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Ingmar Bergman

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“Design in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in the creative flux. You can't invent a design. You recognize it, in the fourth dimension. That is, with your blood and your bones, as well as with your eyes.” - David Herbert Lawrence

Ingmar Bergman

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A pioneer of film dies at the age of 89. Bergman directed some of the greatest films ever made — Summer with Monica, The Virgin Spring, Persona, Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage were among his other titles. He directed his first film in 1945, and first gained international attention with 1955’s Smiles of a Summer Night, a romantic comedy that inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music. View all of his works.

Ingmar Bergman’s mature cinema provokes the viewer into an intimate engagement in which a range of uncomfortable feelings are opened up, shared and laid bare. And this often occurs, quite literally, face-to-face.

An encounter with Bergman’s seminal 1966 film Persona is exemplary here. The film’s original title was Cinematographet, Swedish for ‘cinematography’. But either name is appropriate for a work that enacts inquiries into cinema and the subject in states of fecund but disturbing ontological breakdown. And this can perhaps most clearly be seen in Bergman’s extraordinary use of the close-up, which Gilles Deleuze described as enforcing a coalescence of the human face with the void.

The relentless close-up of the face is a useful formal and thematic key to Bergman’s work. In these frequent, almost embarrassingly close and radically elongated moments the viewer can see, think and feel existential sureties in different states of crisis - as we watch subjects reduced to pure flesh, bones, mouth, nose, hair and eyes.

The detail of this fine-focus dissection forces us to confront both the inscrutable materiality of the face, and its role as the communicative nerve centre of the individual subject’s investments. The camera moves in uncomfortably, almost seeking to go inside – until a giant abstracted face fills the frame, stopping the zoom dead. The viewer is confronted with a close yet also alienating proximity to such a large expanse of human exterior, while we watch our enormous diegetic companion ask of itself ‘what’ it is, as it faces a very personal void.

A dual gaze of inquiry takes place here, whereby the onscreen subject’s gaze of self-conscious crisis meets the viewer’s implicated looking upon – and participation in – that image. Both face and viewer seem to feel the intermixing and breaking down of diegetic and meta-diegetic space, and intensities of looking. This is sparked and enforced by Bergman’s tight use of a 1.33:1 frame which often excludes any clear glimpses of the world beyond a face which finds no up, down, left or right in which to direct its gaze.

Imprisoned in its relentless close-up, the face seems to search beyond the dimensions of the frame only to find a black-hole space immune to cinematic life. Shut in on all four sides, the face then looks to the one direction not limited by the screen’s graphic dimensions, into a space that is much more than a black hole.

This final movement where the giant face gazes straight out of the screen, visually exploring a world beyond that in which it traditionally exists, connects the space of the diegetic subject to my space. And here I sit, troubled yet also thrilled by this uncomfortably intimate experience.

About

Born in Africa, raised in North Carolina, and of Indian decent, I am a cultural smorgasbord. For the last 7 years, I have worked in San Francisco at agencies that focus on user centered design such as Hot Studio, Creative B'stro and Noise 13 and have had the privilege of working with clients such as eBay, NEC, Johson & Johnson, Symantec, Roku, Zone Alarm, SOMA Magazine and Mezzanine.

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