In the Words of the Director: Ingmar Bergman “Music and Film: Image of Poetic and Musical Erotic”

When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination. The sequence of pictures plays directly on our feelings. Music works in the same fashion; I would say that there is no art form that has so much in common with film as music. Both affect our emotions directly, not via the intellect. And film is mainly rhythm; it is inhalation and exhalation in continuous sequence.

Ingmar Bergman

 

These words from one of the greatest directors seem to beautifully capture the nature of film and its relationship to other arts, namely music. Music and drama were present  in unison, in a grand manner, in the music of Richard Wagner. Toward the end of his life, Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed his split with Wagner precisely for the reason because Wagner was too much of a dramatist, and not a musician. This verdict seems unjustified taking into account Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, one of the greatest musical pieces in the history of music. Nietzsche was, of course, aware of that and an ardent admirer of that piece. He refers mostly to the Nibelung and Parsifal, and this can be debated.

The important element of this relationship is the joining of music and drama into one art form. This leads us to the term which defines Wagner’s musical dramas (not operas) – Gesamtkunstwerk, which means “total artwork”. Film is precisely that; it combines all art forms into one. The problem with which Bergman deals in aforementioned words is not film’s incorporation of music into its form (Lars von Trier uses the prelude of Wagner’s Tristan in his Melancholia, which is magnificently combined with images which leave us breathless),  but the way in which music is akin to film.

 

In Bergman’s words, music reaches directly to us, and Arthur Schopenhauer believed the same thing: music affects us directly. He says: “Music … stands quite apart from all the [other arts]… It is such a great and exceedingly fine art, its effect on man’s innermost nature is so powerful, and it is so completely and profoundly understood by him in his innermost being as an entirely universal language, whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself.” In other words: “Music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is”. For Schopenhauer, there is no intermediary between music and the will, music is its direct expression and articulation. We can say, together with Bergman, that film affects us so profoundly and directly, that it is akin to music as Schopenhauer understood it. While we watch a film, we lose ourselves in the  the poetry of words and images.

Only the greatest directors manage to achieve this kind of sensation, and along with Bergman, Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog are among them. To Herzog music is of immense importance and we can say that the greatest directors have a strong touch for the musical erotic, as Søren Kierkegaard understands it. Sensuality is for Kierkegaard the main force behind music, and we can say behind film as well. He argues that with Christianity sensuality is posited: it negates sensuality and in the same time introduces it into history of ideas.

For Kierkegaard, Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the highest expression of the musical erotic, and in the writer’s own opinion, it has its highest expression in Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Aguirre’s pleonaxia, the desire for limitless conquest posits the erotic in its zenithal form, the posession of everything imaginable. At the same moment this driving force is self-negating, since the limitless desire to possess can result only in its cancellation. In Aguirre film as an art form achieves its own climax; the musical erotic and poetic imagery merge into a complete art form.

 

In the Words of the Director: Pedro Almodóvar “Cinema as a Religion”

The bad education I received at school was rectified when I went to the cinema. My religion became the cinema. Of course one could create one’s own belief system, and anything that helps or supports you in life can be seen as covering the function of religion. In that sense you could consider cinema my religion, because it is one of my major stimuli that I have for living. Cinema has that aspect of devotion to saints and idolatry as well. In that sense it is entirely religious.

Pedro Almodóvar

 

Almodóvar’s thoughts on cinema and religion are presented as an autobiographical account which can be vividly discerned in his 2004 film Bad Education. In this movie, two boys, who are homosexuals, as Almodóvar himself, go to the cinema and enjoy a place which is separated from the corrupt world of a religious school in Franco-era Spain. They see, as the director himself, cinema as a place of refuge, a sanctuary where they can experience emotions authentically, far beyond the grasp of a disciplinary institution, governed by priests. It is ironic that a place which is of secular nature is called a sanctuary of a kind, while the actual religious institution is associated with oppression and corruption. Churches, of course, can also be seen as sanctuaries, places of quiescent contemplation, separated from the corrupt world of modernity.

Film Screening

The other religious aspect of cinema which Almodóvar emphasizes is its power of healing, its therapeutic power. Cinema can be a support through the mechanism of identification with the protagonist, through acknowledgment of sufferings of the other: it can reduce our obsession with ourselves (and our own suffering), a phenomenon which the essayist Emile Cioran sees as particularly common in modern times. Jacques Lacan questioned the Aristotelian notion of catharsis, the purgation of emotions through drama, since the chorus in Greek tragedies does all the weeping and we watch the play rather disinterestedly.

An analogy can be drawn between watching a film at the theatre and hearing the collective weeping during a particularly emotional scene. Someone, in fact, the collective, does the weeping for us. Nevertheless, the notion of catharsis cannot be fully dismissed, since the pity we feel for the characters is indeed purfifying (watching Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark for example). Watching a film in the theatre can be seen akin to a religious experience since it is a congregation which appears in that very theatre and drama is collectively experienced. Instead of chanting and praying, there is laughter and tears.

To conclude, cinema does not only have its saints, the directors who belong to the pantheon of cinema, e.g. Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick and so on, but also has its angels; at the end of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire we can see his dedication to the angels of cinema, Andrei [Tarkovsky], François [Truffaut] and Yasujirō [Ozu].