Hour of The Wolf (1968)

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hour of The Wolf (1968)

One of the small problems with WTF Wednesday is sometimes finding films that are weird versus just plain crap, and there is a lot of crappy films out there.  I know because I sit and watch the ones I’m not familiar with or re-watch the ones I haven’t seen in a while.  If you’re keeping score at home that means I sat through two films today with the hope of not losing three hours of my life (2x 90 minute runtimes) before coming across a diamond of pure insanity.  We’re going old school and big name today so open your film history books because we’re going to discuss Ingmar Bergman’s one and only horror movie.  Warning: there will be a lot of Swedish words ahead.

  • Actors: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh, Georg Rydeberg, Erland Josephson
  • Directors: Ingmar Bergman
  • Writers: Ingmar Bergman
  • Producers: Lars-Owe Carlberg
  • Language: Swedish
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
  • DVD Release Date: April 20, 2004
  • Run Time: 90 minutes
  • The film is framed through the account of Alma (Liv Ullmann), who addresses the audience directly while sitting at a picnic table. She tells of her husband's disappearance, which is explored in a flashback constructed of his diaries and her words.

    Painter Johan Borg and his young wife Alma live on the small island Baltrum where he seeks rest after a crisis which is not explained in further detail. He is regularly approached by odd and suspicious people. He confides to Alma that he believes them to be demons, and begins to give names to the figures who approach him, including the Bird-Man, the Insects, the Meat-Eaters, the Schoolmaster (with pointers in his trousers), and The Lady With a Hat. Also, his insomnia is growing worse. On the nights when Johan can't sleep, Alma stays awake by his side.

    One day, an old lady stops by the house and tells Alma to read Johan's diary which he hides under his bed. Alma discovers that Johan is not only haunted by the real or imaginary strange figures, but also by images of his former lover Veronica Vogler.

    The couple are approached by a Baron von Merkens, who lives in a nearby castle. The painter and his wife visit them and their surreal household. After dinner, the barons wife shows the couple into her bedroom where on display is a portrait by Borg, depicting Veronica Vogler. The painting appears to be so beautiful, the barons wife proclaims, "It has become like a part of my solitary life. I love her." After Johan and Alma have left the castle, she confesses to him her fear of losing him to the demons, but also her will not to give up easily.

    A superimposed title "Hour of the Wolf" marks the end of part one and the beginning of the second part of the film. Again, Alma stays awake with Johan who cannot sleep. He tells her of the "vargtimmen" ("Hour of the Wolf"), during which, he says, most births and deaths occur. He also recounts his desperate love affair with Veronica Vogler and his childhood trauma of being locked into a cupboard where, as his parents said, a small man lived who fed on children's toes. Then he recalls a confrontation with a small boy which occurred some time ago and culminated in his killing of the boy. Whether this encounter actually took place or was part of his imagination is never revealed. Alma is shocked by Johan's confessions.

    One of von Merken's guests shows up at the couple's house to invite them to another party at the castle, pointing out that Veronica Vogler is among the invited guests. He places a pistol on the table, to protect them against "small animals", as he states, and leaves. Johan and Alma get into a fight over his obsession with Veronica Vogler. Johan finally picks up the pistol, shoots Alma down and runs to the castle.

    Johan attends the party. The baron's guests, all of which previously attended, are revealed to be each demon that Johan described to Alma. As he rushes through the castle to discover Veronica's whereabouts he meets the prophesied "Bird-Man" who applies cosmetics to his pale face and dresses him in a silk robe. He then leads Johan to Veronica. Johan is humiliated as he finds the reunion a jest, with Veronica and the baron's guests laughing at his sincere and passionate display of love, incredulous, he declares "I thank you, the limit has finally been transgressed. The mirror has been shattered. But what do the splinters reflect?" Johan is physically attacked by the demons and flees into underbrush.

    In the last act of the film, Alma searches the forest for her husband. She witnesses the attacks on her husband, before he finally disappears, leaving her alone in the woods.

