Thoughts On: Intermezzo
This is one of the greatest romances ever conceived. It centres around a love affair between a piano teacher and her student’s father, exploring the idea of a mistake and of the intermittent.
I absolutely adore this film. I know it’s a remake of the Swedish film that Bergman also starred in, but I’ve never wanted to see it. I don’t know, maybe just in the hope that it’s not better than this. I don’t know what that says about me. Anyway, this film is a masterpiece in my opinion. It’s stood the test of time, but not in the respect it deserves. To me, this is… get ready… this film is Citizen Kane meets Casablanca meets Gone With The Wind meets The Magnificent Ambersons meets The Wizard Of Oz. What the shit did I just say!? Yeah, I said it. And to be honest, this film trumps all but two of those mentioned – The Wizard Of Oz and Gone With The Wind. Citizen Kane is a masterpiece, truly brilliant – you’d be a fool to deny it. On a technical level, I’d say that it’s a better film. But a film is not a mathematic equation. It doesn’t all come down technical detail. Let’s go into the cross-overs though. In the same respect Kane deals with longevity and collapse, so does this. It’s also very divisive, Kane has its Rosebud and Intermezzo it’s camera. The link to Oz is in the idea of fantasy and its conflict with reality. Moreover, the musical influence on both film’s narrative draws them very close tonally. The Magnificent Ambersons connection comes with the idea of family, of mistakes and how to handle them. Again, tonally, there are links here, but through the moral teaching and incite. The Gone With The Wind elements come with the sweeping romantic beats and the questionable nature of attraction and of love. Finally, Casablanca. This is an undeniable classic. A brilliant film. But Intermezzo blows it out of the water. No question. Not one. Intermezzo and Casablanca are the same story, but told from different perspectives. The Bogart character is, in part, Edna Best who played Leslie Howard’s wife. Bergman is Bergman (Anita), and Leslie Howard (Holger) is an amalgamation of the Bogart and Henried characters. Both films deal with the idea of cheating and doing the right thing. The romance elements of Intermezzo make the Casablanca love scenes boring. We all know the Simpsons joke of Casablanca being an old person’s film that bores younger people to death. Well, show them Intermezzo. It’s better paced, better structured, with stronger romance, more poignant questions and a much better pay off–a thousand times more enjoyable as a whole. I would happily watch this film over Citizen Kane, Casablanca and The Magnificent Ambersons any day. Any day. Moreover, I could talk about this film for an age longer, I could easily dive into much deeper analysis. For this, Citizen Kane and Casablanca can keep the spots as best films of all time, but only because treasure shared is treasure lost. To me, this is undeniably the artistically better film.
For me, this film represents something imperative to cinema – romance. I’ve said it a thousand times, but cinema is fantasy – and romance is just that. Some of my favourite films of all time are the likes of The Shining, Requiem For A Dream, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Lord Of The Rings, Godfather, Repulsion, The Good The Bad The Ugly, Donnie Darko… the list goes on for quite some time. But for each Requiem For A Dream there is The Crowd. For each Taxi Driver there is Gone With The Wind. For each Lord Of The Rings there’s an It Happened One Night, My Man Godfrey, The Lady Eve, Some Like It Hot, When Harry Met Sally, Indiscreet, My Fair Lady, Before Sunrise, Sunset, Midnight, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Roman Holiday… again, I could go on and on and on–but I might just end up blushing. It’s in the middle of Die Hard or The Raid that I like to stop myself and say, ‘but you really love Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans–and a bit too much’. Strange, but enough about me. Intermezzo is a quintessential romance. I dare say possibly the best ever. Yeah, I know there are a trillion other candidates, I’ve probably named a fair few, but what makes the likes of a Titanic, Gone With The Wind or even Casablanca great is the supporting elements of adventure, scale, thrills and action. Boil it down to your core romances like Pretty Woman, Brokeback Mountain, Bridget Jones(ish), Blue Valentine or Lost In Translation, and Intermezzo rises to the top. This is because of what Intermezzo represents. No, it’s not just love, rainbows and kisses, but romanticism. It’s the rainbows, birds, poetry, dazzle, splendour, undercurrent of melancholy and pretension all stuffed into duvet cover of chocolate, comfy socks and snuggles, all on the brink of a whiplashing cringe, but so enchanting that you’re easily lulled away from violent reflex. A great romance is one of the hardest things to pull off. This is because of the recoil an audience is so easily prone to. Yes, you could argue the opposite – that romances are easy because of the malleability of a romantic audience – but I said great romance. Great romances must win us all over. This is why the category dilutes itself when reaching high – it’s also why audiences are split. Again, Titanic, Gone With The Wind, Casablanca. They have guns, action and male leads that appeal to both male and females alike–no, not in that way–but… Clark Gable? Leonardo DiCaprio? Let’s not kid ourselves. Anyway, the films become more universal or they split an audience. I for one hate, HATE, The Notebook. I can’t sit through it. I know others who feel the same way about Pretty Woman, so, yes, I understand how you don’t get a person liking so many romances but not The Notebook.
