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The Serpent's Egg

David Carradine , Liv Ullmann , Ingmar Bergman    R (Restricted)   DVD
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Carradine's Commentary is One of the Best Parts May 25 2004
This is definitely one of those art films that few people will "get" and even fewer will like. I think it is worth watching in order to see what Bergman did with an unlimited budget, his first Hollywood producer, and an international cast.
Some people may not realize that when Bergman chose Carradine to star in THE SERPENT'S EGG he was fresh off the success of tv's KUNG FU and had 35 state plays, two tv series, and numerous starring and leading roles in movies under his belt. He was nominated for the Academy Award for his role as Woody Guthrie in BOUND FOR GLORY (1976). While researching Carradine's movies, over and over again I read the phrase, "Who would have thought that David Carradine could turn in such an excellent performance?" Yet he does, time and time again, and has moved under the radar of public and critical attention for over 25 years.
As Carradine says in his commentary, it's a hard movie to watch twice, yet I was fascinated by his insight into the production, Bergman's style and methods, and the plot. THE SERPENT'S EGG is a mixture of 1920's style German expressionism, human despair, psychothriller, political commentary, and science fiction. It tackles the subject of proto-Nazi human experimentation in a world where the government controls every detail of a man's life. When the opening scene involves a man discovering his brother's suicide, you know you're in for a bumpy ride.
I found the commentary sparing and insightful. I hate those commentary tracks where actors and others talk, talk, talk but say very little. It was refreshing that when he had nothing to add, Carradine was quiet and let the movie speak for itself.
The DVD Savant says of the commentary, "A relaxed and friendly David Carradine provides an informative commentary.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bergman in Exile May 2 2004
By A Customer
The story behind this film is almost as strange as the film itself. Bergman had become good friends with famous Hollywood producer Dino de Laurentiis, and after his self-imposed exile from Sweden, decided to finally marshall some financial muscle to make a film he'd long been thinking of, based on a dream he had of Berlin in the 1920s. This was his second and last English language film. It stands alone in Bergman's canon; its a large production, with lavish sets and hundreds of extras, and an American film star. Critics and fans have always given this film mixed, or even ambivalent, reviews, but I've always liked it. The common reaction to this film (the one I had the first time) is that its "unBergman" in some way. Its a mistake, I believe now. Its just Bergman on another scale. The drama of two American circus performers caught in pre-war Germany; a place where penny-prophets and revolutionaries thrive in a chaotic pit of poverty, self-destruction, and lechery; delineates brilliantly into a mad expressionist nightmare. The pacing in this film is spectacular -- its great to see that a huge production didn't damage Bergman's narrative gifts.
It'd be hard to reduce this film to a concise intellectual statement. The traditional Bergman themes of a distant God, indifferent Man, and a foundationless destructive nature in man and community, are all represented. But beyond that, Bergman doesn't add new dynamics. I think this is because the aim of this film was different than his others -- he was trying to capture the essence of his dream, a feeling, not a statement. The problems with the presentation arise because Bergman throws in too much context, historical foreshadowing, and an awkward plot resolution.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not a typical Bergman, but still a good film... Feb. 17 2004
By A Customer
I'd put this film in Bergman's "Catalogue of Dreams/Nightmares" alongside "HOUR OF THE WOLF", "FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES", and (to a lesser degree) "THE PASSION OF ANNA". In this catalogue, narrative is less important than dream logic (Lynch fans will understand exactly what I mean) in that events don't so much happen from A to B, nor make absolute, logical sense (and advance the narrative in a traditional Hollywood sense), but they unfold, requiring the viewer to take in discontinuous images and a story which might not always make sense and find the meaning therein.
This film is notorious for its many problems so rather than discuss those, let's get to the point. No, this is not a Bergman classic nor does it fit with his other films dealing with the deterioration of spirituality/the mind. But then on the other hand, this film DOES deal with the oncoming deterioration of Germany pre-NSDAP, the general feeling in the air at the time. As another viewer pointed out, part of the problem WITH this film is that Bergman chose to put in too much context (Germany pre-NSDAP), which actually attaches the film to a historical context it doesn't need. As well, you can pretty much surmise that Bergman didn't know how to end this movie and so went with an idea, even though the ending used doesn't really feel like a part of the total experience.
As you'd expect, the acting is top notch. But more than that, this film is a masterpiece of cinematography. Sven is considered one of the world's best cinematographers and if you view this (or any other Bergman title) along with THE SACRIFICE, you'll know why.
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