Ten Pop Culture References to Antonioni and Bergman

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By Aaron Hillis, Matt Singer, R. Emmet Sweeney and Alison Willmore

IFC News

[Photo: “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Orion Pictures, 1991]

The world lost two of its greatest filmmakers on July 30th, when Ingmar Bergman and then Michelangelo Antonioni passed away. The directors defined a type of serious arthouse film, and both have had immeasurable impact on cinema and on pop culture… but, like many artists whose work can be described as challenging, more people know of their work than actually know it. Then again, even the most subtitle-adverse person has had unintentional brushes with Bergman and Antonioni — their films have seeped inexorably into the popular consciousness. Below are ten (and more) songs, shorts, movies, shows and novels that pay tribute to the pair’s work.

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

One would think that the last place you’d find a Bergman reference would be in the mostly inferior sequel to a classic, spectacularly stupid ’80s comedy. And yet, right there in the middle of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” is a shining spoof of the Swede’s lugubrious “The Seventh Seal.” Having perished, our titular heroes elude the pallid, accented — it’d be generous to place it as Scandinavian — Grim Reaper (William Sadler) with the help of a crippling schoolyard maneuver (“I can’t believe we just melvined Death!” they note afterward), only to be caught eventually and tossed into Hell. The pair grasps at their one chance of escape, and challenge Death to a contest. Cut to Bill saying “J-7” and Death admitting from across the table “you haf sank my battleship,” before insisting “best two out of three!” The trio moves on to progressively more ludicrous games, finally settling things after a climactic Twister victory. Chess, it ain’t, but it’s a bit more fun to watch. —Alison Willmore

Caetano Veloso’s Michelangelo Antonioni (2000)

Towards the tail end of 2000, Brazilian songwriter Caetano Veloso released “Noites Do Norte,” an album heavily influenced by Afro-Cuban drumming and haunted by Brazil’s history of slavery. But incongruously sneaking in at track number six is “Michelangelo Antonioni,” a minimalist evocation of the director’s films achieved through Veloso’s shimmering falsetto and the use of a gentle pulse of violins, arranged by producer Jacques Morelenbaum. No stranger to movie homages, the previous year Veloso had released an album length tribute to another Italian Art film titan, Federico Fellini, with “Omaggio a Federico e Giulietta.” But in order to reflect Antonioni’s austere style, Veloso limits himself to a one verse song that elegantly encapsulates the alienated iconography of the director’s work. It’s short enough to quote the translation (Veloso sings it in Italian) in its entirety: “Vision of silence/Empty street corner/Page with no sentence/Letter written on a face/In stone and mist/Love/A useless window.” As with Antonioni, what may read as cliché when put on paper murmurs with life when experienced. Antonioni admired the song enough to use it in his final film, a section of the omnibus work “Eros” (2004). —R. Emmet Sweeney

Interiors (1978)

Woody Allen’s official statement on Bergman’s death announced that the late master was “certainly the greatest film artist of [his] lifetime.” No shock there: few filmmakers have ever loved other filmmakers with the fervor with which Allen loved Bergman. Though Allen drew inspiration from many great foreign directors, he borrowed the most from good ol’ Ingmar. In 1978, Allen was at the very heights of his power in Hollywood. The most beloved and critically respected comic director of the decade, he’d just won two Oscars for writing and directing the seminal “Annie Hall” (the film itself won Best Picture over “Star Wars”) and could probably do just about anything he wanted. And what he wanted was the chance to prove that despite that New York Jewish exterior and the library of brilliant comedies, that he was, at heart, a dour Swede. 1978’s “Interiors” is an intensely serious portrait of a disintegrating family, and was so thoroughly influenced by Bergman that Vincent Canby wrote that it was “almost as if Mr. Allen had set out to make someone else’s movie.” Of course, this seeming dalliance into contemplative European art cinema became a career-long obsession, one that Allen chased for most of the 1980s, starting with “Stardust Memories,” which appropriates Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries,” and into the 1990s, as in the similarly themed “Deconstructing Harry.” —Matt Singer

Blow Out (1981)

