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Disowning your own.

Not long ago, in philosophical conversation with a certain someone, I asked: "Would you ever disown your child?" To which she replied, "Only if he killed somebody..." My response to that was immediate and unequivocal: "Well, I wouldn't. My child could commit the worse imaginable crimes. I would still go and visit him in prison. He would always be my son." Whilst drawing a comparison between your offspring and your cinematic output could be 'pushing it' in many people's books, I certainly find them to have a great deal in common. Like with your children, you conceive your films, guide them according to your skills and values, make sure they are strong enough and finally set them free into a world which you hope will appreciate them. This is how it goes for those with true vocation. But although the greatest filmmaking always comes from an initial spark of individual vision, making films can be something altogether different. It often involves a whole set of invariably conflicting circumstances. What you end up with is always the result of what managed to prevail in the process. Cinema history is cluttered with examples of films which were, one way or another, disowned by their directors. Up until 2000, members of the Directors Guild of America could resort to the pseudonym of Alan Smithee when they were dissatisfied with the final result of a given film and could prove to a panel that their creative control could not be exercised. But the greater your reputation, the harder it becomes to completely discard previous work, particularly when even the most obscure references can be tracked down through the internet. For someone like David Lynch, with such a distinctive approach to his craft, it was always going to be difficult to get rid of Dune, 'his' 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic sci-fi novel. But although the film has managed to attain practically the same cult status as its literary source, I can completely understand Lynch's view that he failed in his duties as a director. It is, at times, a tremendously atmospheric film and way above average, but I do agree that it is his weakest. In other words, I cherish the memory of the impact of watching it on the big screen at the age of nine, but coming across a cheap DVD edition of the film credited to Alan Smithee at a more mature age was no great surprise. I've come to realise that the name that most recurs in my Filmreel prose is that of Ingmar Bergman. It should be no surprise. This towering figure has become part of Cinema's lexicon and will continue to influence filmmakers for generations to come. In his filmography, you find works that display the most impressive and immaculate employment of cinematic techniques, but even such prestigious output has had its stains. The first of his that I have thought to lack the depth and precision that he accustomed us to was The Serpent's Egg (1977), which starred the late David Carradine and is often incorrectly labelled as Bergman's first English-language film. Whilst the uneven narrative unfolds within familiar Kafkian territory, everything else is punctuated with awkward touches and mediocre choices. The sense of betrayal that I experienced when watching it still prevents me from formulating much more of an opinion. Bergman had let me down and from that point onwards, anything was possible. Through the years, I retained a sordid interest in watching his less available and actual first English-language film, The Touch (1971). Although not actively seeking it, my interest in the film grew steadily and it was ignited more recently when Stig Björkman - who, back in the day, had made a behind-the-scenes documentary of it - told us (at the latest Sheffield Doc/Fest) the lengths to which Bergman went to prohibit the film to be seen. I have finally become properly acquainted with the film. Although everything that Bergman himself stated in terms of his embarrassment had to be informing my viewing - even if subconsciously - I tried my best to take it for what it is and appreciate it. The straightforward narrative revolves around the adulterous relationship between a seemingly happy housewife and an archaeologist who befriends her husband. All ingredients that Bergman would've treated masterfully from both a formal and psychological perspectives. But the film fails. Disastrously. Every single scene lacks conviction. It's almost as if the director lost interest way before shouting 'cut'. To his own admission, in his diary entries of the time, Bergman confessed that he was uneasy with the project as early as when he completed the script. Language is a main problem, but it provides the key to one of the film's only redeeming qualities - the way in which it dares to comment on itself. As the two characters are about to embark on their affair, the woman (played by the magnificent Bibi Andersson) expresses how difficult it is "to talk about such things in another language" - clearly speaking for Bergman in that respect. The second comment, which highlights Bergman's frustration with the material comes from the couple's young boy, when, straight after an intimate scene between his mother and her lover, we have his father asking, "Did you enjoy the film?" and him answering, "No. Too much hugging and kissing." Bergman has always raised his material above vulgarity by having his characters pondering their circumstances in ways which highlight the human condition in a broader sense. The banality of this piece does not allow for such greater explorations, although it was defended at the time of its release by its lead actress. It is also endearing to know that Elliot Gould (who plays the lover) continues to take his scratched print to special screenings at various American Universities, answering Q&A sessions with marvellous anecdotes about the great director. To this date, I'm yet to disown one of my films. I can't say it will never happen. I can only hope I wouldn't have to. Perhaps, the closest I ever came to that was seven years ago, when I could hardly look back at the finished result of the highly problematic production of a feature film I wrote and directed (and which, coincidentally, also touches upon the theme of infidelity). It was certainly disowned by the majority of those involved in making it, most likely due to the wrong expectations placed on the project which, in turn, remains my most conventional. But from a more personal, artistic point of view, the tension that lingered had to do with the eternal dichotomy between 'commercial product' and 'work of art', something that Bergman has often elaborated upon and was most cynical about when he made The Touch. It could be said that my film was eventually revived by a surge of interest on the part of Sky TV, which purchased its worldwide rights and subsequently aired it four times. I eventually resolved my mixed feelings about the film, acknowledging to myself that "I must've done something right..." It was certainly the result of what managed to prevail in a process riddled with conflicting circumstances, but it had been set free into a world which apparently could appreciate it, and I cherish it now as much as any of my other 'cinematic children'. JOÃO PAULO SIMÕES IS A PORTUGUESE FILMMAKER LIVING AND WORKING INDEPENDENTLY IN SHEFFIELD - HIS WORKS INCLUDE ANTLERS OF REASON AND AN ARRAY OF MUSIC VIDEOS AND DOCUMENTARIES. capturafilmes.blogspot.com ingmarbergman.se bergmanorama.webs.com )

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