Bruce Robbins in n+1:
A FEW MONTHS AGO, while watching the lush and loving Tilda Swinton and Colin MacCabe documentary The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, I found myself thinking what an endless series of portraits this man has given rise to, and will keep giving rise to. The beauty of the film’s montage—much of it of Berger’s Alpine home—is a self-conscious tribute to the beauty Berger teaches us to see in the world, in art and outside it.
Berger’s decision in the early ’70s to spend what turned out to be five decades of his life in a small village in the French Alps is easy to misunderstand. He wasn’t seeking a refuge from the world, but the right kind of contact with the world. The film overflows with his charm and energy as a friend and neighbor; there’s none of the solitary artist pose. Peasants were a major reason he came; his son became one. And peasants became essential to his politics.
Lyrical about the man, the film skimps on his politics—something that often happens with efforts to sell a political or philosophical outsider to a mainstream audience. The weird thing is of course that one of the best exemplars of transporting seemingly taboo perspectives into the family living room was Berger himself. In 1972, his BBC show Ways of Seeing suddenly made it clear to viewers and to TV executives alike that it could be tremendously enjoyable to look at art through Marxist eyes. The series spent a still-startling amount of time on landscape as property, and on the sexism of nudes.
No matter what he was looking at, Berger never stopped asking uncomfortable and therefore stimulating questions.