The Touch, its
American bent, is the tip-off.
It panders to our cocktail crowd,
the people with Degas prints in
,their bathrooms. These folks
have never really seen "a Berg-
man," except maybe The Sev-
enth Seal on the Late Late
Show, but in this crazy cul-
ture of ours they want to talk
about him, do in fact talk about
him. And that's where The
Touch comes in. It's in English,
it has a nice simple love-hate
story, some tinkly piano over
the credits, more snazzy rock
muzak, which reminds me of
American rock circa 1954, and,
of course, Elliott Gould.
In short, The Touch has
everything save those qualities
that have often made Bergman's
pictures masterful and, if noth-
Ing else, interesting. Why the
Swede has decided to struggle
against his own strengths only
he and God know but the film's
visual unimaginativeness (even
Nykvist's photography is brassy
- more Warhol than Wyeth -
and/ dramatic poverty indicate
that Bergman has won his
Pyrrhic victory. Take the movie's
language, which is probably the
biggest casualty of the Berg-
man-ABC misalliance. Language
.has always been the sine qua
non of a Bergman picture,car-
rying not only the message, but
also much of the ambience. Even
if you couldn't figure out what
was going on underneath all
those crucifixes, there was still
undeniable effect in the poetic
see-saw cadence of the Swedish,
so much so that the sounds oft-
en shaped the moods.
But Bergman is no Shakes-
peare, and his English lacks the
authority, the power of his Swe-
dish. What with Sunday Bloody
Sunday around recently, I've
been harping a lot about lan-
guage, and I'll say it again:
English dialogue needn't sound
like a literal translation of Latin
or even Swedish; simple sen-
tences can bear heavy thoughts.-
In Bergman's defense, however,
it should be noted that he made
two versions of The Touch
one in which Karin and Andreas
converse in Swedish, and an-
other in which they converse in
English. Unfortunately, we Ann

Arborites got the all-English
version with its soggy sentences
and purple prose. "There is no
point in going on like this. Do
you hear what I say? Go home
and leave me in peace."
It is sentences like that that
give you the feeling Bergman's
Swedish also served the purpose
of concealment all, these years.
I don't know any Swedish out-
side of "Skoal," but I suspect
there were times when Berg-
man's ponderous verbiage was
better read as little white let-
ters across the screen's bottom,
than heard as the pronounce-
ments of flesh and blood. You
have to strain pretty hard sus-
pending your disbelief before
you can accept people who sound
M 0=

as if they just hopped out of the
Bible. The subtitles, then, prob-
ably, distanced us and gave us
all the language without any of
the dramatic intrusions. We
Americans got the very best of
Bergman.
That subterfuge, if it really
was one, is gone now, and Berg-
man's naked language is pain-
fully and, what's more, laugh-
ably bad. Actually this is re-
portage more than criticism,
since the audiences I saw it with
cackled as if the film were
penned not by some dour Swede,
but by S. J. Perelman; the yuks
came especially fast and furious
when Bergman had Miss An-
dersson and Gould read love
letters against a black back-
ground. I certainly don't say
this with any malicious glee.
Quite the contrary, watching
The Touch with all its flat
thunder, and hearing people
laughing at Bergman, though
they might not have known it,
gave me the same uneasiness
that earlier critics must have
felt presiding over the death of
silent stars. Embarassment is
the serious filmgoer's worst
enemy.
I should say, in all fairness
to Bergman, that this picture,
at least in its early moments, is
lessegrave than say Persona,
Hour of the Wolf, The Shame
or The Passion of Anna; and
further, that the audiences were
decidedly Gould fans, ready to
howl at the slightest provoca-
tion. Too bad. Supposedly Berg-
ma had his pick of the Amer-
ican star litter : Newman, Red-
ford, Hoffman, or Gould. In the
most off-beat casting in recent
history, he chose Gould, though
any of the others, in retrospect,
would probably have done more'
interesting things with the role.
Von Stroheim cast Zasu Pitts in
his massive Greed because he
believed a great comedienne
would make a great tragedienne.
Bergman obviously operated on
the same principle. He says of

Gould, "He has a certain at-
mosphere . . . a certain thing
you feel that the body of an ac-
tor is an instrument, and that
he is conscious enough to play
on it perfectly-the whole time."
Bergman may have had rea-
son to believe his own line and
thing that Gould would be suc-
cessful as David, the neurotic
archeologist who breaks up Kar-
in's cozy life. The Swede's tal-
ent with actors is by now legen-
dary, and both Von Sydow and
particularly Miss Andersson
show here just how good he can
be. Nor is Gould one of the dregs
of the Thespian world. He's al-
ways been rather buoyant and
likable, moving through his pic-
tures with his perpetual hang-
dog look, Mr. Average in a so-
ciety that more and more wor-
ships the mean. If, as Sarris
says, Dustin Hoffman is what
clumsy intellectuals would like
to be on a blind date, and Rich-
ard Benjamin is what they ac-
tually are, then Gould is what
they think everybody else, is. At
the very least, thousands of
girls throughout the country
can say, for the first time, that
their boyfriends look like some-
body, courtesy of Gould.
That may be small consola-
tion for Bergman. The Touch
wouldn't have been a good movie
in any case - there are no mo-
tivations in its screenplay, only
words and crosses - but Gould
is an unkind ally, and his per-
formance is so hideously wrong
that you may never see worse.
Never. Gould's mistake is apply-
ing his comic-neurotic shtick
to drama. His speech is thick as
syrup, missing all the nuances.
His face has one expression -
open-mouthed with his tongue
licking his chin. His emotions
are all via his voicebox. And his
idea of tension is bumptious
shouting and an eye-roll, like
some automaton programmed to
play a tantrum-prone Caligula.
What more can you say about
a "worst"?
In Bergman B.G. (Before

