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Most 'The Making of...' documentaries are barely concealed extensions of the
publicity machine, a glorified advertisement that purports to demystify the
industrial production of cinema, to bring the audiences closer to actors and
directors who are presumed to be engaged as real people creating a fiction,
rather than a fiction. When really, the carefully stage-managed featurette
reveals just as much as the filmmakers want, tantalising the curious punter
without ever enlightening, and developing an extra facet of a star persona,
rather than normalising it.
As you might expect, a 'Making of' an Ingmar Bergman film is a little different. Recording the shoot of his swansong and crowning masterpiece, 'Fanny and Alexander', 'Dokument' is essential viewing for Bergmanophiles. Framed by explanatory, often flippant intertitles, the film follows, in detail, Bergman at work, painstakingly, methodically, often tediously shaping each scene, the precise movements of camera and actors, the details of the composition, the timing and delivery of dialogue. There is no frivolous chumminess here, no meet-the-backroom-boys boffinry.
Bergman disclaims at the start any pretensions for this documentary, suggesting that it can never capture the inner journey that is the act of creation: this is of course true, but 'Dokument' is more than the entertaining peek backstage Bergman affects to offer us. With 'Dokument', Bergman performs two very serious functions. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, he educates the viewer. It many seem dull to watch take after take of each scene, with little of the 'hilarious' bloopers TV programmes and Hollywood end credits delight in (although there's some wonderful business with an intransigent cat). There may not seem to be any real difference between takes, or any reason why we should be shown rehearsals for takes followed by takes.
What this repetition does, though, is accustom the viewer to nuance, to the aesthetic reason for the most functional set-up, or why a character is in this particular position, why this shot is in close up, while the next is an elaborate long take. it alerts us to the use of colour, light, framing; it makes us aware of the details of the decor. The documentary may not show the creative inner journey, but when we see the process from rehearsal to take to final act, we do glimpse something of Bergman's art, something that is clearly going on in his head while the shoot takes place, but remains, until then, unspoken. Trust me, if you watch this documentary just before the film itself, as I did, your mind becomes more receptive, and the work's rich magic becomes even more clearly apparent.
Secondly, and relatedly, 'Dokument' is in a sense a Bergman film. Despite its light, seemingly loose form and tone (Bergman, far from being the anguished dictator of legend, is amiable and constantly braying with childlike laughter), the creative journey I spoke of becomes in a sense a spiritual journey. Like 'Fanny and Alexander' itself, a recreation of Bergman's childhood, the documentary is framed around dinners - in between comes a revelation of the artist, in this case at the end, rather than beginning, of his career.
There is a truly painful sequence here, among the most emotionally powerful in Bergman's work, where Bergman rehearses a cameo with his long-time collaborator Gunnar Bjornstrand, doing a piece as the clown Feste in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night'. If the intertitles didn't suggest that Bjornstrand approved the scenes being shown, you would think they were exploitative and humiliating. Bergman may be near the end of his career here, but he is still intellectually and physically formidable, handling the demands of a big-budget, three hours plus costume drama with a large cast and difficult narrative strands with ease and grace.
Bjornstrand, on the other hand, seems nearly senile, tired, forgetful, plainly not up to the job, shown in his scene's non-appearance in the movie. The sight of Bergman trying to keep his friend's spirits up, encourage and compliment a giant of acting like he's a baby, for around 20 minutes, is something you'll never see in 'The Making of Pearl Harbour'. It says so much about Bergman's art and his themes, and how even at his most artificial, he was clearly, obstinately true to life. It's uncanny.
This is a film about a film. About, perhaps, the most outstanding film
Bergman exudes his directorial artistry not being completely aware of it.
is at work,
doing his thing, perfectly concentrated on the film this film is
The camera doing the second work -that is, Bergman's work, is unobtrusive, delicate and tells a completely different story. That may be the strongest point of all this. This film tells the story of how Bergman made the film of his life, his masterpiece. It's not technical. It's not flashy, nor spectacular. It's just the real story of how things worked throughout this extremely complicated and dark story: Bergman's life seen through the eyes of Alexander.
Here we find how Ingmar directed his actors. How he related to his friend and lifelong Director of Photography, Sven Nyvqyst. How he could leave things to others with complete confidence on their competence. How Nyvqyst used lighting, and how
decisions were made through the completion of a huge, long and demanding film.
If you are a film fan, even if you don't know Bergman, you'll find out why European cinema is much more elaborate in its story telling than the typical American film. This is not a director who wants to be on Time's cover. This is the story of how one man who loved theatre as well as film, who was himself an actor, who understood the deep emotions he wanted the audience to submerge in, did a work of art over, maybe, any other in the history of film making. I know this may sound quite cliche. If you can, try to find the five-hour DVD edition of the film, and then watch this one. You will never forget the experience.
One thing must be clear: if you are the "American Dream" kind of film fan, forget about even trying to feel comfortable with Bergman's films. They are overtly awkward compared with the straightforwardness of the typical american storytelling.
