18 Oct 2011

Bergman in the Museum?

This presentation is in part a report by Thomas Elsaesser on his experience as the first Ingmar Bergman Professor, given as a lecutre at a Bergman symposium in Stockholm 2009.

What would it mean, for instance, to have Bergman restrict himself to one tonality, one face, one gesture - the way, say, Jasper Johns in the late 1950s painted only in shades of grey - but to do so, ad infinitum? Ten minutes of Liv Ullmann's face, for example, from all the films she made with Bergman, or Max von Sydow, looking straight at the camera, from film to film, with minimal variation, but becoming ever more intense.
Thomas Elsasser

Bergman in the Museum?

A Report on an Improbable Project

This presentation is in part a report on my experience during 2006-2007 as the first "Ingmar Bergman Professor", during what turned out to be the final year of Bergman's life. Although, I am not an expert on Bergman, I accepted the invitation with pleasure, because of my love for Bergman's films. I grew up with them in the 1950s and early 60s: Sawdust and Tinsel, Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and The Silence were the terrifying and exhilarating formative experiences on my way from childhood to adolescence. There always seemed to be a young boy just about my age in Bergman's films, who provided an uncannily accurate projection screen for my turbulent fantasy life.

I also accepted the invitation because of the several kinds of challenge the prospect of spending time immersed in Bergman's work seemed to present. The official purpose of my appointment was to open up the IB archive to new areas for research. Since I do not speak Swedish, we agreed that I would modify this brief somewhat and set the following priority: to revitalize research on Ingmar Bergman's work, by making it once more relevant for students in the 21st century, I would try and contextualize his films and the conditions of their production not within the Swedish context alone, but to internationalize them. In particular, I would try to find the 'European' Bergman. This, hopefully, would also help to re-introduce the great auteur's work to a new generation of students in Sweden, who had become somewhat tired at the stereotypical mention of his name as 'representing Sweden', and had become blasé about the films.

The task, in other words, was to try - if that was possible - to defamiliarise the all-too-familiar Bergman: creating, if you like "an unknown Bergman". I did this in a series of seminars that drew out the similarities and parallels between the careers of Bergman, and other European directors, who were immensely influential on their respective national cinemas (when seen from outside), but who also played a transnational role: thus, when looking at Bergman after the carers of Fassbinder, Lars von Trier (and Pedro Alomodóvar) a number of features emerged that were very similar: each was a one-man-studio system, each used a certain psycho-terror to enforce loyalty, each needed to make a film just about every year to keep the infrastructure intact, each used "perverse" sexuality as both a topic and an instrument of power and control. But the comparison also highlighted features that showed how much had changed in the working conditions of European film directors from the 1950s to the 1990s: the gradual disappearance of a national film industry, the rise of the film festival circuit, the funding of feature films first via television, and then through transnational co-productions.

The seminar was called Bergman Triangulated: What I set out to do was to compare was Bergman's role in the 50/60s for Swedish film and film-making, with R.W. Fassbinder's role in the 70/80s in German Cinema, and Lars von Trier's role in the 80s/90s for Danish cinema. These three directors are very symptomatic of European cinema in countries with a long and distinguished cinematic tradition, but which by then (compared to France or Britain) had suffered a steep decline in their commercial film industries. The directors had to create their own studio-system, based on different kinds of manipulation or 'creative asset-management': for instance, all three manipulated the various financial systems of state subsidy for filmmaking, and they manipulated the people who worked for them (Bergman and Fassbinder - and Almodóvar - for instance, used sexuality as means of production, and both Bergman and Fassbinder were experts at 'psychic terror' to enforce loyalty and dependency, while Lars von Trier has given us a glimpse of his own special kind of sado-masochism in The Five Obstructions, where he torments his former teacher Jürgen Leth, to remake one of Leth's own films.

Bergman and von Trier are similal insofar as they had a huge effect on their respective national cinemas, but with different results: whereas Bergman was said to have stifled other Swedish talents (he was the great tree casting a wide shadow), von Trier revived Danish, as well as Swedish filmmaking (more like grass growing low on the ground, but in all directions).

