Bye-bye Bergman, arrivederci Antonioni

Ransom Riggs

Attention legendary auteurs of world cinema: please stop dying! In the past two days, we've lost two of the best -- Swedish director Ingmar "Gloomy Gus" Bergman and Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni -- and if death keeps swinging his cinema scythe at this rate, we'll be down to the likes of Spielberg in a week or two. While both were highly respected filmmakers in their own right, Bergman was undoubtedly the giant of the two. American filmmaker Paul Schrader (he wrote Taxi Driver) said of his passing, "It's impossible for anyone of my generation not to have been influenced by Bergman." High praise indeed, and not far from the mark: you see his trademark all over today's movies, but perhaps nowhere more clearly, I will argue, than in dream sequences.

Everybody loves a good dream sequence, and Bergman was a master of them, playing with everything sound design to editing and music (or creepy lack thereof) to create something so uncanny, it could only be a dream. He perfected it in his masterpiece, Wild Strawberries, when the elderly professor dreams -- what else -- of his inevitable death:

If the uncannny dream sequence was one of Bergman's hallmarks, it's everywhere now. Roman Polanski's wonderful dream scenes from Rosemary's Baby are a perfect example (wish I could post them here, but YouTube doesn't have 'em): sound and image disconnect just enough to make the dreams seem almost but not quite real, and thus, super-creepy. (Check out our run-down of the uncanny valley phenomenon, which looks at why not-quite-human robots and clones are so darn creepy.)

Another great example of Bergman's dreams are played out (or rather, were) every few weeks on The Sopranos; Tony's dreams seem exported directly from the Swedish art cinema. Remember when he was in that coma, hovering between life and death, trapped in the dream purgatory of an Orange County hotel, a lighthouse shining endlessly out his window? Sooooo Bergman. (Again, wish I had a clip!)

David Lynch could never be called derivative, but watching Eraserhead feels like you're watching a feature-length version of one of Bergman's dream sequences. The whole darn thing is uncanny. I finally found a clip that feels appropriately illustrative of my point, so I'm going to post it, but viewer beware, not only is it super creepy, but Eraserhead's head flies off about halfway through, and fake as it looks, it's definitely grotesque. The first four minutes are really all you need to see, anyway:

When Schrader says that everybody is influenced by Bergman, he means everybody: even, to some small and silly degree, my friends and I in high school. We used to make videos on the weekends -- one-off, extemporized, edited-in-camera, bad acting and the rest -- and we called this one, quite simply, "Art Film." (In retrospect, not so sure about that claim, but hey, we were young and pretentious.) It's not a dream, but it is weird and black-and-white. Special bonus: stars two current floss bloggers!