Wednesday, May 20, 2009
While Watching "Intermezzo"...
Many things caught my attention, including the fact that it's a remake made only three years after the original one was made in Sweden.
"Intermezzo" has Lesliw Howard play Holger Brandt a world famous violinist who falls in love with his daughter's (Ann Todd) piano teacher Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman)
Apparently Hollywood loved the remakes even back then. Fortunately though that isn't what makes the film memorable, among other things it has...
A superb, almost vanguardist, use of editing.
During one key scene the ice floating on the river announcing the end of winter suddenly turns into a sky filled with clouds (spring).
The interplay of sounds, dialogues and the striking beauty of the images would've made any Russian film theorist feel proud of Hollywood.
It features the American debut of the incredible Ingrid Bergman, who was only 24 back then and was reprising her role from the Swedish version of the film.
For being her first English speaking role she is fantastic (watch how she created her classy accent in this film) and throughout the whole movie she looks stunning.
The costumes by Irene and Travis Banton are perhaps some of the best ever created for Ms. Bergman. The column dress she wears above is stunning and made her look incredibly sexy while remaining elegant and appropriate for a concert pianist.
The belts become a leitmotif in her wardrobe (constricting guilt perhaps?) that flatter her figure and make her even more goddess-y.
She is also aided by cinematographer Gregg Toland who according to Hollywood lore was reprimanded by producer David O. Selznick who asked him why did Bergman appear so "ghastly" in his version, when she looked so beautiful in the Swedish one.
Toland replied how in Sweden she wasn't forced to wear so much makeup and Selznick obviously made them redo all her scenes with a more natural look.
The result is what became Bergman's signature look: a sort of divine aura made enigmatic by the fact that her divinity looks attainable.
Leslie Howard's character tells Bergman "you don't look real in this light".
It's as if the line was made to compliment Toland's breathtaking work.
Bergman and Howard learned how to play their instruments for the film, but of course them being geniuses in the screenplay their thespian abilities limited them to learn basic techniques to make them appear convincing onscreen.
Bergman is all fire and passion (even when the velocity camera tricks become too obvious some times).
Howard, who wasn't as good an actor as he thought, had a little more work done. His difficult violin scenes involved two professional players holding and playing the instrument for him. This is why they're made in closeups.
"Intermezzo" is a rather short feature length film, even for the era. It's only about seventy minutes long and one would wonder how they make the emotional impact work in such limited time.
The answer lies in its wonderful use of symbolism, metaphors and altogether visual economy.
The image above conveys the moment when the leads realize they have fallen in love and without a single obvious line of dialogue we come to understand it, as we do with many other situations in the film.
Upon watching her touch her husband's instrument (read that as you wish) Holger's wife (Edna Best) understand Anita's role in his life.
A romantic scene gives way to a wonderfully realized, melancholic goodbye. Notice how we only see their faces reflected in the antique shop, as if their love was also some sort of luxury only to be contemplated through a glass.
Holger's daughter listens to her father play on the radio. He has left their house and his presence (as noted by the picture) has left a great emptiness in his little girl.
The juxtaposition of the radio and the picture (both representations of parenthood gone missing) are only the more heartbreaking after seeing how the characters move around them.
Todd and Best are fantastic in these scenes.
And if there is something of particular notice about "Intermezzo" is how perhaps it's not only the weepy, melodramatic story many seem to think of, but is in fact an ode to masculinity.
When the film begins and we meet Holger's son Eric (Douglas Scott) his father first tells him that he can no longer kiss him (like he did his wife and daughter) and proceeds to shake his hand, establishing a distance between them that reaffirms their roles as males in society, but completely forgets their emotional (blood?) bonds.
Later his daughter calls her brother "stupid" to which Anita replies "he's a boy" as if to negate the preceding statement. Can men do no wrong in this society?
Eric disappears throughout most of the film as it's obvious that Holger's devotion is towards women. When he leaves his house and goes to France he befriends a little girl (Marie Flynn) who reminds him of his own daughter.
It is only upon his return to Sweden, and after tragedy strikes, that Holger finally reaches out to his son confessing "it is I who needs you now".
Can it be that all along Eric has been a representation of Holger himself? Was his rejection of his son a symbol of how he chose to deal with his midlife crisis without any responsibilites towards his role as a "man"?
By acknowledging that he needs his son, perhpas he's saying that he needs to become what others expected him to be (his son still is "fresh" and has made no wrong turns or big mistake sin his life, one can assume).
This notion of Eric's importance to the plot and to Holger's catharsis is suggested during one of his short scenes where he asks his father if he can go watch a movie.
He had asked his mother to interced for him offscreen and when he reminds her she tells him she'd forgotten all about it.
It's as if the movie is denying itself its actual central theme as well and trying to pass off as just another romantic drama.