My second attempt to defamiliarize Bergman and re-invent him was to try and present him as one of the great Gesamtkunst-Artists, one whose complex work and affiliation with the different arts required not only a new kind of space and location going beyond the cinematheque, but also needed to be spatialized in its historical evolution and presented in several dimensions, which is to say, I wanted to give this work exposure and at least a temporary habitat in one of our last bourgeois public spheres and peripatetic agoras, namely the modern museum and the gallery space. Hence my title 'Bergman in the museum?' - but also the question mark: this part of the project remained largely hypothetical: more a kind of plea or manifesto than a blueprint for concrete action; it wasn't actually implemented, at least not in Stockholm or elsewhere in Sweden.

Before I go into it in more detail, I briefly want to mention a third project, which I pursued while holding the Ingmar Bergman Chair, and which I consider to have been a modest but real success, not least because I found a number of very able and enthusiastic collaborators in places as different as Stockholm, Amsterdam and at Yale, i.e. New Haven, Connecticut. In this project, I wanted to keep Bergman 'contemporary' and relevant, by confronting his films with some of the momentous changes that had taken place since the 1990s, as film production not only went 'digital', but the very process of film-making began shifting priorities, with (digital, special effects) post-production becoming ever more crucial, almost turning the (analogue, pro-filmic) 'production' (actors, set, location) into no more than raw material for the sound designer and the post-production team. One could also describe the change in more general terms and say that during the 1990s, film has changed from being a hardware-based process (resulting in a fixed, text-like, closed and self-sufficient object) and became more like a species of software (open-ended, amenable to cut and paste, to re-mix and re-assemblage, allowing for feedback and for user-generated interferences).

By treating Bergman's vast oeuvre, which in the meantime had become available as an impressive DVD-edition, not as individual films but as a sort of hypertext, structured by themes and variations, held together by the unity of his creative vision and the recurrence of his favourite obsessions, we are able not only to re-see the films, but to 'compose' with his films. Relying on the indexing and archival skills of one of my collaborators (Anne Bachmann) and the technical skills and creative talent of another (Jonas Moberg) - to mention just the Stockholm team - we did a series of mash-ups, taking the user-generated content site YouTube both as our distribution channel and as your mutual communication channel.

However, rather than follow the hermeneutic logic of other Bergman scholars, who itemize the director's cherished motifs (solitude and spiritual anguish; the Strindbergian male-female couple; the Absent God, etc.), I devised our own parameters. These were specific to Bergman, but also connected to the history of the cinema: they tried to take seriously Bergman the filmmaker as a reflexive auteur who while making films was also reflecting on the nature of his medium, though not in words, and instead in image-ideas or concept-images. Rather than giving his themes the usual biographical-autobiographical reading, I wanted to see if Bergman stood the test of this violent historical and technical transformation of the medium itself - and I think he does. But you will be able to judge for yourself, because we will be showing you some of the results of these experiments with Bergman, treated as a post-production auteur re-invented for the YouTube generation.

The guiding idea for my stay in 2006-2007, then, was that of a 'new Bergman': one for the 21st century, one for the younger generation, and a Bergman for European and world cinema. So much is more or less self-evident. But I had always been struck also by Bergman's extraordinary sense of pictorial composition; his dramatic, but equally understated and often witty use of sculptures, his many citations of specific pictorial motifs: Pietas, tableaux, Caspar David Friedrich landscapes, Rückenfiguren, his typically Scandinavian interiors that reminded one of Vilhelm Hammershoi and his extraordinary sense of light on surface and how he made you aware of textures.

