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The Last Gasp

Amid his rather busy "retirement" from the screen, Ingmar Bergman wrote and staged this short 1994 play about one of Scandi cinema's earliest pioneers, then oversaw its adaptation for Swedish TV. Though a minor postscript to the master's filmed oeuvre, suitable only for broadcast or cinematheque dates, it will interest Bergman completists --- a pretty large coterie, as they go. Telepic was double-billed at S.F. fest with "Night Music," an original 1918 feature by its subject, Georg af Klercker. Klercker was a remarkable if short-lived force in silent Swedish cinema, cranking out some 18 features and 10 shorts in three consecutive summers between 1916 and 1918. His popular independent studio was bought out by competing mogul Charles Magnusson. Latter preferred the more prestigious, now better-remembered work of directors Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjostrom, both of whom briefly "went Hollywood" in the '20s --- Stiller bringing Garbo across the Atlantic, Sjostrom directing Lillian Gish in "The Wind" and "The Scarlet Letter."

Cast:
Georg af Klercker ..... Bjorn Granath Charles Magnusson ..... Ingvar Kjellson Secretary ..... Anna Von Rosen

This fictive one-act imagines a final confrontation between Klercker and Magnusson some years later, when the former has been effectively “flushed down the cinematic sewer” and begs his onetime friend for a comeback chance. At Magnusson’s company headquarters, Klercker (Bjorn Granath) is at first cocky, goading, full of resentment. Major tippling from the office liquor cabinet does not improve his manners, though it does unleash a series of humiliating personal recollections — and a desperate new-project “pitch” (based, oddly, on Sade’s “Justine”) that turns alternately pleading and threatening.

Magnusson (Ingvar Kjellson) says barely a word during Klercker’s long rant, which recalls certain Eugene O’Neill plays in its increasingly blotto mix of bile, self-laceration and pathos. A final, ghastly “joke” turns the tables on Klercker’s dourly unsympathetic audience, while sealing protag’s career doom.

This emotional arc is showy and engrossing, if never truly surprising; the performances are perfectly judged. Bergman is credited as “director,” Mans Reutersward as “director for TV,” an apt hierarchy since all action takes place on one stage set, with nothing especially filmic about the just-adequate vid translation, largely tight close-ups and tinted sepia.

The drama, about 45 minutes in length, is preceded by a 10-minute documentary about early Swedish cinema and Klercker in particular. Excerpted clips from latter’s productions suggest an energetic, thematically diverse filmography — ranging from broad comedy to naturalistic drama — in need of further rediscovery.

The Last Gasp

Swedish

Production: A Channel 1 Drama production. Produced by Swedish Television. Directed, written by Ingmar Bergman. Directed for TV by Mans Reutersward.

Crew: Camera (B&W, video), Per Noren, Raymond Wemmenlov, Sven-Ake Visen; set design, Mette Moller; lighting, Borje Berglund; sound, Magnus Berglid, Gunnar Frisell; makeup, Leif Qvistrom, Mona Tellstrom-Bergh; continuity, Maj-Britt Vifell; project leader, Lars Bjalkeskog. Reviewed at San Francisco Film Festival, April 27, 1997. Running time: 57 MIN.

With: Georg af Klercker ..... Bjorn Granath Charles Magnusson ..... Ingvar Kjellson Secretary ..... Anna Von Rosen

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