Robert Tanitch reviews two books
Inside North Korea by Oliver Wainwright (Taschen £40). North Korea is the most isolated and controlled country in the world. Wainwright concentrates on Pyongyang, which was rebuilt fast from scratch after the Korean War in 1963. The capital is a propaganda showcase and bears no relation to the rest of the country. The modern public buildings are often impressive. The totalitarian apartment blocks are painted in pastel colours. The tower blocks are assigned by professions and given to party officials and members of the bureaucracy. The underground, with its marble columns and chandeliers, imitates Moscow’s underground. The Soviet-realist murals look back to an earlier communist age. So, too, do the revolutionary statues. As you would expect in a dictatorship there are portraits of the Eternal President and the Eternal Chairman on every wall. The interesting thing about the book is what it leaves out. There are no photographs of people either in their homes or their workplaces or even in the streets.
The Ingmar Bergman Archives edited by Paul Duncan and Bengt Wanselius (Taschen £60) pays a mighty homage (452 pages) to a great Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007). It is the most comprehensive volume you could ask for. Lavishly illustrated, it covers all his work, with notes, diaries, critiques and quotes. The photographs, stills from the films and on set, are great. I remember the first time I saw Smiles on a Summer’s Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and the tremendous impact they had. Bergman went on to make Persona, Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander. His output was enormous. He had a regular stock company of actors and worked regularly with Max Von Sudow, Bbi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. His films, earnest and symbolic, raise philosophical and ethical questions. His father was a Lutheran priest and his own traumas are reflected in his intense, intimate, bleak and complex studies of souls in anguish and full of religious doubt. This magnificent book is strongly recommended to all Ingmar Bergman’s admirers.