#57 - Smiles of a Summer Night

Dedicated To
Ingmar Bergman
1918 - 2007

Added 7/30/07

After another week spent on the road and seeing just one new movie, I was thinking I might be able to take this week off. But I couldn’t allow the loss of Ingmar Bergman, one of the great filmmakers of all time, to go unmentioned here. So we’ll just have a quick one this week. I’ll see plenty of movies for next time though, I swear.

As is probably the case with most people, my first exposure to Bergman was with his 1957 classic The Seventh Seal. I saw it in a film history class and it took me the better part of a year to fully process it. The Seventh Seal is to this day one of the most intellectually stimulating, haunting and endlessly fascinating films I’ve ever seen. If it hits the right person at the right time, it’s nothing short of a revelation, expanding your conception of film’s potential exponentially. It’s a handy movie to keep in your back pocket for arguments with snobs who look down on movies as an inferior art form.

After The Seventh Seal, I didn’t watch another Bergman film for several years. My next taste was 1972’s Cries and Whispers, a movie I frankly didn’t much care for and may well have been (and for that matter, probably still is) over my head. But then I watched Bergman’s 1966 movie Persona and was blown away all over again. A beautifully surreal story about a nurse and an actress whose personalities begin to merge, Persona is nothing short of pure cinema. It provides an experience that cannot be duplicated on stage, in prose or in any other medium.

Since then, I’ve seen a few other Bergman films, notably The Virgin Spring and Fanny and Alexander, both of which are outstanding. But unlike with other directors I become interested in, I never immersed myself in his work exclusively, perhaps because each movie is so densely packed that it takes time to fully appreciate. I’ve never been happier about that decision than I am right now. Because now, despite the fact that Bergman essentially retired from filmmaking after 1982’s Fanny and Alexander, choosing to concentrate on theatre and writing instead, and even though his death now ensures there will be no triumphant comeback to the medium, I still have a great many Bergman films to look forward to catching up with. Both acknowledged classics like Wild Strawberries and Scenes From A Marriage and somewhat lesser-known films like Hour of the Wolf and Thirst. If you have yet to discover Ingmar Bergman for yourself, you’re in an even better position than I am. I envy those of you who have yet to experience The Seventh Seal for yourselves. You’re in for a treat.


The A-Picture - The Simpsons Movie

I’m just going to come right out and say that I have absolutely no objectivity when it comes to The Simpsons. I’ve been a die-hard fanboy since the Tracey Ullman days. Something has to be life-or-death to get me out of the house Sunday nights when a new episode is on. I can and do quote episodes at the drop of a hat and maintain that the show’s worst episode is about a hundred times funnier than most television programs on their best day. So when I say I loved this movie, feel free to disregard my opinion as the starry-eyed, apologetic reaction of the truly obsessed. Do so at your peril, however, because you’ll be missing out on some inspired comedy.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the plot, mainly because it’s beside the point. In time-tested Simpsons fashion, everything ties together but things leap around so quickly that where we start and where we end don’t necessarily seem to have anything to do with each other. Suffice it to say that most of the seemingly random bits that have been teased in the trailers, including Bart skateboarding naked through the heart of Springfield, Maggie threatening Mr. Teeny with the jagged shards of a broken baby bottle, and Homer’s relationship with Spider-Pig, are all integral parts of the story. Honest. The most important thing the movie does right is it keeps the focus on the family. Springfield is populated by dozens and dozens of memorable supporting characters and each and every one of them turns up here. But if this had been a movie about Homer, Moe and Barney searching for lost treasure or something, it would have been a disaster. The Simpson family is the heart, soul and, in Lisa’s case, brain of the show and too many recent episodes of the series have forgotten that. Here, every Simpson plays an important role, even Maggie who is too-frequently put on the sidelines for my tastes.

I’ve heard gripes that The Simpsons Movie isn’t the groundbreaking classic that South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut was and perhaps that’s so. But I’d argue that the South Park movie was the creative turning point for that show. It was only after the success of the movie that Trey Parker and Matt Stone started doing their best work on the series. If that film came out now that the series has had such classic episodes as The Passion of the Jew and Good Times With Weapons, I doubt that it would be as acclaimed. The Simpsons, on the other hand, hit their creative stride years ago. It ain’t broke, they figure, so why fix it? I also admire the animation here which, unlike with the South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head or Aqua Teen Hunger Force movies, actually does look bigger and better than on TV.

In the end, the only comparison that matters is how well The Simpsons Movie stacks up against The Simpsons TV series. In that regard, it more than satisfies. True, at times it has more in common with the somewhat lackluster episodes of the past few seasons than the heights of episodes like Marge Vs. The Monorail or Homer’s Enemy. But at its best, The Simpsons Movie reminds us why this show has been able to endure for almost twenty years without showing any signs of slowing down. It taps into the rich legacy of Springfield, rewards the faithful and offers some of the biggest laughs you’re likely to see at the movies this year. It’s a noble film that embiggens the smallest man. (* * * ½)

Your pal,