Therefore I naively assumed that it might be interesting and fun - to research, in a more scholarly way, Bergman's affinity to the visual arts, perhaps even as a counterpoint to his often-claimed lack of interest in painting, and his much-professed allegiance to the theatre. The idea was to create a new kind of synergy between Bergman, the (Fine) Arts, the (Film) Archive, the Contemporary Arts Avant-garde and the Museum, and to develop a concept for a series of linked events, as a sort of present to Bergman on his 90th birthday (which would have been on July 14th, 2008). It was to be a special way of honouring Bergman, and of highlighting his stature as one of the 20th century's great 'artists' in the context of contemporary exhibition, installation and museum culture. I wanted the art world and museum practice to take note of Bergman as a 'classic' whose work - like that of any classic, be they Shakespeare or Strindberg, Mozart or Manet - needs to be re-interpreted by every generation anew.  The example from the world of cinema was Alfred Hitchcock, who had become not only a museum artist, thanks to a number of high profile exhibitions, but whose films were also the inspiration for an inordinately wide range of new works in film, photography, painting, installation and re-enactment art. 

A cynic might say that what I was engaged in was a certain 're-branding' of the Great Northern Sage: no longer only one of the towering figures of the cinema d'auteurs, and also no longer merely the great man of the theatre and of opera. No longer simply the subject of countless learned books, academic conferences and university film courses, but - along with Picasso and Hitchcock, Dali and Buñuel, Matisse and Kubrick, Cocteau and Eisenstein, Jasper Johns and Orson Welles - one of the Last Great Artists of the 20th century, and thus also belonging to Art History. Beyond re-branding and promoting the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, the task was real and urgent: how to extend Bergman's presence - so strong in recent years also on the theatrical stage - into the museum and art world: the latter still the gold standard of our visual culture, the site of patronage and of funds for new commissions. Bergman in the museum - not the mausoleum - would add a further dimension: exhibitions are popular with new audiences and are familiar to older, more high culture-oriented generation of patrons for the arts.

There were preliminary talks to cooperate with the Swedish National Museum Stockholm and to curate a show, organized as a series of stills from Bergman's films, mounted as paintings and then hung next to paintings from the turn of the century - from Sweden, Denmark and Norway, but also Germany. I made a little promotional presentation to prove my point.

I wasn't in Stockholm long enough (or maybe just not persistent enough), but beyond organizing a small symposium, we did not succeed in rallying enough partners to give this plan of bringing together art historians, curators and film historians a viable chance to become a reality. On the other hand, another aspect that appealed to me about this self-assigned task to bring Bergman into the museum was a certain obvious improbability and counter-intuitive logic: a clear intuition of its eventual failure, not least because I knew Bergman himself would have been scandalized and probably prohibited it: remember that at the time I was hatching this idea he was still very much alive, and by dying in 2007, he made sure that there wasn't going to be a 90th birthday anyway, at least not on the scale and in the form that I had tentatively fantasized about. Instead, the failure proved fertile in other ways, because I began to think in a more fundamental way about the relation between cinema and the museum.

Over the years, I had been working with a number of artist/film-makers, as they made the transition from the specialised cinemas to the art galleries and museums, from the black box to white cube, as it were. Among them were:
- Rainer Werner Fassbinder (whose Foundation had organized an exhibition and retrospective in 2005 in Paris at the Centre Pompidou, and another one in 2007, when Berlin Alexanderplatz was re-released and given the gallery treatment in New York and elsewhere (I travelled to Buenos Aires, Barcelona, Vienna, London, Ljubljana)
- Harun Farocki (with shows in Paris, Vienna, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Berlin)
- Johan Grimonprez ("Looking for Alfred" toured in London, Brussels, Munich and New York) and most recently,
- the Dutch artist Fiona Tan, for whose solo show in Venice in 2009 I contributed a catalogue essay.


The Moving Image in the Museum

Out of these collaborations, let me now make a few general observations about the cinema/moving image in the museum/gallery space. First of all, a brief reminder of the very real difficulties and inherent contradictions that confront the moving image inside the museum. The cinema and the gallery space are, both institutionally and philosophically, two distinct, if not antagonistic visual arrangements, temporal experiences and spatial dispositifs, their differences commonly expressed in the juxtaposition of 'black box' and 'white cube'. Each space is culturally pre-determined, has its own historically grown, but deeply ingrained traditions, following particular architectonic ordering principles or 'logics', which amount to distinct ontologies.

