Bergman & Bandwagons: Why Accessibility in Cinema is Easier Than You Think
Have you ever talked to the know-it-all, well-read type? The type who read the book, the comic or cite their favourite films as The Tree of Life or Mulholland Drive. Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘get your head out of your arse before I burn your overpriced Micheal Haneke collection right on your very crusty palms?’ Do you just roll your eyes and hope they don’t interpret it as proof that you are too ignorant to ‘get it’? Have they ever said the words, 'maybe it's too deep for some people'? Does their mispronunciation of foreign films in an attempt to sound cultured have you beat your ears bloody with the aforementioned Haneke collection? (I love Haneke but I imagine this person, carrying around their very expensive Haneke collection and claiming some intellectual superiority does exist despite their empty wallet.)
If you have, you met the pretentious ones. And there’s a few of them (by the way, these very different people will certainly claim that the other is indeed pretentious - it’s like the spectrum of the rainbow covering the sky with unbearable ‘fans’ of Marvel to Aronofsky to Kubrick to Von Trier etc.). Not to say that what they like is, in itself, pretentious or that it is a bad thing. I like a lot of art cinema that no one would ever want to watch with me - the difference is I don’t force it down anyone’s throat too often. Well I try not to… There’s a reason for this too. More often than not, I worry that I am pretentious (how accurately I fall under that description depends entirely on that slippery ole' self-consciousness of mine). But generally, my concern comes from a place of disdain for the guilty-few who whole-heartedly carry this mentality (with no blimming good reason).
Why must I discuss this today? Because I make film recommendations, ones I enjoy and sometimes ones I know not everyone will like. With each new article I post I become aware of whether or not my liking something makes it worthy of discussing. Yet, I don’t feel my suggestions come from a place of superiority but from a case for the accessibility of that work. Accessibility in cinema can make a pretentious director's brilliant work inaccessible and pretentious in itself (because we all know most of the great filmmakers are/were pretentious). Film is for everyone, just as all other forms of art and expression, there is a film for everyone, divisive as it may be; I find it a shame that there are a lot of brilliant stories lost to audiences who have been put off by something or someone - Critics are to blame as much as cinephiles with this one because unsettling Hereditary should never have been compared to The Exorcist!
What got me thinking of this was none other than a director I personally put off for the exact same reason listed above; Ingmar Bergman.
Only a year or so ago did I see my first film by the Swedish auteur, The Seventh Seal, considered his Magnum Opus by film theorists. My housemate and I stuck it on, she a Swede herself and saturated with Bergman films from birth wanted to refresh her memory and re-contextualise the translations for me (very enlightening). My other Swedish housemate steers well clear whenever we mention the filmmaker, scarred from the years of melancholic dramas that have stigmatised his work. To be fair, it was the same reason I stayed away too. But I thought, let’s take on Swedish cinema. So we watched it.
I didn’t like it that much… The iconic image of Death and Max von Sydow playing chess on the dreary beach, humour imbued with startling images of the plague and that great yet haunting final shot didn’t quite make up for the fact that it felt slow. Thematically, it follows many of Bergman’s go-to’s but as entertainment and many film fans first introduction to the filmmaker and Swedish cinema, it ruins what could have been a beautiful journey together. Now I can say that I would love to re-watch it, that now I know the story and more about Bergman I can embrace its themes and cinematography and be blown away by the symbolism in the reflection of mortality. But that’s me.
I may be stubborn, blunt and totally disagreeable… but I will ALWAYS give a director three chances to impress me. Think of all the people that don’t want to do this, don't have time to do this. The people that followed a recommendation and were met with some rather dry classic cinema, who won’t research more films by the director to see if there is something that would more likely take their fancy because they were bored to tears by a critically acclaimed film. Because my next Bergman was Cries and Whispers. And I was blown away by the differences. Having never heard of it, discovered it was rated eighteen, carrying grotesque scenes whilst exploring the agonising final days of woman riddled with disease as she is tended to by her troubled sisters and their maid, it’s a far cry from chess on the beach.
Without this film, I wouldn’t have gone on to discover so many more amazing films from The Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries, Autumn Sonata and Shame. Bergman before this was boring to me, stale cinema that was inaccessible to me as a film lover; too intellectual and intimidating. Yet now he is one of my favourites.
The same can be said of Akira Kurosawa. No one told me of the wittiness, the timelessness of his stories and the epic scale shoots. I didn’t even know how to pronounce Rashomon let alone what it was and when you compare a director’s major work to that of the American western, I’m even more repelled. But now I have a huge Japanese cinema collection, despite believing that old Japan was dull and New Japan was pervy (Check out my Top 15 Japanese films), and count him as one of idols with High & Low an insane 60’s thriller I never would have had the pleasure of seeing (Check out my Top 15 Kurosawa movies for some good recommends).
When it comes to world cinema, more than just the subtitles put people off. The marketing portraying it as so cultured, high-brow and dry is what makes it so inaccessible. And when a pretentious twit jumps on board that rickety old band wagon, turning their nose up at that pristine, high-calibre, jet powered band wagon of new across the way, there becomes a huge abyss that no one dare cross and waste their time with. And no one will know that Fanny and Alexander has a fart joke. Or that Tinto Brass is the least interesting thing about Italian cinema. Or that Antonio Banderas gives his best performances in the masterful hands of director Pedro Almodóvar.
Even mainstream can feel inaccessible to different demographics. The Golden Age of Hollywood seems dull because Citizen Kane is more work that is necessary, but It Happened One Night is a cheeky comedy that is incredibly charming when given the chance. And I keep bringing up Marvel because it really is creating a whole new breed of film-snobs - Have you ever spoken to comic book fan debating the latest super hero movies as though adapting long running comic series is the same as adapting a book? Have you ever told them that you liked Iron Man 3?
Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite was an amazing step in the right direction. The South Korean masterpiece was so widely enjoyable; not too subtle to require unnecessary dissecting by the casual viewer, incredibly funny, excellent performances, relatable and shocking all in one exciting package. I managed to get my Mum to see it and I don’t think I have ever watched a foreign film with her. It was great at face value and even better contextually, the perfect example of a film made accessible to all. It proved that South East Asian cinema could succeed internationally with wider audiences without the hyper-violence, debauchery or excessive shock value (only a little bit of shock value). The marketing campaign sold it honestly and once viewers got past the subtitles, it was clear that it wasn’t too foreign after all.
Of course, audiences need to give foreign film a chance and older films a chance, embrace the stories of old to explore different perspective and improve one’s thoughtfulness. But when we make it sound obnoxious, flat, or unintelligible why would they want to? Come on! People flock to Christopher Nolan’s heartless, psychological, messes and they can follow it pretty well. Why not make world cinema just as appealing and give audiences some stellar casts and amazing scripts? Let’s be chill about this, let’s all get our heads out of our butts and hype that Japanese drama as much as we would the next Bond film. Because cinema is accessible when you offer more than gimmicks, offer great stories... maybe there doesn't have to be so many bandwagons that way.
Well, that's my latest rant over, tired as I am of the most unexciting recommendtaions for directors I love. So if you want some Recommmends, check out my lists of favourite Anime, Wong Kar-wai films, Alternative Christmas watches and more here.