Gurlesque-ing Bergman: More on “Persona Peep Show”

by on Jun.16, 2014

I want to follow up on James’s great post about Persona Peep Show with a post about the most obvious topic relating to the film: that is “fan-fictions” or “kitsches” Ingmar Bergman’s supposed Masterpiece Persona (a lot of the text is in fact from Bergman’s movie). What Mark Efrik Hammarberg and Sara Tuss Efrik picks up on in their remake of Bergman’s movie as “peepshow” is exactly the scandal of the image that James talks about in his post, the “peep-show-ness” of Bergman’s movie. And like many fan fictions (this is why I’m drawn to this para-genre) it takes this elements and blows it up, pushes it out of balance, find the excess, the ghosts, the pornography in the masterpiece.

Their peepshow fan fiction was first shown as part of the gurlesque-themed 2013 Stockholm Poetry Festival, and it revels exactly in the kind of mask-playing, superficiality and viscerality that has caused so many people to be troubled by the gurlesque.


Like James, I think Steven Shaviro’s a wonderful reveling in cinematic fascination. Shaviro points out that what troubles people about cinema is often this flatness of the image, which has no interiority but which nevertheless is tend to cause fascination, a strong bodily response (which as he points out is often seen as apolitical but which can be highly political).


Shaviro likes to write about B-movies and art movies rather than “Masterpieces” like Persona. But I think a lot of his observations can be made about Ingmar Bergman’s film: Persona is a film of violent gazes, a film that follows the logic of contagion rather than psychology or even story.

Susan Sontag made this point in her original review of the film:

Instead of having a full-blown ‘story’on his hands, he has something that is in one sense cruder, and in another more abstract: a body of material, a subject. The function of the ‘subject’or ‘material’ may be as much its opacity, its multiplicity, as the manner in which it yields itself up to being incarnated in a determinate plot.

The original movie consists of interactions between Elisabeth Vogler, a famous actress who has apparently lost the ability or will to speak, and her nurse Alma who is sent to take care of her in an isolated local in Gotland. Vogler is a fascinating character: in her muteness she refuses interiority, refuses sociality, becomes a kind of image of herself (I am reminded of Blanchot: “The cadaver is its own image.”). Alma meanwhile shares memories and behaves very “humanly.” But as the movie progresses, the roles switch back and forth: The women become vulnerable, sadistic, powerful, weak etc.

It’s this destabilizing violence of artifice, of masks that “Peepshow” picks up on. Voices interrogating images, images interrogating spectators: the violent fascination of spectatorship.


But while Bergman maintains a “chamber play” minimalism, “Peepshow” explodes in bad taste. [It should of course be noted that Bergman was heavily influenced by Strindberg’s chamber plays and Strindberg’s best work (his late work, after alchemy and crises) is very gaudy and over the top (hey there’s a ghost in the sewers now go kill yourself!). So maybe “Peepshow” is truly Strindbergian!]
It’s interesting that the mask-section of “Peepshow” is the part that most obviously invokes Persona (and its title), but it’s in this section “Peepshow” goes the most rogue: invoking a kind of obscene fairytale zone that imagines Alma following Vogler (puns on bird, “fågel” – the “decapitated bird”) into: a zone of dwarf cocks and slutty stepmothers, crushed kneecaps, parrots etc. And every fairytale prop is imagined obscenely (for example seeds can be stuffed up the ass).

In a sense, what we get here is Paul McCarthy’s current project “WS” with its obscene Snow White fan fiction:


This fairytale leads to the kind of ghost-haunting that ends the movie (Say hello to Annelise, say hello to Regan): The film – Art! – as a kind of ghostworld that haunts us, that infects us, that moves us, that peep-shows us. By bringing in the obscene, the necropastoral, the kitsch, Peepshow shows us in a sense what was already there (in Bergman, in Modernism): the relentless fascination of the image, the contagion of artifice, the violence of masks, the tastelessness of art.

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    Sara and Mark also fan-fictioned Strindberg (and the Real Wives of Beverly Hills) in the two short pieces in the last issue of Action, Yes:


  2. James Pate

    Fascinating comparison between the video and Bergman’s film….I would’ve talked more about Bergman’s Persona, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, though it’s probably my favorite film of his, along with Cries & Whispers and Hour of the Wolf. Something that I think is great about the film is how Vogler is a voyeur of sorts, listening to Alma’s stories, her deepest secrets, while refusing to live up to the usual expectations and divulging secrets and such of her own. Her silence blocks out any normal sense of intimacy, making what goes on between the two characters stranger, more unsettling. And I think the video picks up on this pretty amazingly. The “you” and the “I” keep interchanging, switching between the voyeur and the watched, until the end, where the film implodes (much like those sequences in Bergman’s Persona where the film splits into bright white lights, dream-visions…) James

  3. Johannes

    Yes absolutely. That’s the dynamic of the I and the you, that gets restaged in a bunch of different variations in Peepshow. I think there is actually a Strindberg text at the root of this and that’s the short play “The Stronger” which has two characters but only one of them actually talks – accusing the other one of screwing her husband etc.