On weekends when the Walker Cinema is empty, Headline Rewind points out other worthwhile films that respond to headlines from the week that was.
News Event: The Oscars
As the 85th Academy Awards loom only days away (they’ll air on ABC this Sunday night, starting at 6pm), a flurry of articles, previews, and opinionated diatribes inundate the Internet, either touting the significance or decrying the irrelevance of this annual dog-and-pony show. Whether it’s the ceremony you love or merely love to hate, there’s little denying the cultural import these festivities carry in American pop culture. As bettors predict the honorees, naysayers lambaste the absurdity, and pundits question whether they even matter anymore, there’s little doubt that the awards will be one of the most-watched televised events of the year, and that a select number of powerful Hollywood studios (and artists) will bask in the glow of mass validation until the cycle of self-promotion begins anew for the next installment.
Film Recommendation: Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman
Among the many filmmakers and cinephiles who have viewed the Oscars with a certain amount of disdain, Ingmar Bergman might be the most pedigreed. As the Swedish filmmaker writes in this brusque letter he sent to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences following the nomination of Wild Strawberries (1957) for Best Original Screenplay, Bergman wanted nothing to do with the “motion picture art humiliating institution.” Indeed, the director’s sobering examinations of human desperation, cruelty, and alienation would not seem to mesh well with the stolid, pseudo-highbrow message movies the Academy tends to favor. (Remember Crash? Or Argo, for that matter?) Wild Strawberries — the bittersweet story of an aging physician who reevaluates his life before accepting a prestigious award at Lund University (a ceremony he significantly considers a hollow ritual) — is available online at Hulu Plus and on DVD through Netflix. One of Bergman’s most well-regarded films, Wild Strawberries also (perhaps to the director’s dismay) won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the eighth Berlin International Film Festival as well as the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
Yet if you’re looking to avoid all the Oscars hoopla by venturing into some foreboding Bergmanian territory, a treasure trove of intense, thought-provoking cinema awaits you online. In addition to the voluminous DVD offerings that Netflix provides, the website also offers Hour of the Wolf (1968), Passion of Anna (1969), and The Serpent’s Egg (1978) through Instant Streaming. The first of these, Hour of the Wolf, would be my personal recommendation: the director’s haunting, nightmarish foray into the horror genre (kind of) literalizes the demons that typically remain under the surface in his films.
Hulu, meanwhile, also offers The Virgin Spring (1960) and Through a Glass Darkly (1961), as well as many other titles through Hulu Plus. But the director’s most emotionally devastating film — and also the one that (not coincidentally) strays the furthest from Oscar territory — is also available for free streaming on Hulu: Cries and Whispers. (Ironically, Oscar voters continued to dismiss Bergman’s indifference and lauded the movie with five nominations, including Best Picture.) Concerning a trio of sisters (one of whom is on her deathbed) in a Swedish mansion at the end of the 19th century, Cries and Whispers returns to familiar Bergman territory (faith, doubt, love, death) while atypically conveying those themes through lush, saturated color cinematography (by Sven Nykvist). Including a shocking scene that’s referenced in Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2001), Cries and Whispers achieves a naked empathy that’s cathartic in its honesty and ambition. If you’re hoping to balance the pomp and glitz of the Oscars with an unsettling appetizer (or if you want to avoid the awards altogether), check out this unflinching masterpiece from an auteur who cared more about cinema’s emotional depths than the laurels it might bring to his mantelpiece.