Especially the cinematic dispositif requires a unique layout and geometry, in the way screen, auditorium space and projector are aligned in relation to each other, in order for the 'cinema-effect' to occur. This 'cinematic apparatus', many times theorized and deconstructed in the way it is predicated on projection, requires a fixity of spectatorial position and implies a particular distribution of darkness, light and illuminated surface. It has long been a key element (along with 'montage') in any thinking about the cinema's specificity, determining its psychological and psychoanalytic efficacy (the 'subject effect' of identification), as well as its ontological consistency (the 'realism effect' of ocular evidence and the illusion of physical presence).

The museum or gallery, too, is a specific spatio-temporal arrangement. With its white walls, preference for 'natural' light, and its emphasis on smooth surfaces, it organizes space in such a way that the objects visible to the spectator are both brought close and maintain their distance. The placing and hanging of pictures subtly privileges the upright, forward orientation of our gaze, directed at the formation of an 'image', distinctly framed and positioned at eye-level. Still paying tribute to the 'open window' of Renaissance perspective, the white wall into which the picture space is cut allows for generous margins and empty surfaces to surround each image, while the heavily gilded frames are a reminder of the fundamental difference between the picture, what it contains, the look it retains, and the space that surrounds it. In the museum, for instance, there is never any space off-screen, to speak in the language of cinema: the classical oil painting is wholly contained, indeed self-contained within the frame, while cinema lives from the tension between off-screen and on-screen, of what the frame delimits, but also what it creates a passage for. The film-critic André Bazin famously distinguished between the 'centrifugal' cinema frame and the 'centripetal' painting frame.

The difference of these vectors also helps explain the different time experience, and why the gallery and the cinema are distinguished by the mode of attention they afford their respective viewers. The kind of presence produced by standing in front of a work of art in a museum or a gallery carries very strong indices of time and place (of a "now", and a "here"), which in turn imply a special type of viewing subject, highly aware of herself and her surroundings and thus receptive to reflection, introspection and auto-reflection. Walter Benjamin famously called this presence 'aura', and was careful to specify its conditions of possibility, as well as the slippages the aura undergoes in the age of mechanically reproducible images and their commercial use and circulation. Speculating on the mode of presence typical of the cinema Benjamin, for instance, speaks of the desire to touch, and the simultaneous barring of this desire, generating the cycles of disavowal and fetish-formation which psychoanalytic film theory has also identified. Simplifying a little, one could say that the museum produces a particular kind of presence (a "me", a "here" and a "now"), whereas the cinema produces a split self-presence and multiple temporalities (a "me/not me", in an endlessly deferred loop of the "here" and "now").

In their distinctive logics, the two dispositifs entail a further set of differential co-ordinates, which come into play or conflict when the moving image enters the museum: a fixed image and a mobile spectator (museum) have to be aligned with a moving image and a fixed spectator (cinema). From what has been said about the cinematic apparatus, the combination of the moving image and the mobile spectator drastically redefines, if it does not altogether destroy the 'cinema-effect', while for the contemplative-reflexive spectator of the picture gallery, the moving image is a distraction and an irritation. Painting and sculpture are about the representation of movement, not its instantiation. This fundamental tension adds additional spice to the heated debate over 'theatricality' (and its opposite, 'absorption'): the degree to which a painting signals its awareness of a beholder, whether by ignoring him/her, by a mise-en-scene of looking, or by a mise-en-abyme that gives the viewer no logical place to stand in the painting's fictive space. According to Michael Fried – best known for polemically raising the issue – a painting enters into a properly aesthetic relation with its beholder only when ignoring spectatorial presence: depicting figures either self-absorbed in introvert activities, or given over to self-abandonment. While modernism has perpetuated this refusal to acknowledge the spectator, minimalism (and its successor: relational aesthetics) solicits participation, and is thus inherently 'theatrical'. Significantly, Fried uses the word ‘theatrical’ (derived from Diderot), when it is evident that the problematic which he addresses derives its urgency from the encroachment of cinema into the realm of modernist as well as post-modernist art.