Intermezzo is a great romance. I wouldn’t stretch to say it’s nearly as popular as it maybe should be to be considered great, great, but… semantics. However, what I want to talk about with this film quickly is the idea of romance and how modern romances aren’t much in the face of the classics. I’ll preface this by saying the Before trilogy is one of the greats as is Blue Is The Warmest Colour and Blue Valentine. Classics are always a mark above the average films of its time and usually act as an amalgamation of all that’s great about them. But, the three modern classics just mentioned aren’t very conventional. Not at all. If you wanted to argue a modern romance that represents modern cinema you could say The Notebook, but, as is obvious, I don’t agree. What my point here is, is that modern cinema can’t produce great romances like the 30s, 40s and 50s. Two words: screwball comedy. Compare that to romantic comedy–which is the same thing, but in modern terms (as well as seriously lacking censorship)–and something falls flat. Spoilers, it’s the rom-com. More than that, what really kills modern romances is their audience. No, I’m not attacking them, but the direction filmmakers feels they have to aim. One of the biggest demographics of classics films, of the cinematic golden age, were considered to be women–they always have been to be honest. What has changed is the age bounds. Classic films were more mature, but for the sake of family. Modern films less so. Yes, we get sex and nudity, but that isn’t maturity. How you deal with it is maturity. That doesn’t matter. I don’t want to fall into semantics here, merely say that romance has dumbed down, have appealed to a specific niche of teens. This isn’t a point that really needs proving though. Firstly, Twilight. Secondly, one word: poetry. Where has that gone? Yes, cinema and numerous other forms of ‘easier’ entertainment killed poetry off (in a general sense) but look at the dialogue in this film. Come back to Casablanca here even. ‘Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine’. Compare that to ‘You, complete, me. You, complete, me’. It’s kind of reduced to an ‘I love you, I love you, I love, I luuuuuuuve you’ from Singin’ In The Rain, no? What I mean here is that poeticism has been lost a little. Eloquence is often met with a scoff–or at least all attempts toward it–in modern cinema. Short and concise. That’s how we want it. What this links to is the pop song and the deep dive into this film…
Music is a key feature of this Intermezzo, as it is in many romances. You can even look at 50 Shades Of Grey. They decided to stop the film for 3 1/2 minutes to have a helicopter buzz about, drowned out by some crappy pop song. It’s a terrible film, but the point stands. I know very little about pop songs of today, let alone throughout the ages, but the dumb-down paradigm has obviously struck in this region too. I mean, compare Mozart to Miley Cyrus. Unfair, but who do you think would have more twitter followers? Here we can link together the two key elements that make this film brilliant. There’s the music and then the mature, controlled tone. I don’t just mean music in the sense that Bergman plays the piano and Howard plays a violin–we’re not going to end up talking about Dirty Dancing or the band camp elements of American Pie, don’t worry. The film itself is like a piece of music. Before getting into that we have to quickly go into something else. The biggest down falls of romances are that they are romantic. Romanticism is icky and, as has been said, it’s very hard to hit the sweet-spot just before cringy and clinging but just after cold, distant and creepy. Just think of the three words, I love you. Have the likes of Orlando Bloom–Orlando Bloom in Troy–whisper that in your ear. Whilst some may swoon, it’d get weird and uncomfortable for most. On the opposite end of the spectrum imagine Steve Buscemi (in Fargo) saying he loves you–yeah, most of us are running away. We’re getting off point though. What I mean to say is that romance can be hard hard to swallow, but at best it’s predictable. But, that’s the joy. We all love the boy meets girl pictures because we know were getting what we paid for. We don’t usually like a Romeo and Juliet sprung on us without warning–why’d you think rom-coms are so popular? Coming back to it, the musical elements of Intermezzo come with its beat. You can almost feel the screenwriter tapping to a metronome. The same goes for the acting. Now, we all pretend to know what good acting is. Suffice to say, I probably don’t, but I am aware of style. You become very aware of this by watching older films. Modern acting has to be as real as possible. Classical acting is more akin to the stage with emoting being primary. You can see this best in Bergman. If you watch closely–which is no task–you can see her mannerisms crossing over her pictures. You can also see a hint of the cogs working behind her eyes. The same goes for romance in general. You can see the inner workings – the beats to come. This is the musical element of this film.
With acting and story you come to expect a rhythm and rhyme and get it. What then becomes primary here is execution – which can only be judged by how much you enjoy the film. For me, this resonates deeply, when I watch it, it almost becomes an old friend. (I don’t know what that one says about me). The same goes for the downfalls of romance. It’s largely about reception–if it creeps you out in a Steve Buscemi sense or it gives you those unwanted Bloom chills or… I don’t want to fit a simile into the last one–something about McConaughey or DiCaprio that doesn’t make me sound gay. So, by getting the rhythm of the film right, what matters next is tone. This is where that idea of maturity comes back in. This film features incredibly enraging themes. No one much likes a cheater or someone who abandons those who love them – the film is fully aware of that. This is what makes the film artistically brilliant. It’s easy to say don’t cheat and treat your family right. It’s in this sense that it’s easy to be a romantic. What makes Intermezzo work however, is it’s fall away from romanticism (in the guise of true and/or eternal loves). What modern and more basic romances do is appeal to the son and daughter’s mentality in this film. The boy hates his father for leaving with the piano teacher. He refuses to see him as a person who makes mistakes, that risks stupidity. This doesn’t justify anything, but allows the film to say something true. The idea here is that despite the intermittent, family still clings together. The ending of this film doesn’t affirm that everything will be all right, simply that the family is willing to try. More than that, the film makes clear that family cannot be entirely broken from. This is a common theme in romance, just look at Sunrise: A Song Of Two Humans. This is also why Holger and Anita eventually have to part. Family ties become an inevitable wall. The mature and toned-down approach to this common idea is what separates it from your average romance–the same goes for Casablanca, but Intermezzo does the better job. Ingrid Bergman said it herself when she didn’t expect the picture to have done so well. What allowed it to do so was the strength of that core idea, the style and execution–but all bettered by Intermezzo. Rosebud was Kane’s crux, his link to childhood. The camera in Intermezzo isn’t featured as heavily as rosebud, but is just as effective. It’s a symbol of the image itself. Of a captured moment of the past, as opposed to current and living. The girl wants a camera to remember her father, but in getting it will only be short-changed. Her accident in the end of the film, though clearly a writer’s device, is justified by what it means. Had she received the camera, her father would be nothing more than a picture on the wall–like she sees him as. But through tragedy, the family is brought together. This is the Us vs. Them elements explored in Sunrise.
All in all, it’s the constant movement of plot, of sound, of emotion coupled with the romantic lighting, the soft, angelic glow (given what is probably the most beautiful women ever filmed) and the eloquent, mature conduct used to handle what is little more than bad conduct that makes this film great. It sums itself and romance up best with its one word title. Intermezzo. A connective piece of music, light, yet dramatic. Romance binds reality with hope for the sake of entertainment. What makes it poignant is not weight, hard notes, big trumpets or a thousand piece orchestra, but that one violin and accompanying piano. If it resonates, it resonates. You just have to get the tuning right and then hit the correct notes.
The Survivalist – Alone
Unforgiven – Worth, You And Used To Be
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