Monday, September 17, 2007

Bergmaniac

In the week following Ingmar Bergman’s death, David Denby wrote in The New Yorker that Bergman “was perhaps the most influential of all filmmakers as well as the most widely parodied.” (August 13, 2007, p. 10).

Of course, Denby said “perhaps,” and he supported his view by writing that “In the nineteen-sixties and seventies, antic couples quarreled in mock Swedish, film students spoofed his morbid dream sequences, Woody Allen sent the hooded figure of death from ‘The Seventh Seal’ stalking through ‘Love and Death’.”

Nevertheless, his assertion is astonishing. It was as if someone had called Nietzsche “perhaps the most influential of all philosophers as well as the most widely parodied,” and had noted that in the nineteen-seventies students walked about Harvard Square in Nietzsche T-shirts, that some thinkers have called Nietzsche the philosopher of the twentieth century, that even The Sopranos invoked the pronouncement for which Nietzsche is best known (at least to non-philosophers), “God is dead.”

Indeed, the case for Nietzsche is considerably stronger than the analogous one for Bergman. While there are no obvious alternative candidates to Nietzsche in the “most influential and widely parodied” contest (with the possible exception of Wittgenstein, who has been hugely influential--even among those who do not accept his view of philosophy-- and parodied at least once in a while), there is an obvious alternative to Bergman in the person of Alfred Hitchcock, whose work has influenced and been imitated, parodied, and otherwise sent up by admirers and acolytes from Mel Brooks and Jonathan Demme to Gus Van Sant and Brian de Palma.

Has there ever been a more recognizable filmmaker, one who combined artistic achievement so thoroughly with commercial success, and whose influence can be felt in such disparate movements and subgenres as film noir, French New Wave, thrillers, psychological dramas, espionage, romance, and horror films?

To see how “the case for Hitchcock” might be made, see the recent collection of essays on the range and influence of Hitchcock’s films, After Hitchcock: Influence, Imitation, and Intertextuality, edited by David Boyd and R. Barton Palmer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

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