The encounter of cinema and museum thus obliges one to rethink spectatorship, as well as the kinds of self-enclosure or 'exposure' afforded to the moving image not just by the physical display (the monitor or screen), but by the manner the look of the image frames the viewer's gaze in the gallery’s surrounding. The new configuration of cinema/museum also affects the role of the body, the respective degrees of embodiment (compared to the cinema's disembodied look, the gallery's default value is embodied perception), as well as relations of size, scale, and detail - all widely debated in recent years. A further disruption or transgression is implied by the entry of sound, and of sound-spaces into the museum, traditionally a site of silence and stillness in both senses of the word.

Given all these seeming incompatibilities, what does the institutionally pre-existing reflexivity and self-reference of the museum bring into being, when the cinema crosses the liminal threshold and enters into the gallery space? Much has been written about this – including by myself – but I want to concentrate on one element: the possibility that the museum is the space where the cinema doubles itself, as it were, and where it is confronted with its own fundamental principles, its own history, and its own particular mode of being. Questions that naturally arise, for instance, would be something like: is the cinema a window on the world, and if so, are we, the spectators 'inside' or 'outside'? As I tried to show in my brief powerpoint presentation, this is a theme that could be amply illustrated from Bergman's work. Or is the cinema not rather a mirror, in which we see ourselves, across the characters own anxious and self-scrutinizing looks, as so often happens in Bergman, and as also a whole generation of film theorists set out to demonstrate, thanks to the Lacanian mirror-phase.

But then again, maybe it is more useful to think of the cinema screen as a door: closed, when we enter, but gradually opening up to quite different worlds of sensations, perceptions and feelings. We might not even notice that a door has opened, and just mistake it for our own world, when in fact we have crossed into a space of memory or even as so often in Bergman's films into the world of childhood fears and terrors. But why think of the cinema only in such ocular or architectural metaphors? Why not consider the tactile and haptic potential of the moving image, the richness of sensations evoked by colour and texture, not to mention the many instances where it is the hand that not only guides the protagonist in the fiction, but it is the hand that invites us, the spectator, to explore the space, the face, the sur-face with a new acuteness and in a different perceptual register.

In short, the encounter between cinema and the museum can be thought of as an exercise in cine-archaeology. It takes place as a form of embodied theory, where the constitutive reflexivity and self-reference of modern art helps to question or re-affirms what, somewhat extending André Bazin, one might call the cinema's different 'ontologies': of window, door, mirror, skin, mind and consciousness.  In the case of Bergman’s cinema, how would these ontologies manifest themselves, once subjected to the forms of arrest, suspension, and displacement that can be posited as typical for the move to the museum? It would, for instance, subtract from Bergman's cinema much of its 'narrative' drive, its prosody and dialogue, but also its psychology (and thus 'drama'): the very life-blood of Bergman's cinema, one might say. Put differently, Bergman’s cinema enters the museum not as a story-telling medium, nor as a collection of personal themes and obsessions (such as childhood and family, the marital couple, religion or 'art'), but as its own double, arresting the medium, its history and specificity, by exposing its dimension of 'reflexivity as archaeology and theory'.


Reflexivity as Ontology

What cinema shares with the fine arts, and in particular with painting, is a common conception of vision, inherited from Renaissance perspective: that a rectangle of colour and light, framed against a wall, can connote an 'open window on the world'. In the face of such an inherently improbable, but deeply held idea (and the sweeping changes that the digital media are rapidly bringing to such assumptions), some of the differences often noted between cinema and museum, such as mobile spectator/ fixed image, versus fixed spectator/ moving image, diminish in consequence.

A compilation that concentrates on Bergman's use of windows - especially when combined with mirrors, frames and doorways - can bring out the painterly composition of many of his scenes, and lead to productive comparisons between theatrical staging in depth, pictorial conventions of multiple planes of action, and cinematic 'deep space'. But it also shows how restrictive and 'conventional' the window as master trope of human vision actually is, and how adversely it can affect human interchange and communication. More generally, the idea of the cinema as a window on the world is also known as the 'realist ontology', itself one of the key definitions of 'what is cinema', and thus an affirmation of its specificity as an art form.