Brian De Palma is known for his cinematic recombinants, mostly Hitchcockian concoctions like “Dressed to Kill” (“Psycho,” “Vertigo”) and “Body Double” (“Rear Window,” “Vertigo”). Ironically, his finest film lift is actually “Blow Out,” an ingenious reinvention of Antonioni’s “Blowup.” In the original film, a photographer unwittingly stumbles on evidence of a murder in his pictures; in De Palma’s version, the hero, played by John Travolta, is a soundman working in sleazy horror pictures. Out recording natural sounds for his latest project, Travolta witnesses a car accident he comes to realize is far more sinister than it first appeared to be. Befitting his interests, Antonioni’s version was a philosophical exploration into the nature of perception; De Palma’s (which, I must admit, I’m partial to) is more paranoid, and more focused on the nature of moviemaking itself; as in the scene where Travolta’s character combines his audio track of the accident with a flipbook of pictures of the crash to create a primitive and exhilarating film of the event. “Blow Out” is a great movie specifically because it doesn’t feel derivative like some of De Palma’s other homage-heavy films. Both versions are completely distinct takes on one source material by two very different filmmakers. —M.S.

The Last House on the Left (1972)

Fair enough, Bergman’s first collaboration with cinematographer extraordinaire Sven Nykvist nabbed a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but who could’ve guessed back in 1960 that “The Virgin Spring” (in turn based on a 13th century ballad) would eventually be reconfigured as one of the most notorious grindhouse flicks of all time? Bergman’s distressing original stars loyal regular Max von Sydow as a medieval peasant farmer whose flaxen-haired and, yes, virginal daughter is raped and murdered by mouth harp-playing herdsman on her way to church. Oppressive spiritual guilt is then felt by everyone, from the victim’s half-sister who prayed for her demise to a self-flagellating von Sydow after exacting his bloody revenge on all three baddies, including a sickly child. A dozen years later (but before introducing us to Freddy Krueger or the slasher-deconstructing “Scream” trilogy), a young filmmaker named Wes Craven used his documentary background to grant “The Last House on the Left” a sickening realism, easily the most visceral of his career. On their way to a Bloodlust concert, two teenage girls try to score pot and find themselves in the clutches of an escaped criminal and his gang, who far more brutally rape, torture, humiliate through forced urination, and finally disembowel them, all before one girl’s papa goes (appropriately) medieval on their asses with chainsaws, rifles, and a wicked idea for electrocution. Rather than guilt, Craven’s Vietnam-era parable eulogizes ’60s idealism while setting a path for the breed of torture porn we now see at multiplexes instead of the seedy, edge-of-town theaters they once inhabited. Could an argument be made that Bergman is indirectly to blame for “Captivity,” “Hostel: Part II,” or at least, 2008’s Craven-produced “Last House” remake? —Aaron Hillis

Sputnik Sweetheart (1999)

A young woman vanishes while visiting a small island in the Mediterranean, and both her closest friend and the person she loves drift about hopelessly searching for her. Strange that the closest successor to the elliptical Antonioni of the famous trilogy of “L’Avventura” (1960), “La Notte” (1961) and “L’Eclisse” (1962) is both a novelist and Japanese. Critical darling Haruki Murakami often explores a minor key world of social alienation and subtle surrealism not unlike that of Antonioni, but his 1999 novel “Sputnik Sweetheart,” published in the U.S. in 2001, is a direct and unmistakable salute to “L’Avventura” — it follows the schoolteacher narrator K as he befriends and pines for the bedraggled writer Sumire, only to watch her fall in love with another woman, the sophisticated, distant Miu. While the two are on vacation together on a small Greek island, Sumire essentially evaporates, having impossibly crossed through some veil of reality. But while Sumire’s disappearance remains at least as inexplicable as Anna’s in “L’Avventura,” she and her companions are neither shallow nor plagued with the terrible burden of constant ennui. Instead, they are all fumblingly human, and what haunts them s their failure, despite this, to connect with one another. —A.W.

