Screengrab: The Masterpiece Etched By Death

Screen GrabRichard Lutz allows his gaze to fall on a major movie masterpiece interred among the weekly tv listings.

Let’s begin this lesson with something biblical and uplifting:

“When the lamb has opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven…”

Ok, ok, a bit mystical this. But then again, almost everything from Revelations is a bit freaky-deekie if you get my drift. But at least it serves up the title for the beautifully stark Swedish masterpiece The Seventh Seal (Thursday, 22.00, Sky Arts 1)

Iy’s directed by Ingmar Bergman and has been parodied and copied so much that you think you have seen the movie a couple of times before through the cheeky comic eyes of Woody Allen, Monty Python and even Bill and Ted.

The sparse and elegant plot goes like this: a tired Crusader knight returns like a dead eyed Don Quixote to find his native Sweden ruined by the Plague. He is at the end of his road. He meets black-hooded Death and they begun a do or die game of chess. If the knight (a jaded Max von Sydow) wins, he stays alive. If he loses to the blank-faced apparition, he is taken off the earth.

Bergman is no stranger to the grim. His father was a stern Scandanavian rector and, as a six year old, jolly little Ingmar used to help the church workers take the dead to the mortuary for preparation for the next world. Dearie me, put that in comparison to a lad sitting on his duvet playing Mindcraft today.

The black and white film scars your imagination. Its visual power is akin to one of those hypnotic doom paintings we all come across suddenly in a little parish church: the souls wrestling with life and inevitably losing to the man with the scythe.

In music, it reminds me if the late bleak bible-infused stuff from Johnny Cash or the eerie solo voice from one of the Stanley Brothers.

Bergman based this 1957 film on his own death-obsessed radio play. So it springs, bleak and hard from the well of his dark mind. It is a masterpiece and its final scene, the merry dance of death, is iconic. Now, at times like these when I have to tip you off about a heavyweight film, it pleases me to reveal the uber-junk it is up against at the same hour. It saves you effort, you see.

So, if The Seventh Seal is a bit too doom and gloom for you, pop over at 10pm on Thursday for my Baggy Body (More4), Big Brother (Ch5) or Cwpan Rygo (S4C) Or the news on BBC, ITN or Sky which will give you the horrors just to look at when it comes to man’s inhumanity to man.

Happy viewing.

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