Gould) the worst was always the
symbolic baggage that every
movie had to carry; and though
The Touch's symbols are a mite
less muddy than usual, they are
here in such force that the pic-
ture nearly gets a hernia. The
theme, I guess (and yours is as
good as mine), is trying to make
contact, to touch. Somehow out
of this Bergman gets David as
an Oedipal Christ and Karin
as Mary: "Sometimes it seems
so lonely without Mother."
"You're like my new-born child."
Just in case you miss the con-
nection, there's a Madonna pop-
ping up every so often, the
Pieta re-enacted three or four
times (I lost count), the stig-
mata of a cut hand, and a pan
from David to Christ. "Forgive
me, Karin."
It all sounds rather like The
Dove, that parody of Wild
Strawberries from a few years
back, and Bergmaniacs who
can't bring themselves to praise
The Touch will probably dismiss
it as one of those aberrations
that artists produce now and
then. I'm willing to go along
with then part way, but only
part way. Bergman's place in
film history is secure. He is cer-
tainly one of the screen's most
accomplished craftsmen, and I
doubt if there is a more atmos-
pheric director around today.
Already he has made, to my
mind, one unqualified master-

piece (The Shame), several sol-
idly good films (Winter Light,
Persona, The Passion of Anna),
and many others that are highly
watchable.
But Bergman, though he needs
no revisionist criticism from me,
also underscores cinema's im-
maturity vis-a-vis other art
forms. That's right, I said "im-
maturity." The Touch really
isn't a freak in the Bergman
family of films. It is another of
his inflated, puerile epics, big
as a Macy's Thanksgiving Day
parade balloon, and tangling
with nothing less than the ul-
timates - Life, Death, God,
Love, Communication. This gar-
gantuan subject matter can't
help but confer importance on
his mystic dramas, importance
that comes mixed with deep,
dark obscurity. One positive re-
viewer even said that The Sev-
enth Seal resists criticism since
it's so immense Bergman him-
self couldn't unravel it. That's
faint praise if you ask me. No
work should be large enough to
contain everything. What do we
have garbage cans for?
No doubt, alongside Ford and
Hawks, Bergman, with his series
of Great Issues, seems like a
full-blown, pipe-smoking intel-
lectual. Which shows how far
you can go asking the same
questions at fifty that you were
asking at fifteen. What is Life?
Is there a God? Will Man have

a life hereafter? My parents,
like yours, used to smile benign-
ly at my metaphysical inquisi-
tiveness, satisfied they were get-
ting their money's worth from
the university. Our boy, the
genius. Well, (True Confession)
I wasn't a genius and neither is
Bergman, the trouble being, in
both our cases, that issues alone
don't make wisdom or art.
Cineastes, though ,unlike most
lovers of other arts, always seem
to get gulled by big words. All
a film-maker need do is include
some solemn-sounding dialogue
and throw a few symbols on the
screen, maybe a fellow with his
arms outstretched, and he's like-
ly to get instant acclaim. Berg-
man began his career in pre-
cisely this fashion, as a kind of
cinematic' John Bunyon, clut-
tering his films not so much
with symbols as with signals.
Symbols are integrated with
themes; they illuminate. Signals,
on the other hand, are the prov-
ince not of artists but of cryp-
tologists. This means . . . and
that means . . . And for some
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perverse reason, maybe because
they require less hard thought,
most of us prefer signals to
symbols. We love to puzzle
things out, decoding rather than
interpreting, and impressing our
girlfriends with brilliance.
The tragedy of The Touch is
that with its language and main
character sabotaged respectively
by English and Gould, this "sig-
nalism" is all it has left. No
more Bunyan. No warmed-over
Tillich. We'll miss an opportun-
ity, however, if we allow The
Touch to pass us by rather than
use it to help revise our film
aesthetic. Anyone who's read an
exegesis on Bergman knows how
much we need that.
One of the occupational haz-

ards of reviewing is the typo-
graphical error. We suffer these
stoically, hoping you folks out
there will give us the benefit
of the doubt. Though I doubt if
any of you were terribly per-
plexed, in my review of Desper-
ate Characters last week there
were three typos that completely
changed the sense I'd intended.
The review should have read:
1) "...the adjustments people
like the Bentwoods have to
make to super-charged Ameri-
can society are even more
psychically destructive."
2) ". . . and in fact the only
happy couple in Characters are
Sophie's friends Leon and Claire
who do romanticize."
3) "There'll be no blaze of
glory when we go."

ARM/Michigan Film Society presents
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-TONIGHT-

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