If you want more on Bergman, find his interview with a Swedish TV interviewer, talking about life, death and love. A one-hour feast, packed with the Criterion Collection's edition of Cries & Whispers. Worth every penny, too.
Aspiring directors -- even if it's only family movies with a camcorder they plan to make -- should see this documentary on how the master film maker created magic. Bergman knew what he wanted before he planned each scene. So have many other directors. And some of the actors who worked with some of these other directors never made another film again. Bergman got his favorite actors to come back film after film, because he knew how to get them to do takes over and over again without destroying their egos. His work with the two children is especially touching. "My sister and I giggled like that," he told the youngsters playing Fanny and Alexander.
This is a documentary to see if you are interested in how movies are made. Seeing the master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman direct his last movie was so sentimental yet sad. During certain scenes he was directing, you could see REAL drama in the actor's faces whenever they tried their best to impress Bergman. You could see a sense of humanity and the close relationship between the people on set. See this film, you won't be disappointed.
The next best thing to watching Bergman's films is for me to watch and
listen to him talking about himself and about his works. "Making of" is
a fascinating document - I always wanted to know how he makes his
films, what is behind the poetry of images and the sound of silence.
Following the master's steps, watching the most magical scenes born in
front of you, seeing him in control of his production, always knowing
what he wants and leading his crew and his actors; his longtime
friendship with his legendary cinematographer Swen Nykwist to the point
that they don't talk much - they don't need many words to understand
each other - all of these made "Making of Fanny and Alexander"
absolutely unique and amazing experience for me. The birth of each
scene is a miracle but some of them stand out. The first is one of the
most enigmatic and magical scenes ever and not only in Bergman's films
- night scene in the Isak's house between Alexander and Ismael, a
completely mysterious character with supernatural psychic powers who
helped Alexander to unleash his own powers he never knew he had.
The second is the scene with Gunnar Björnstrand, one of the most versatile Bergman's actors (Höstsonaten, (1978), Ansikte mot ansikte (1976), Skammen (1968), Persona (1966), Nattvardsgästerna (1963), Såsom i en spegel (1961), Ansiktet (1958), Smultronstället (1957), Sommarnattens leende (1955), and his masterpiece Det Sjunde inseglet, (1957)). He was old and apparently ill while making Fanny and Alexander which was his last film. The scene in "Making of..." is almost 20 minutes long and shows over and over how Bergman rehearses a short, perhaps one or two minute long cameo with Björnstrand as clown Feste in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night". It is painful to watch a great actor in such a pitiful state. At some point you'd want Bergman to stop what seems like a torture but he goes on, encouraging his friend, praising him, making sure that Gunnar feels comfortable but not stopping before the scene is shot to his liking...
While the making of Ingmar Bergman's last film, Fanny and Alexander,
has been available on video for some time, that it is now available
along-side the new American DVD release of the TV series/Theatrical
cuts makes it essential viewing. Along with an interview as a bonus
feature with Bergman in 1984, the film acts like a kind of sequel to
another director's documentary- "Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie"- which
charted his production of Winter Light.
For Fanny and Alexander, we as the audience get an evolutionary look at the production, from out-door scenes simply involving a horse and carriage, to the elaborate, joyous Christmas and Christening dinners, and to the dead silent, dead serious scenes involving the tragedies in the story. The inter-titles put in by Bergman himself in-between the segments is another unexpected treat- as he comments on what's going on with the actors and the set-ups, there is a little humor here and there (i.e. a reference to a high church official who got upset about an incident involving a TV antenna).
And like with the previous documentary on Winter Light, Document of Fanny and Alexander provides for Bergman and non-Bergman fans alike to see what goes into the directorial/shooting process. How does a director talk to the actors? How does the director of photography (as with the previous film, the master Sven Nykvist) fit into shaping the scenes? And is the mood always completely focused, or does a shot of excitement over the process get over them (in other words, what's the mood)?
These kinds of questions are answered with an unflinching eye for the viewer, and at worst can only make the filming process to be boring (which it can be). But for a behind-the-scenes venture, there's a lot worse out there.
Making of Fanny and Alexander, The (1986)
**** (out of 4)
Four years after Fanny and Alexander was released, director Bergman released this documentary that gives us a behind the scenes look at how the legendary master put together his (at the time) last masterpiece. I think this documentary could rank right up there with Bergman's greatest pictures because it features a lot of the stuff that his movies are so well known for. Watching how Bergman films certain scenes, like the pillow fight, where he goes back and forth on what he wants. In this scene he's debating whether the children should be wearing slippers or not. He decides they shouldn't be but then he worried about one of the kids slipping and hurting themselves. We also get to see more difficult scenes like the dying scene in the movie where he must direct twelve of the actors for a very hard shot. What's even more special are the scenes where Bergman is taking it easy and just chatting with the cast and crew. It's also great fun watching the master discuss shots with (the other master) Sven Nkvist. You can see how hard working both men are and it's rather amazing that neither killed the other. If you're a fan of Fanny and Alexander than this is a must see. If you're simply interested in how movies are made then this is one of the best documentaries out there.
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