July 21st, 2007

Death And Time

The Seventh Seal has been re-released to mark its fiftieth anniversary. Oh wow, the Seventh Seal is fifty years old!  Well of course it is, but every time I think about  it I get a sense of existential vertigo- like I'm standing on the edge of an abyss.

The movies do weird things to one's sense of time.  They preserve little bits of it and stick them together to create an eternal present.  Whenever you watch them is when they're happening. So if I had watched the Seventh Seal yesterday then yesterday was when Max Von Sydow played chess with Death.  

Only he didn't. He and all the the other vigorous young people in the movie are now either very old or very dead.

The movies confer a kind of immortality- but it's an immortality without any scope for change or growth (unless you count the deterioration of the film stock). No matter how many times Max and Death sit down on the rocks to play their game, Death will always choose black. 

The cinema is a new art form and already it's in its decadence. The Seventh Seal belongs to a far-off golden age  when film makers were still experimenting with their craft - and black and white was the norm and colour an extravagance.  They don't (couldn't if they wanted to) make 'em like that any more.  On a timeline stretching from the Lumiere brothers to the present The Seventh Seal is closer in time to Chaplin's Gold Rush than it is to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Yet I remember when the Seventh Seal was a comparatively new film. I was six when it first came out and I saw it for the first time about ten years later. I remember having conversations about it with a couple of smart-ass Dutch girls in 1968.  "Yeah, the Seventh Seal is good," said one of them. "But you want to see this new one he's got out. It's called Persona." This was long before tapes and DVDs of course and I had to wait a couple more years before Persona came my way and in all that intervening time I was just longing to see it.  And now the Seventh Seal and Persona are both of them venerable cultural artefacts.

And I own copies. Look, there they are- sitting on the shelf.