Burning Down the Art House, Part Two: Death Becomes Him

This is Part Two of three part series on my exploration of the elusive Art Film. (Check out Part One and Part Three, or listen to the podcast on Soundcloud.)

Puberty. I remember it as a kind of simultaneous metaphysical death and rebirth. I was 12 with a burgeoning awareness of counter culture that dovetailed nicely with my nascent arty pretensions. That year, the Amadeus soundtrack crowded out Van Halen’s 1984 in my cassette carrier and I had the word “Person” printed in black across the chest of a yellow T-shirt because we were all generic products in the consumerist 80s. Or something like that. In real life, everyone thought my conceptual fashion art was just a  misspelling of Pierson but that didn’t matter — I was making a statement. And that statement was “I’m an emerging creative force with whom you must reckon.” And someday, that might come true.

That summer, when I wasn’t plotting the purchase of my first trenchcoat, I was doing marathon binges of HBO. I have no idea what I watched back then other than a lot of short films because the cable channel used them as interstitials between features that ran long or short against the hour.

This is how I first saw De Düva, which led me to Ingmar Bergman, which led me to writing my first novel, The Late Projectionist, which is the first permutation of the story world that, nearly 20 years later, I’ve set the art film I’m calling Pill Head.

De Düva, or The Dove, isn’t a Bergman film, however. It’s an 11-minute parody-slash-homage to the director that a couple of wags made in 1968. They wanted to take the piss out of the Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. In the eyes of this impressionable 12-year-old, they succeeded. Because, as Weird Al will tell you, you haven’t done parody unless some tween knowingly snickers.

It went like this (courtesy of Wikipedia):

Victor, a seventy-six-year-old physics professor traveling by chauffeured car to give a university lecture, decides to visit his boyhood home. In the outhouse, he finds a figurine of a dove which reminds him of a summer picnic from his youth. Later in the flashback, Victor and his beloved sister Inga run through the woods until they come across Death, who has come to claim Inga. Victor wagers that Death will not win a badminton competition with Inga – parodying The Seventh Seal, in which the competition is a game of chess. Death agrees, with the condition that if he wins he will take both Inga and Victor. After Inga wins the competition, thanks in whole or in part to the accidental contribution of the Dove, she and Victor happily run to the lake to go skinny-dipping.

Brilliant. In fact, it was nominated for an Oscar. And It personified – then parodied – Death in a manner that made sense to this budding existentialist. It took Death and rendered him idiotic,

down to his Fruit-of-the-Loom-worthy cowl. Death, I learned, could be bested, at least for a while, if not by badminton, then by banter.

I saw The Seventh Seal years later in college and had profound deja vu. Then I was stirred to my core. And I realize now that the parody primed me to understand the potency of Bergman’s unique genius. I was receptive rather than recalcitrant which was the default MO of my 20s.

De Düva was to Bergman what Monty Python’s French Subtitled Film was to my appreciation of Godard as discussed in Part One of this series.

A decade and half later, I made my own Date with Death short wherein I too used rhetorical finesse to escape the inevitable. My debt to De Düva and Bergman is  more than evident in the film, which is linked in the show notes and I hope to pay it back by paying it forward with a work that inspires its own parody. Such is the cycle of life, death and de düva.