De Düva: The Dove (1968)

[Watch this on AlterTube.] In 1968, Ingmar Bergman released “Hour of the Wolf” and “Shame,” and both were ignored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. However, a short film entitled “De Düva” (The Dove) was nominated for an Oscar as Best Short Film. A sign of the flood of Bergman parodies to come (and of the subsequent dive in his reputation), it’s a mildly amusing exaggeration of the Swede’s style. The film is subtitled, but speaks in English with a slew of ska’s and nsk’s appended. Its main target is “Wild Strawberries,” with this Professor taking his nature wanderings to a port-a-potty rather than a verdant field. The requisite “Seventh Seal” gag has the Prof’s sister play badminton with Death, after which they run off for some incestuous fun in a lake. It’s mostly forgettable except for the brief appearance of spoof-queen Madeline Kahn, making her film debut. She portrays Sigfrid, the Professor’s cousin, a haughty gal making a play for his sister. Offering her a cigar in a thick Nordic accent she asks, “Phallikin symbol?” —R.E.S.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Money Programme (1972)

[Watch this on YouTube.] Antonioni’s cinematic genius wasn’t lost upon even Brits working within the populist medium of TV sketch comedy. In the final three minutes of “The Money Programme” episode, a band of imperial explorers begin to lose hope after getting lost in the jungle. “All that’ll be left of us is a map, a compass, and a few feet of film recording our last moments,” whines Graham Chapman, until they all realize that that logic means someone is indeed filming them. Walking towards the camera, another angle reveals the adventurers shaking hands with a three-man crew. John Cleese speaks up: “If this is the crew who were filming us, who’s filming us now?” A third angle exposes another director, in blackface, who cuts the take and complains in a badly inflected African accent: “How we going to get that feeling of personal alienation of self from society with this load of ‘Bulldog Drummond’ crap? When I was doing ‘La Notte’ with that Monica Vitti gal, she didn’t give me none of this empire-building shit, man.” Soon enough, Inspector Baboon of Scotland Yard’s Special Fraud Film Director’s Squad (Cleese again) enters through a randomly placed door in the greenery: “Not so fast, Akarumba!” The man who is so obviously not Michelangelo Antonioni is arrested for impersonating him, and Baboon begins a lecture on the late master’s oeuvre, from his “largely jettisoning narrative in favor of vague incident and relentless character study” to works like “Cronaca di un amore,” “Le Amiche” and “L’Avventura.” But which film does he rant about most as the credits roll? That would be “L’Cleese”… er, I mean “L’Eclisse.” —A.H.

The Persona Profile Shot

Bergman’s signature shot, with the women of “Persona” poised, one facing forward, the other in profile, their faces melding, may well be “one of the most famous images of the cinema,” as speculated by Roger Ebert. It’s also one of the most copied and referenced, sometimes for fun and sometimes as shorthand for all of “Persona”‘s themes of fragmentation, transference and the blurring of personalities and characters. See the end of Woody Allen’s “Love and Death” (1975) for one; then look to David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.”, which echoes “Persona” thematically until it very deliberately echoes the film in look as well. Catherine Breillat’s “Fat Girl” (2001) wanders into “Persona”‘s territory and imagery as it barrels toward its shock ending, while Almodóvar cribs from Bergman’s shot in “Talk to Her.” And, lest you think this is all and always in seriousness, track down the “Meatballs or Consequences” of mid-’90s cartoon “Animaniacs,” which not only features a checkers duel with Death but also a scene in which Yakko faces the camera while Dot speaks in profile. Welcome to Sweden, land of meatballs and Volvos. —A.W.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)

I didn’t even realize that “Austin Powers” included an homage to Antonioni’s “Blowup” until years after I saw the film for the first time in 1997. But to creator and star Mike Myers and director Jay Roach’s credit, their numerous references to Antonioni’s most famous work (particularly in the sexy end credits of the first “Powers,” and in a hilarious photo shoot sequence in the sequel, “The Spy Who Shagged Me”) was, in a funny way, my first introduction to “Blowup,” much as it was my gateway to loads of ’60s cultural landmarks (like “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” or “The Ipcress File”). And if you are going to send up the ’60s, “Blowup,” which practically defined swinging mod culture for a generation, absolutely has to be included. The film is dated now, but in a good way, it feels like a document of a very specific time and place, and an attitude as well. Austin, the ultimate man out of time, is equally dated. —M.S.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.