Friday, 23 June 2017

Robin Wood on the opening sequence of Persona

How do you interpret the opening and closing sequence of Persona? And the fact that in the middle of the film, the frame freezes, cracks and burns?
Persona is a film that constantly reminds the audience that it’s a film. Also, as I wrote in the earlier post, through Elisabet Vogler, Ingmar Bergman expresses his own concerns and anguish as an artist, and his inability to respond authentically to large catastrophes.
I’m currently reading Ingmar Bergman: Essays in Criticism, edited by Stuart M. Kaminsky with Joseph F. Hill, and here’s another interpretation, in Robin Wood’s essay “The World Without, the World Within”:
“… Bergman himself acknowledges the crudeness of art beside the complexities of existence in the film’s very 1st images. After the film projector shots, we see a silent cartoon of a fat woman in a bathing costume washing her hands, framed as on a screen; the cartoon flickers jerkily, breaks down, starts up again. Bergman then cuts in a shot of real hands washing themselves, the image now filling the whole screen (i.e. the cartoon is shown as a film, the hands as reality). A way, surely, of admitting, at the outset of 1 of the most complex films ever made, that, beside reality, art is as crude as the jerky movements of the cartoon beside of the flexible, organic motions of the real hands?

More than this, the breakdown constitutes Bergman’s admission that he can’t resolve the problems the film has raised. The last 3rd of Persona gives us a series of scenes of uncertain reality and uncertain chronology; all are closely related, thematically, to the concerns established earlier in the film, and all carry us deeper into the sensation of breakdown due to full exposure to the unresolvable or unendurable. They come across as a series of tentative sketches, which are from tentative in realization, of possibilities offered by the director who, because of his own uncertainties, denies himself the narrative artist’s right to dogmatize, to say ‘This is what happened next.’ Given the universal implications of the subject matter, the fact that we can no longer think in simple terms about ‘Alma and Elizabeth’ (despite the fact that the characters keep their fictional identities to the end) compels us to feel what we are shown with unusual immediacy, as if naked experience were being communicated direct, instead of being clothed with the customary medium of characters-and-narrative. It is not a question of vagueness nor of artistic abdication, but of an extreme and rigorous honesty; each sequence is realized with the same intensity and precision that characterized the straight narrative of the 1st half…”

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