by Evert Cilliers aka Adam Ash
I'm currently living in an Ingmar Bergman dreamland of cinematic ecstasy, because I'm watching 43 of his films in a retrospective at Manhattan's premier arthouse, Film Forum. Bergman would've been 100 this year, and this retrospective will be shown in some other cities in America and the world.
Bergman is one of my all-time heroes, along with Nelson Mandela, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, J.M. Coetzee, Matisse, Anselm Kiefer and not many others.
Here is my take on my all-time favorite film-maker (other just-below-Bergman favorites include Visconti, Dreyer, Billy Wilder, Orson Welles, Renoir, Tarkovsky, Ozu and Bela Tarr).
And if you live anywhere in or near Manhattan, go see Bergman's movies playing at Film Forum now (more about the nine not-to-be-missed ones later).
1. ALL-TIME GREATEST FILMMAKER
People say Bergman's films were bleak. What they should really be saying is that all other films are sentimental.
One might go further: Bergman was an artist; all other filmmakers are boulevardiers.
Let's not pull our punches here: in writing we have Shakespeare, in music we have Beethoven, in painting we have Picasso, and in film we have Bergman. Unlike any other filmmaker, he belongs in the pantheon of humankind's greatest artists.
I count myself lucky: Bergman made his films in my lifetime. I could live my life waiting for the next Bergman film, like I spent my teens and twenties waiting for the next Beatles album. I am happy to have been alive when these two giant entities were doing their work, experiencing the same good fortune of those lucky Londoners who went to see Shakespeare when he was doing his work, those Germans who heard Beethoven and Mozart at the time they were creating their music, and those Parisians who went to Picasso's shows while he was painting away in their hometown.
I have Woody Allen on my side: "There's no question in my mind that Bergman is the greatest of all filmmakers. No one else even comes close. His accomplishment is that immense. He is the only movie director to ever probe the human psyche on such a profound level. He's the first director to dramatize metaphysical issues. His body of work compares to Proust's cycle of novels or even the plays of Shakespeare."
Our greatest artists are known for the breadth and volume of their work, for their incredible work ethic. This is true of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Picasso and Bergman: they churned them out like regular sausage-makers. Bergman made at least four to five times as many movies as a typical director of today (Scorcese's tally: 19 movies so far, and only one a masterpiece, and three OK). Bergman made 51 movies in all (only the really old film guys got to be this prolific: Ford made 144 movies, Mizoguchi 90, Kurosawa wrote 69, Ozu made 54, Howard Hawks 47).
Our greatest artists are also known for the transforming nature of their achievements. Picasso, for example, upended the way we look at things, banging forth from realism to cubism to abstraction. This Bergman did, too, incorporating all of film made before him in his work, and leaving his mark on all others who followed.
2. A PECULIAR PERSONAL VISION
Bergman's achievement was something extraordinary and rather peculiar, in that his art was totally personal. He carried the highly metaphysical and the deeply psychological into moviedom, but it was all about the personal self – his own personal self. No other filmmaker brought such commitment to his own personal vision to his art. That's all he did -– commit his own dreams, fears, hurts and loves to his films. There is no other filmmaker who gets more personal, who was such a public dispenser of private angst. His films are one long, lasting, and painful confession, sometimes veiled, sometimes open, always brutally honest. Nobody delved deeper into the contradictions of his own human heart. Not for him the world out there – it was all about himself. Him and God. Him and death. Him and women. Him and his horror of himself. His personal vision was exclusively inward into his own ego, which made his the single and singular vision that penetrated the human psyche deeper than any other filmmaker. His was the art of personal intensity and obsession. He was the poet of personal extremes.
Touched by the Vietnam War, he gave us "Shame," which is a grim meditation about how he himself would've handled a war that came to his island of Faro, and how it would've degraded him personally, and exposed his own defectiveness. This war film is not about war. It's about projecting Ingmar Bergman into a war.
"The people in my films are exactly like myself — creatures of instinct, of rather poor intellectual capacity, who at best only think while they're talking," Bergman once said. "Mostly they're body, with a little hollow for the soul."
