The Virgin Spring
In 1965 I escaped the cultural backwater of Beaumont-Port Arthur to attend college at Michigan State University. One of the first things I noticed was that I could see the sort of films they just didn’t show in Southeast Texas. Silent films. Movies where they talked funny, and you had to read subtitles. A whole bunch of classics that they just didn’t show on TV.
I joined the film society and took film classes, and haunted the two theaters near campus that showed foreign movies. I learned that Charlie Chaplin was far more than the jerky little dude I had seen in short clips. I came to appreciate the genius of Buster Keaton. I actually got to meet the great Harold Lloyd! There was also silent drama, which I learned to appreciate. But I think the stunner was the foreign stuff. I had had no idea there was all this great stuff that didn’t come from Hollywood, that looked nothing like Hollywood movies. I was entranced, and began a lifelong passion for the flicks.
I saw my first film by the great Akira Kurosawa, Rashomon. (I have now seen them all.) Films by Fellini. Truffaut. Films from Germany, Poland, Brazil, Spain. And of course, Sweden.
Frankly, at the time I found the films of Ingmar Bergman largely impenetrable. I just didn’t understand a lot of it. It was clear there was a lot of symbolism going on, but I had no idea what it was all about. And I will cop to this: I still don’t get a lot of it. I am totally impressed by his stunning black and white photography, and by the stark sense of menace he so often conveys in his imagery … but this dude playing chess with the Grim Reaper? What was that all about? I respect Bergman, but I will never be a huge fan.
I had never seen this one. It is grim, to say the least. There is no music at all, which was unheard of back then. In 1960 the famous rape and murder scene was totally shocking. It still is, even in this more violent age. Many countries banned it. So once more, I am very glad I saw it, and I don’t think I’ll ever need to see it again.