That Bergman cites the window so often is sign of his classicism, and yet - as a montage of similar scenes readily proves - much more happens when one focuses on his half-open or half-closed doors, his full-length or hand-held mirrors, the moments of a character crossing the threshold from one space into another, or when peering into one space through the doorway of another. Repetition here creates a degree of reflexivity, also with regards to spectatorship: it re-asserts the cinema's unique architecture of looks, in rooms that often simulate the domestic interiors of bourgeois life, while threatening at any moment to collapse into a claustrophobic hall of mirrors, doubling up on themselves, and giving the spectator no place from which to retain a firm footing, nor to sustain the illusion that s/he might be safely on the 'outside', merely looking in.


Reflexivity as Archaeology

Bending to the time-constraints and spatial arrangements of the museum as 'white cube' rather than 'black box' also produces another kind of reflexivity. The invention of 'new forms', such as short films, montage-sequences, and above all loops, turns out to be the re-invention of early film-forms from the time of cinema's 'origins': museum reflexivity becomes media archaeology. Signalled clearly in the title of his autobiography The Magic Lantern, Bergman makes frequent allusions in his films to pre- and proto-cinematic devices (The Magician, Persona, Fanny and Alexander).

These machines of vision serve several functions: they inscribe him into a genealogy of pioneers of spectacle and entrepreneurs of the eye in motion, and they want to emphasize the element of craft, the practical skills and sheer technical know-how that goes with being a filmmaker. But they also emphasize what the museum tends to exclude: the white (and occasionally even black) magic of entertainment and showmanship, of ghosts and apparitions that testify to Bergman's affinity with the 'low arts' practiced by the performers, strolling players, manipulators and tricksters who people his films and whose lives of hard work – despite the ironic or sarcastic tone – he seems to salute for their popular touch, as much as he recognizes their bodily appetites (The Seventh Seal, Sawdust and Tinsel, The Ritual).

Perhaps the most important function of these magic lanterns, puppet-theatres, mechanical toys and illusionist contraptions, for our present project at least, is that they are a useful reminder of an alternative genealogy for the cinema itself, not dependent on (bourgeois, museum-friendly) Renaissance perspective and the conceit of the window on the world. Instead – while also deriving from the camera obscura – they lead via 18th century phantasmagorias, 'Pepper's Ghost', fog pictures, stereoscopy, apparition photographs and spiritist séances, to the wilder shores of 'special effects' of today, to 3-D graphics and the immersive spectacles, promised by the new media, and not bounded by the picture frame, nor predicated on the calibrated parameters of distance and proximity, typical of painting and museum display, and instead envelop us in the permanent, ambient 'ether' of fantasy and of parallel worlds of para-normal presences.


Minimalism as Relational Aesthetics 

There would seem to be little that is 'minimalist' about Bergman's work, all on the side of baroque exuberance, or haunted by an equally baroque melancholia and sense of memento-mori. Here, too, the limits and constraints of the museum can lead to new discoveries and to a re-appraisal. As part of the 'subtractive' turn of digital media, the compilation format divests the cinema of narrative telos, and generates instead a different kind of linearity, based on repetition, where a concatenation of moments, taken from their context, can be re-inserted into a different scheme: the more obvious and simple the rules, the more enigmatic the content can become. But also: the more minimal the perceptual perturbations, the more demands are made on the spectator to experience a 'work', in the productive act of giving meaning to perception itself.

As gallery artists increasingly rely on works in series, mimetically or intuitively reproducing the sequential rhythm of cinema, they also impose the severest of self-restrictions: minute variations, almost imperceptible to the untrained eye, challenge the notion of the discrete image, while nonetheless eschewing 'movement', thereby re-focusing attention on the rule for generating the work, while highlighting the rule's inability by itself to structure the viewer's experience. What would it mean, for instance, to have Bergman restrict himself to one tonality, one face, one gesture – the way, say, Jasper Johns in the late 1950s painted only in shades of grey – but to do so, ad infinitum? Ten minutes of Liv Ullmann's face, for example, from all the films she made with Bergman, or Max von Sydow, looking straight at the camera, from film to film, with minimal variation, but becoming ever more intense. A thought to make one dream, but one that needs a screen as big as a Tintoretto altar-piece, or Holbein's The Ambassadors – not the postage stamp screen of the i-phone or the cramped and crowded environment of YouTube.