His life was a great mess until his last marriage (from 1971 till her death in 1995 to Ingrid von Rosen, who became his secretary and manager). This mess, this utter "fiasco" as he called it, was the material for his films. "I had been married three times when I was 30," he said. "I wanted to become a good director because as a human being I was a failure. In the studio and the theater I could live happily. I still feel that way." He had five marriages and innumerable affairs, moving from woman to woman like a randy tomcat. He had nine children in and out of wedlock, none of whom he was a father to. In the documentary "Bergman's Island," he admits ruefully about his non-parenting: "I had a bad conscience until I discovered that having a bad conscience about something so gravely serious as leaving your children is an affectation, a way of achieving a little suffering that can't for a moment be equal to the suffering you've caused. I haven't put an ounce of effort into my families. I never have."
The Christian Science Monitor film critic Peter Rainer put the point of Bergman's personal filmmaking extremely well in an obituary in the LA Times: "The movies of Ingmar Bergman constitute a spiritual autobiography unlike any other in the history of film. He worked out of his deepest passions and, for many of us, this made the experience of watching his films seem almost surgically invasive. He pulled us into his secret torments. Looking at ‘The Seventh Seal' or ‘Persona' or ‘Cries and Whispers,' it's easy to imagine that Bergman, who died Monday, was the most private of film artists, and yet, no matter how far removed the circumstances of his life may have been from ours, he made his anguish our own. Another way to put this is that Bergman — despite the high-toned metaphysics that overlays many, though not all, of his greatest films — was a showman first and a Deep Thinker second. His philosophical odysseys might have been epoxied to matters of Life and Death, of God and Man, but this most sophisticated of filmmakers had an inherently childlike core. He wanted to startle us as he himself had been startled. He wanted us to feel his terrors in our bones. A case could be made that Bergman was, in the most voluminous sense, the greatest of all horror movie directors."
Bergman's life side-stepped family and children into art and an extraordinary work ethic. He lived the life of the true artist: transmuting the entirety of his life into his art. Not other lives: he made art of his own life only. (Or of the art of other artists, in his other life of theater director: "The theater is like a loyal wife," he said in 1950. "Film is the great adventure, the costly and demanding mistress — you worship both, each in its own way.")
3. BERGMAN'S LIFE IN BRIEF
Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born July 14, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden. He grew up in Stockholm, where his father, a Lutheran minister, eventually became chaplain to the Swedish royals. His father was a harsh punisher, and his mother blew hot and cold, an unreliable source of comfort. He later speculated that she wanted to leave her husband but hung in there for the children.
"That strict middle-class home gave me a wall to pound on, something to sharpen myself against," Bergman said, giving his family some back-handed credit. "At the same time they taught me a number of values — efficiency, punctuality, a sense of financial responsibility — which may be 'bourgeois' but are nevertheless important to the artist."
He was grateful for his parents having "created a world for me to revolt against."
His revolt started with an escape into self. He saw his first play — a Swedish fairy tale — at the age of 12. He built his own puppet theatre under a table, complete with a revolving stage and moving scenery, where he entertained his younger sister. He put on little works of the famous playwright Strindberg, whose dramas of torment struck a chord.
He recalled his seeing films for the first time as "an entry into heaven." His grandmother took him to matinées at the local moviehouse. One of his first ambitions was to become a cinema projectionist. One Christmas, he traded 100 precious tin soldiers for a primitive movie projector, a "magic lantern," that a wealthy aunt had given to his brother Dag instead of to him. He got lengths of film from a local photography shop, and spliced together his own short dramas from this ‘found' material.
His eccentric Uncle Carl was a failed inventor (hiding his patent applications in his underwear, and because he often wet himself, wrapping them in oilskin). He showed young Ingmar how to strip emulsion from film with hot soda water, and then paint scenes right on the strip. None of these bits of early films exist anymore, but in his movie "Prison" of 1949 Bergman refashioned one of them for a scene in which he had young lovers watch an antique biograph.
He went to the University of Stockholm in 1937. He worked in many student productions. He studied art and literature, doing a thesis on August Strindberg, the Swedish dramatist who was an overwhelming influence. And he wrote: plays, novels, short stories — none published.
He took a job as an apprentice-director at a Stockholm theater and in 1941 joined the Swedish film industry as a script doctor. Three years later his first script, "Torment," directed by Alf Sjoberg, became a hit in Sweden. Accordingly, he got his first directing assignment on "Crisis". There followed a run of journeyman stuff. In 1949, he produced his first characteristic excellent work: "Prison/The Devil's Wanton," about a prostitute's suicide, in which his metaphysical, psychological and moral interests came to the fore. Three films about women — "Three Strange Loves," "Summer with Monika," "Sawdust and Tinsel" — cemented his reputation in Sweden in the 50s. Then "Smiles of a Summer Night" won critical acclaim at Cannes and made real money in Europe, and Bergman was free to make anything he wanted. He rose to the challenge with two masterpieces: "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" made Bergman an immediate international arthouse staple, and he entered a golden period in the 60s and 70s, that included the Oscar-winning "The Virgin Spring" and his Absence-of-God trilogy "Through A Glass Darkly," "Winter Light," and "The Silence," as well as three of his very best, "Persona," "Cries and Whispers", and "Shame."
In 1976, his golden age came to a bizarre stop. Bergman was arrested during a rehearsal of his artistic forebear Strindberg's "The Dance of Death" at the Royal Dramatic Theater, bundled off in handcuffs, and charged with income-tax fraud. He went into a long pout and exiled himself from Sweden for eight years. Eventually the Swedish government dropped the charges and apologized profusely, hoping to lure him back. He had some sour revenge: hundreds of people lost their jobs because he wasn't around anymore, and the Swedish film industry lost millions in potential income.
Abroad, he tried various things. He visited Hollywood and other filmmaking centers, he made his first film in English, the flop "The Serpent's Egg." He made a movie with his namesake (no relation) Ingrid Bergman, the very good "Autumn Sonata." He directed plays, basing himself in Munich. He finally returned to Sweden when he was 60, more or less washed-up.
In 1983, he made a comeback film that became his greatest international success — a rather gentler-than-usual-for-Bergman autobiographical and very lush three-generations family epic, "Fanny and Alexander." It got six Oscar nominations (two for best director and original screenwriter) and won four Oscars — the biggest Oscar haul by a foreign film ever.
"Making 'Fanny and Alexander' was such joy that I thought that feeling will never come back,'' he told NY Times critic Michiko Kakutani when she visited him at his island home on Faro (her piece about this visit, ""Ingmar Bergman: Summing up a life in film", was published in the NY Times on June 8, 1983, the link: www.nytimes.com/1983/06/06/magazine/26kaku.html.) ''I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn't understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with 'Fanny and Alexander' was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt. To make another picture and have it feel gray and heavy and difficult with lots of problems — that would be very sad. And I have seen many of my colleagues get older and older and more and more dusty until suddenly they are thrown out, and they cannot get money for their next picture and must go around with their hats in their hands. That is something I do not want — better to stop now when everything is perfect.''
This melancholy Swede whose life ended with a great triumph, was probably a low-grade clinical depressive for long periods of his life, and perhaps worked as hard as he did to keep depression at bay.
"I was very cruel to actors and to other people," he said when he was in his 60s. "I was a very, very unpleasant young man. If I met the young Ingmar today, I think I would say, 'You are very talented and I will see if I can help you, but I don't think I want anything else to do with you.' I don't say I'm pleasant now, but I think I changed slowly in my 50s. At least I hope I've changed" (quote from the Kakutani piece).
Liv Ullmann, who lived with him for five years and had a child by him, tells this story: ‘We always had breakfast together, And, as we ate, Ingmar would relate all the nightmares he had experienced during the previous night. And I listened in horror. Because I knew that I would be acting them out as he filmed, later that day.'
The world knows Ingmar Bergman for his films, but in his native Sweden he was an almost overbearing cultural figure. Besides his filmmaking, he was the country's top theater director, he wrote and directed radio plays, he did a lot of work for television, he made soap commercials, he wrote novels and two memoirs. Half the country watched his film of the Mozart opera "The Magic Flute' on TV. His TV series "Scenes from a Marriage" embroiled the whole nation in a continuing debate on marriage. When he died, Sweden stopped. TV was interrupted to show his work, flags were hung half-mast, and the whole country mourned the passing of the world's most famous Swede.
4. A MASTER CRAFTSMAN
Bergman made his films beautifully. He called them "handmade." His budgets were all well under half a million dollars. Technically, as a craftsman, he has no peer. The camera simply exists where he put it. It moves like the gaze of an ur-observer. It frames like a Matisse or a Hopper. It sees the light like Rembrandt. He never saw a reason to hurry the viewer along, like Hollywood story-telling does, scared by its own vacuity. In fact, he was more interested in nailing the viewer from image to beautiful image. What he achieved in his cinematography and montage, in the pacing and flow of his images, in his magisterial control, is beyond compare. Nobody touches him in sheer mastery of craft (though Hitchcock and Orson Welles come close). Technically, put next to Bergman, a much-touted technophile like Steven Spielberg is a loud, crass, obvious and unsubtle boor.
A set routine and a set crew brought Bergman to his technical mastery. He worked like Fassbinder, flitting between stage and screen with the same repertory company. "We've already discussed the new film the year before," Sven Nykvist, his second great cinematographer after Gunnar Fischer ("The Seventh Seal"), told critic Roger Ebert in 1975. "Then Ingmar goes to his island and writes the screenplay. The next year, we shoot — usually about the 15th of April. Usually we are the same 18 people working with him, year after year, one film a year." Among the 18, there was the important job of the "hostess," she who served coffee and pastries and made the set a haven of domesticity. "How large a crew do you use?" David Lean asked Bergman one year at Cannes. "I always work with 18 friends," Bergman replied "That's funny," said Lean. "I work with 150 enemies."
Haskell Wexler, the great cinematographer, wrote: "I was good friends with Sven Nykvist, who told me stories about Bergman. They sat in a big old church from very early in the morning until as black as the night gets. They noted where the light moved through the stained glass windows. Bergman planned where he would stage the scenes for a picture they were about to do. This had the practical advantage of minimizing light and generator costs. Sven said sitting alone with Ingmar in the church had a profound effect on him. I asked him if it made him more religious. He said he didn't think so but it did give him some kind of spiritual connection to Ingmar, which helped him deal with the times Bergman became very mean."
Bergman said rather humbly of his own process: "I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain. I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn't matter; I will find the same joy in any case. Whether I am a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or pagan, I work with all the world to build a cathedral because I am artist and artisan, and because I have learned to draw faces, limbs, and bodies out of stone. I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. A dragon or a demon, or perhaps a saint, it doesn't matter!"
In fact, he made three films about the artist and his persecution by society: The Magician, Sawdust and Tinsel, Hour of the Wolf. He had two traumatic brushes with society: his tax arrest was one. The other one sprang from a stay in Germany in 1934 at the age of 16, when he lived as an exchange student with a clergyman's family. He attended a Nazi rally in Weimar. He listened to the clergyman toss off sermons based on ''Mein Kampf.'' ''We were absolute virgins politically and we found it marvelous,'' he recalled. ''We were infected.'' He returned to Sweden a ''little pro-German fanatic.'' Years later, he was overcome with shame. ''I understood I had made a great mistake, and since then political thinking has scared me to death.'' For many years, he never read political books or editorials. He didn't vote. (from Kakutani)
5. HIS WORK WITH ACTORS AND ACTRESSES
The actress Sheila Reid worked with him: "He gave me very helpful notes that said things like, ‘She is a candle that never goes out' and ‘She has a screen inside her up to her neck.' I was extremely fortunate to have worked with Ingmar in both theatre and cinema."
His actors and actresses were eternally grateful to him — he put their greatest performances on screen for all to see. A century from now, humans will still see the faces of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Anderson, Harriet Anderson, Ingrid Thulin, Erland Josephson and Gunnar Bjornstrand light up the screen in cinematic immortality.
Typically, the all-powerful, dominant Bergman gave his actors little room for maneuver: he always told them exactly what he wanted and acted it out for them. They had to learn to shine and glow within absolutely exact and precise instructions. In that way, he was like Hitchcock: actors were cattle to him. He knew what he wanted from them and he got it. No director worked with more dictatorial freedom. After the international success of "Smiles of a Summer Night," he had carte blanche from the Swedish film industry.
6. EXTRAORDINARY RANGE
Despite his films being so personal, Bergman displayed an extraordinary range. When one looks at his greatest films — Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Silence, Shame, The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries, Scenes from a Marriage, Smiles of a Summer Night — the nine outright pinnacles of masterpieces in his enduring canon (at least twice as many masterpieces than from any other filmmaker), what does one see? A dizzying range. The following brief descriptions will give the reader some idea. They're ranked in my personal order of greatness.
1. "Persona": an actress struck mute and her talky nurse. This film is Bergman's harshest blow, striking deepest into the human soul. Into its alienation and cruelty. Also, into the depths of the making of art, specifically the art of film. Bergman's "experimental" film.
2. "Cries and Whispers": sisters and servant gathered around a dying woman. The excruciating pain and emotional isolation of life. How deeply people can hurt one another. A confrontation with death. His second film in color, and the color is mostly red. Bergman's great "family" film (way more devastating than his other "family" film, Fanny and Alexander).
3. "Shame": a man and a woman on an island where war arrives. Bergman's "Rome Open City."
4. "Wild Strawberries": a successful man looking back on an emotionally stunted life. Bergman's "Citizen Kane."
5. "The Silence": two women and a boy, disoriented in a hotel in a country whose language they don't speak. Bergman's "Huis Clos" and "Germany Year Zero."
6. "The Seventh Seal": a knight in the plague-ridden Middle Ages striking a bargain with death. Bergman's "Faust." It was his medieval dance-of-death take on living in the spiritual crisis of the nuclear age, awaiting our apocalypse.
7. "The Virgin Spring": a father avenging the rape of his daughter in a medieval setting. The closest to a plot-driven Hollywood movie Bergman ever came, and it wasn't close at all.
8. "Scenes from a Marriage": Bergman's own marriages, all-in-one. The whole damn thing in six hours: love, commitment, happiness, sex, adultery, fights, insults, tears, divorce, reconciliation, etc. There will never be a better film on marriage.
9. "Smiles of a Summer Night": a partying night of changing loves among couples. Bergman's "Rules of the Game."
Looking at this list, it is amazing to see how often he worked in allegorical conceits, the way J.M. Coetzee and Beckett and Kafka write. (Also, symbols: all those ticking clocks, windows, doors.) His people are himself, and he casts himself in allegory and conceits. The conceit of death as a white-faced monk playing chess with a knight. The spooky interaction between a woman struck mute and one sparked into talking talking talking. The startling Dali-like dream life of a professor on the brink of death. Etcetera.
7. BERGMAN'S PERSONALITY
The master of angst was always a suffering, sensitive creature. He was constantly scared of death. He thought about it all the time. But one day, coming out of a death-like anesthesia during a hospital visit, he found himself suddenly unafraid of death. The question of God vanished, too, after which his movies exhibited a sort of nervous humanism: maybe in human love there lay salvation.
He fed off his own anguish and that of others. ''If I would tell him I have a cancer and was going to die, he would be extremely sorry, but also extremely curious,'' said Harry Schein, a former director of the Swedish Film Institute. ''He's interested in the unhappiness of his friends. He dwells on it — he can get material. We often have long phone calls, and if he asks, 'How are you?' and I say, 'Fine,' he would be extremely disappointed. A human being in pain — he can learn much more'' (quote from the Kakutani piece).
Bergman had a direct line to his childhood self. ''I have maintained open channels with my childhood. I think it may be that way with many artists. Sometimes in the night, when I am on the limit between sleeping and being awake, I can just go through a door into my childhood and everything is as it was – with lights, smells, sounds and people. … I remember the silent street where my grandmother lived, the sudden aggressivity of the grown-up world, the terror of the unknown and the fear from the tension between my father and mother."
''I think I have just one obsession — to touch other human beings. That desire for contact, I think, was the reason why I came to this profession, because as a child I was very shy and very lonely and very afraid of other people. Of course, it was not only this very beautiful reason, but it was also a longing for power, for manipulating other people. I think that's a disease every director has — a kind of professional illness'' (quotes via Kakutani).
Unhappy with his own father, who beat him and locked him a closet for hours at a time, scaring him with the threat that mice would nibble his toes, Bergman played the father to everyone else, discovering early on that he had the power to make people put themselves out for him. His colleagues aver that his manipulation of people reached far outside the studio. ''With his friends, with his actors, he plays the authority figure,'' said Jorn Donner, his producer on ''Fanny and Alexander.'' ''In a sense, he has become the father he hated. He can become very jealous, say, if one of the actors in his film works in the theater in the evening. And he tries to influence their professional life. He says, 'You should do that, you should not do this.' In Sweden, he has enormous power — he has made careers and indirectly probably destroyed them — and so people tend to listen'' (quote via Kakutani).
Mind you, he could be very helpful. Here's director Thomas Vinterberg (Festen) on some fatherly advice from Ingmar: "He asked me if I'd decided what to do after my film, and when I said no, he said, ‘Well you're fucked,' and I said, ‘Why?' and he said, ‘One thing that can happen is that you fail, and it won't be good for your self-confidence. It's much worse if you have success — you're absolutely paralyzed by it. So you always have to decide your next movie before the opening of the present one.' And he was so right. You don't turn into a career pilot, trying to navigate by success or failure, instead of deciding from your heart."
Bergman has said that his films grew ''like a snowball'' from some insignificant fleck of an event, often triggering a memory. Filmmaking was therapy. ''I have been working all the time,'' he said, ''and it's like a flood going through the landscape of your soul. It's good because it takes away a lot. It's cleansing. If I hadn't been at work all the time, I would have been a lunatic.''
''When Ingmar was younger, there was a bitterness to his films,'' said Harry Schein. ''With 'Fanny and Alexander,' there's a greater sense of harmony. I think Ingmar has it personally as well. In many ways, I feel he still lives a very difficult life — he talks of Angst, of that anxiety where you wake up in the middle of the night — but superficially he seems more harmonic. On the surface, he is nice and charming and almost civilized'' (quotes via Kakutani).
The 50s Bergman, bent on establishing himself, was the archetypal angry young man, a temperamental, bohemian poseur. He split home, after coming to blows with his father. He read Sartre and Camus. He signed his letters with a scribble of a little devil. He even wore a beret and a scruffy beard. He tore telephones from the wall. He threw adolescent fits of temper. Once he chucked a chair right through the glass of a control booth. ''I was a package of emotions on two legs — my life was completely chaotic.'' Since those halcyon days, said producer Jorn Donner, Bergman tried hard to change. ''Ingmar has been trying to fight the bohemianism in himself by leading a well-ordered life. When you think you are a bohemian or a lazy person, you have to fight that and impose a discipline — it's a little puritanical. He is very much the bourgeois today — he likes to see Ingrid and himself as the proprietors of a small French restaurant — you can't get more bourgeois than that'' (quotes via Kakutani).
His final wife Ingrid — a steady, kindly woman who looked exactly like his mother — helped him get together with his totally neglected brood of eight children from various marriages and liaisons. Later in life, his grownup children and four grandchildren gathered at Faro every July for his birthday.
On Faro, in his last years, Bergman rose every morning at 8 and wrote from 9 till noon. A lunch of berries and sour milk, and then back to work for two more hours. At 3, a nap. Before dinner, a walk. After dinner, TV — he liked ''Dallas'' — or a movie from his 16-mm collection.
Like the shrink Jenny in ''Face to Face'' who has a nervous breakdown, Bergman cultivated neatness and efficiency to contain his anxieties and fears. His surface calm was like Sweden's; underneath, he claimed, he was still ''extremely neurotic.'' ''Ingmar, at the slightest provocation, will produce a nervous breakdown,'' said his agent, Paul Kohner. ''He has a delicate disposition'' (quote via Kakutani).
8. AN EYE FOR WOMEN
Bergman was a man, but it is interesting that his three greatest films -– Persona, Cries and Whispers, The Silence -– feature women. Before he exploded on the international scene, he established his reputation in Sweden in the early '50s with three films — Three Strange Loves, Summer with Monika, Sawdust and Tinsel — that internalized the psychology of women and what he labeled "their special inner world." He had a dour view of his own gender, i.e. of himself. His male characters are always selfish, intolerant haters, self-indulgent and helplessly standing by, while his women are admirable, strong, empathetic, patient and intuitively wise. He was sometimes described as a prescient, vanguard feminist.
''I was in love with my mother,'' he says. ''I knew what she liked and disliked and I used to try to find ways to win her love." He believes that ''women are more intuitive than men — they have their emotional life more intact'' (quote via Kakutani).
He certainly had an eye for women, featuring an extraordinary range of beautiful actresses — those Nordic stunners — in his movies. He was an inveterate ladies man, skirt chaser and sex machine. He got all the best and brightest babes. He used the same actresses over and over, on stage and in film.
9. THE HUMAN FACE, THE BOURGEOIS SOUL
Bergman's landscape was the human face. And he got hold of some amazing faces. The supremely spiritual face of Max Von Sydow (The Seventh Seal). The sexually ravenous face of Gunnel Lindblom (The Silence). The unflappable, unfailingly polite face of Gunnar Bjornstrand. The suffering face of Harriet Anderson (Cries and Whispers). The kind face of Kari Sylwan (Cries and Whispers). The sensuous, troubled face of Bibi Anderson (Persona). The intelligent, caring face of Liv Ullmann (The Shame). The everyday face of Erland Josephson, an ardent excuse-maker of a man (Scenes from a Marriage). His films expose the human face, blister and blast it, celebrate its suffering, burn it into our own faces.
He gave our inner life an outer form in his glowing, glowering full-frontal closeups. In filming the human face, he gave form to the human soul.
In fact, Bergman's art makes it possible to speak of the human soul. But what kind of soul is that? It is the suffering soul. But not the soul under the duress of material want. If his art can be said to be about anything bigger than himself (and it can and it can't), it would have to be about what he was — a bourgeois European. One could say his art was about the soul of the bourgeois. He asks us to think about how the fat, contented bourgeois soul — the soul from which, ostensibly, all worldly suffering has been removed by a fair and just society such as Sweden's — still suffers. He convinces us that the bourgeois soul is still capable of human suffering: that the bourgeois soul is perhaps — because of its contented lifestyle, and despite its comfort, in mistrusted defiance of it, and still so insufferably human — always doomed to suffer.
I'd like to get out of the way for the last thought, and quote someone who posted on a NY Times comments section when Bergman died:
July 30th, 2007,1:39 pm
There is a totality of scope in Bergman's films that mystically inhabits every moment of time and every seemingly unimportant article, along the lines of what the poet William Blake expressed:
"To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour."
Perhaps above all his films call for a life of inner courage, both in spite of and because of the human tenderness, frailty and resilience which his films exalt.
— Posted by Eric Spaeth
10. HOW TO SEE HIS FILMS AGAIN
Individual DVDs of most of his films are available in the Criterion Collection.
Then there are these boxed sets:
1. For the total devotee, his first apprenticeship films are on the Criterion Collection's "Early Bergman," "Torment" (1944), "Crisis" (1946), "Port of Call" (1948), "Thirst" (1949) and "To Joy" (1950).
2. In the Criterion Collection, there's a boxed set of his 1960s Absence-of-God trilogy, The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly, and Winter Light. It also includes is a fourth film, "Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie," a five-part comprehensive documentary on the making of Winter Light, one of Bergman's favorite films. The documentary is directed by filmmaker Vilgot Sjoman (I Am Curious–Yellow), and was, in Sjoman's words, "the first and only time that Bergman let someone document his filmmaking from the first idea to the first showings."
3. "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973). The film was released theatrically in the United States in a 167-minute version. Criterion released the full 299-minute television series as a DVD in 2004.
4. "Fanny and Alexander" (1983). Both the 188-minute feature and the 312-minute original are now part of the Criterion catalog.
5. His final made-for-TV movie, "Saraband," a look-back at the long-divorced characters in "Scenes from a Marriage, is on DVD from Sony Pictures.
6. There's an Ingmar Bergman collection by MGM: six DVDs of Persona, Shame, The Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna, and the big-budget mess The Serpent's Egg, with a 2002 interview with Bergman.
11. ALL HIS MOVIES:
1. Apprentice Work:
Torment/Frenzy (his first screenplay, directed by Alf Sjoberg, which already features two tormented souls: one of them bad, one good)
Crisis (1946) (Kris) — he directs for the first time
It Rains on Our Love (1946) (Det regnar på vår kärlek) — influenced by Italian neo-realism
A Ship to India (1947) (Skepp till Indialand)
Music in Darkness (1948) (Musik i mörker)
Port of Call (1948) (Hamnstad) — totally neo-realist
Prison/The Devil's Wanton (1949) (Fängelse) — displaying the first big signs of enduring themes of deviant behavior and deep angst; best clue to the film-maker he would become
Thirst /Three Strange Loves (1949) (Törst)
This Can't Happen Here (1950) (Sånt händer inte här)
To Joy (1950) (Till glädje)
Summer Interlude (1951) (Sommarlek) — with this film, Bergman became Bergman, his style in full flower
Secrets of Women (1952) (Kvinnors väntan) — four women tell their stories about men to each other
Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) (Gycklarnas afton) — circus movie
Summer with Monika (1953) (Sommaren med Monika) — not scripted by him, but there are so many scenes without dialogue, that he wrote it with his camera
A Lesson in Love (1954) (En lektion i kärlek) — a comedy
Dreams (1955) (Kvinnodröm) aka Journey Into Autumn
3. International Breakthrough (three totally different masterpieces in a row):
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) (Sommarnattens leende) — a great turn-of-the-century comedy
The Seventh Seal (1957) (Det sjunde inseglet) — the Middle Ages: a knight, a touring acting troupe, a witch burning, the plague, religious flagellation, the oft-parodied iconic chess with death
Wild Strawberries (1957) (Smultronstället) — a deeply serious look-back at one man's life, with many excellent comedic touches
4. Period Movies:
The Magician /The Face (1958) (Ansiktet)
Brink of Life (1958) (Nära livet) — three women in a maternity ward with different attitudes to childbirth
The Devil's Eye (1960) (Djävulens öga) — a sort-of comedy
The Virgin Spring (1960) (Jungfrukällan) (won Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) — one of his nine best
5. Absence-of-God trilogy:
Through a Glass Darkly (1961) (Såsom i en spegel) (won Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) — a troubled woman sees God, and he is a spider
Winter Light (1962) (Nattvardsgästerna) — a pastor struggles with God's silence: a personal favorite of Bergman's
The Silence (1963) (Tystnaden) — one of his nine best
6. Period Of Greatness:
All These Women (1964) (För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor) — an uncharacteristic Fellini-esque comedic misfire
Persona (1966) — best of his best
Hour of the Wolf (1967) (Vargtimmen) — an artist and his demons
Shame (1968) (Skammen) — a war movie, one of his nine best
The Rite (1968) (Riten) (TV) — very peculiar
The Passion of Anna (1969) (En passion)
The Touch (1971) (Beröringen)
Cries and Whispers (1973) (Viskningar och rop) (won Academy Award for Best Cinematography) — a very best
Scenes from a Marriage (1973) (Scener ur ett äktenskap) (TV) — a best, in six one-hour episodes for TV: during the six weeks it showed in Sweden, when everyone watched and talked about it, divorce rates shot up
The Magic Flute (1975) (Trollflöjten), first shown on Swedish television: half the nation watched it; followed by a cinematic release
Face to Face (1976) (Ansikte mot ansikte)
7. After tax arrest:
The Serpent's Egg (1977) (Das Schlangenei)
Autumn Sonata (1978) (Höstsonaten)
From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten)
8. Two documentaries about the inhabitants of his beloved island:
Faro Document (1969)
Faro Document 1979
8. Final Period:
Fanny and Alexander (1982) (Fanny och Alexander) (won 4 Oscars)
Karin's Face (1984) (Karins ansikte) (TV)
After the Rehearsal (1984) (Efter repetitionen)
In The Presence of a Clown (1997) (Larmar och gör sig till) (TV)
Saraband (2003) (TV) — revisiting "Scenes from a Marriage"
9. Last work written for others:
The Best Intentions (1992) (Den goda viljan) (directed by Bille August)
Sunday's Children Söndagsbarn (1992) (directed by son Daniel Bergman)
Private Confessions (1997) (directed by Liv Ullmann)
Faithless (2000) (Trolösa) (directed by Liv Ullmann)
(BTW, check out my funny cunnilingus music video, "The First Time," at
or google it with "The First Time — Eve Dada")