    In the final scene, Alma addresses the camera, "Is it true that a woman who lives a long time with a man eventually winds up being like that man? I mean, she loves him, and tries to think like him, and see like him? They say it can change a person. I mean to say, if I had loved him much less, and not bothered so of everything about him, could I have protected him better?"

    This film, much like much of Bergman’s work, is heavy and prodding and filled with anxiety both for the characters and the viewer.  Be warned, once you watch it done by a master film maker you have trouble going back to blindly enjoying the straight to video or SyFy original of the week.  No words are able to properly describe this film and it’s amazing level of weird so please hunt it down and view it yourselves.

    I include this section only because as I was viewing this film earlier today my teenage daughter walks in and asks what I’m watching.  She then asks why is it in black and white, to which I respond with a brief history lesson.  She then informs me I have failed as a parent and that all black and white movies suck and everyone knows that movies were invented the year she was born and that I was a big poo poo head.  So just because she ruined it for everyone by taking away my faith in the future from her generation I present a refresher on the director for the rest of the unwashed heathens who also believe the greatest film maker ever to exist is Eli Roth.

    Ernst Ingmar Bergman (14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007) was a Swedish director, writer and producer for film, stage and television. Described by Woody Allen as "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera," he is recognized as one of the most accomplished and influential film directors of all time.

    He directed over sixty films and documentaries for cinematic release and for television, most of which he also wrote. He also directed over one hundred and seventy plays. Among his company of actors were Harriet Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in the landscape of Sweden. His major subjects were death, illness, faith, betrayal, and insanity.

    Bergman's film career began in 1941 with his rewriting of scripts, but his first major accomplishment was in 1944 when he wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (Hets), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg. Along with writing the screenplay, he was also given position as assistant director to the film. In his second autobiographical work, Images: My Life in Film, Bergman describes the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut. The international success of this film led to Bergman's first opportunity to direct a year later. During the next ten years, he wrote and directed more than a dozen films including The Devil's Wanton/Prison (Fängelse) in 1949 and The Naked Night/Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton) and Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika), both from 1953.

    Bergman first achieved worldwide success with Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) (1955), which won for "Best poetic humor" and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes the following year. This was followed by The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) and Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället), released in Sweden ten months apart in 1957. The Seventh Seal won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and Wild Strawberries won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström. Bergman continued to be productive for the next two decades. From the early 1960s, he spent much of his life on the Swedish island of Fårö, where he made several films.

    In the early 1960s he directed three films that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en Spegel – 1961), Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna – 1962), and The Silence (Tystnaden – 1963). Critics created the notion that the common themes in these three films represented trilogy or cinematic triptych. Bergman initially responded that he did not plan these three films as a trilogy and that he could not see any common motifs in them, but he later seemed to have adopted the notion, with some equivocation. In 1964 he made a parody of Fellini with All These Women.

    In 1966, he directed Persona, a film that he himself considered one of his most important works. While the shockingly experimental film won few awards many consider it his masterpiece. Other notable films of the period include The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan – 1960), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen – 1968), Shame (Skammen – 1968) and A Passion/The Passion of Anna (En Passion – 1969). Bergman also produced extensively for Swedish television at this time. Two works of note were Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap – 1973) and The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten – 1975).

    After his arrest in 1976 for tax evasion, Bergman swore he would never again make films in Sweden. He shut down his film studio on the island of Fårö and went into self-imposed exile. He briefly considered the possibility of working in America and his next film, The Serpent's Egg (1977) was a German-U.S. production and his second English-language film (the first being 1971's "The Touch"). This was followed a year later with a British-Norwegian co-production of Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten – 1978) starring Ingrid Bergman. The one other film he directed was From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten – 1980) a British-German co-production.

    In 1982, he temporarily returned to his homeland to direct Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. Since then, he wrote several film scripts and directed a number of television specials. As with previous work for TV, some of these productions were later released in theatres. The last such work was Saraband (2003), a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage and directed by Bergman when he was eighty-four years old.

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