Mutual Interference and Potential Presence

Perhaps the most challenging assumption to come under scrutiny, when a filmmaker like Bergman enters the museum, is the cinema's relation to the body, and especially its engagement with the senses other than vision. Traditionally, the cinema has been regarded as the triumph of the disembodied gaze. It arose, a little over a hundred years ago, when there was no aerial transport via planes, no private motorcars, and the only available mechanized means of transportation was the railway. Well into the 20th century, then, cinema was a mobile eye: an organ to see and to explore the world with, an eye no longer tied to the body. It could roam freely, make itself invisible, and penetrate into places that were either forbidden, barred or physically out of reach.

The disembodied eye was celebrated as a potent intimation of power and omniscience. Voyeurism, that primary motive of assisted vision, is also intimately connected with a form of disembodiment: who could resist the idea of not having to take responsibility for one's bodily presence in a given space or at a given time, while still enjoying its intimacy of visual contact?  By contrast, when visiting the museum, we are inescapably present with our bodies, indeed this is the special pleasure and privilege of being in a museum: sharing the same space with a unique work of art, experiencing the tactility and vibrancy of paint, feeling the urge to touch the curves or surfaces of a sculpture.

Framed within these expectations, Bergman's films are especially responsive. Not only did he lead the eye into places of the mind where it had never been before: he was also a master in teasing out tactile sensations from black-and-white photography, and able to flood the screen with saturated colour – just think of the almost unbearably intense reds in Cries and Whispers. One of the paradoxical effects of the digital image having become the norm is that film scholars, too, have been paying more attention to 'embodied' forms of vision, they have spoken of the 'skin' of the film (the way that Roland Barthes spoke of the 'grain' of the voice), or they are noting a new materiality in video and digital media, which leads to a more 'haptic' mode of perception and reception on the side of the viewer. If compared to the cinema’s disembodied look, the gallery's default value is embodied perception, then all manner of aesthetic parameters – I am thinking of relations of size, scale, and detail – call for re-investigation and a deeper understanding.

To conclude: I do not want to minimize the transgressive nature of what I am proposing. A film-maker has the right to the integrity of his oeuvre, this being usually defined by the autonomy of his individual films as coherent and complete works, to be shown exactly as intended. I have no disagreement with such a position. My argument is as simple as might appear simple-minded. I do believe that there lie hidden in Bergman's films certain layers of potential presence (as opposed to more 'meaning' and interpretation) that can be actualized and literally brought to the films' sensory surface, when making the dispositifs of cinema and museum both converge with each other and mutually interfere with each other, as they do in the form of installations and compilations.

The encounter becomes an event, precisely to the degree that the tensions can still be felt, and the seemingly incompatible properties of each 'medium' oblige curators to make choices rather than to compromise. Without wishing to claim that somehow this reveals, say, the 'optical unconscious' of a director's work, or even assume that we have been able to distil Bergman's ars poetica, it does, I believe, teach us something about the cinema – after the 'death of cinema'. For besides giving a new generation the opportunity to learn to look at films closely (that is, with all their senses), the patience and dedication and attention to detail which compilations and installations – in short, which such post-production work – requires, constitutes a veritable labour of love, and thus a new form of cinephilia (for the digital age).

Beyond these pedagogical uses, important though they may be for museums as much as for film scholars, the exercise does allow new questions to emerge and thus helps us ask afresh the question of 'what is cinema', as it enters/ when it enters the public space of reflexivity, by which I have defined the museum. I would consider my mission, as former Ingmar Bergman Professor to have been accomplished, if this cursory meditation on "the cinema in the museum" can suggest that the avant-garde, the museum and the academy do have a mutual interest to preserve, to present and indeed to re-invent what we still call 'the cinema', and for which the known as well as the "unknown Bergman" could very well be an inspiration, a primary archive and a particularly rich and rewarding resource.


The URLs of the Bergman compilations that Thomas Elsasser put together in connection with the project: