In celebration of Ingmar Bergman’s 100th birthday this month, we’re presenting four double features on the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck, each of which brings together an essential work by the master and a film that bears its influence. First up are these penetrating character studies, in which two very different protagonists hit the road in search of their souls. Jack Nicholson stars in Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces as an oil rigger and former musical prodigy returning home to visit his ailing father with a pregnant girlfriend (Karen Black) in tow. At one point, they stop to pick up a pair of hitchhikers stranded after a car accident, only to eject them back onto the road soon after. The sequence was designed to echo a similar episode in Ingmar Bergman's mortality-themed drama Wild Strawberries when a bickering married couple shares a ride with an aging professor (Victor Sjöström), reminding him of his own failings as a husband.
Also up this week:
Scripted by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese, Taxi Driver is a powerful study of a dangerously fractured psyche, as well as a vividly grimy portrait of New York City in the 1970s. Robert De Niro gives one of his most riveting performances as Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet turned cabbie whose resentments and messianic delusions drive him to take to up arms in a berserk moral crusade against the corruption he sees all around him. This Criterion edition, only ever released on laserdisc, features an illuminating commentary that Scorsese and Schrader recorded in 1986. Check out an excerpt from the discussion here.
Female sexuality runs free in the riotous work of two Eastern European filmmakers. Combining minimalistic line animation with exuberant abstraction, Renata Gasiorowska’s short film Pussy revolves around a young woman whose attempts at masturbation become complicated by an increasingly absurd chain of events. Then, Czech New Wave pioneer Věra Chytilová’s 1970 feature Fruit of Paradise returns to the Garden of Eden for a frenzied exploration of knowledge, sin, and innocence, abundant with imagery of fertility and lush sexuality.
George Stevens’s Woman of the Year, conceived to build on the smashing comeback Katharine Hepburn had made in The Philadelphia Story, marked the beginning of the personal and professional union between Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who would go on to make eight more films together. This tale of two newspaper reporters who wed and then discover that their careers aren’t so compatible forges a fresh and realistic vision of what marriage can be. The freewheeling but pinpoint-sharp screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. and Michael Kanin won an Academy Award, and Hepburn received a nomination for her performance. Woman of the Year is a dazzling, funny, and rueful observation of what it takes for men and women to get along-both in the workplace and outside of it. Supplemental features: a 1967 audio interview with Stevens, feature-length documentaries about Stevens and Hepburn, and more.