In the Presence of a Clown

In conjunction with the U.S. premiere of Ingmar Bergman's stage production of The Image Makers, the Brooklyn Academy of Music is screening three kindred films: Victor Sjöström's silent The Phantom Carriage (the inspiration for The Image Makers), the Sjöström- influenced Wild Strawberries, and Bergman's latest film, In the Presence of a Clown. Shot for Swedish television, the movie arranges the 1920s meeting of two psychiatric patients, the inventor Carl Åkerblom (also seen in Fanny and Alexander) and the professor Osvald Volger. They hope to collaborate on the first talking picture, a biopic of Franz Schubert. Bergman's films frequently make reference to each other, but Clown more than any of them reads as cumulative— and slipshod— pastiche, engaging themes of cathartic violence (as in The Hour of the Wolf), personified death (The Seventh Seal), female speechlessness-as-purity (Persona), the mystic powers of cinematography ("cinematography" was Persona's original title), man's insuperable loneliness (all of Bergman's films). The only new wrinkle, regrettably, is a tiresome anal fixation. For completists.

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