July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918 - 2007.

Ingmar Bergman: The Magic Lantern
Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died Monday, local media reported. He was 89 years old....

He was "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera," Woody Allen said in a 70th birthday tribute in 1988. Bergman first gained international attention with 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night... The Seventh Seal, released in 1957, riveted critics and audiences. An allegorical tale of the medieval Black Plague years, it contains one of cinema's most famous scenes - a knight playing chess with the shrouded figure of Death....

Though best known internationally for his films, Bergman was also a prominent stage director.... The influence of Strindberg's grueling and precise psychological dissections could be seen in the production that brought Bergman an even-wider audience: 1973's Scenes From a Marriage. First produced as a six-part series for television, then released in a theater version, it is an intense detailing of the disintegration of a marriage. Bergman showed his lighter side in the following year's The Magic Flute, again first produced for TV.

The AP.

See also: Ingmar Bergman Face to Face, the official site; Acquarello, Books and Writers, Hamish Ford's profile for Senses of Cinema and, of course, the Wikipedia entry.

"Mr Bergman dealt with pain and torment, desire and religion, evil and love; in Mr Bergman's films, 'this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory,' Michiko Kakutani wrote in the New York Times Magazine in a profile of the director. God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires," writes Mervyn Rothstein in the NYT. "For many filmgoers and critics, it was Mr Bergman more than any other director who in the 1950's brought a new seriousness to film making. 'Bergman was the first to bring metaphysics - religion, death, existentialism - to the screen,' Bertrand Tavernier, the French film director, once said. 'But the best of Bergman is the way he speaks of women, of the relationship between men and women. He's like a miner digging in search of purity.'"

"What worries me is how his stock has fallen over the years and how many younger film buffs have little exposure to his works," writes Edward Copeland. "Sadly, not one of his many remarkable films made the final 100 on the list put together by The Online Film Community announced yesterday.... Even though Bergman began making films as far back as 1944, the first feature that grabbed me and one of my very favorites, even though it's somewhat uncharacteristic of his later works, is 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night."

Brendon Connelly offers a modest proposal for a web-wide tribute.

"In Europe, movie directors such as Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut helped break visual and narrative rules, but Mr Bergman stood out for dreamy and often disturbingly psychological films that expressed emotional isolation and modern spiritual crisis," writes Adam Bernstein in the Washington Post.

"He is often mentioned as one of the three most influential directors in the world next to Fellini and Ozu, whom he has now joined," notes Boyd van Hoeij at european-films.net.

"With his death a reassessment of his impressive output positions him among such talents as Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ray, Wilder, Visconti," writes Brian Baxter in the Guardian, which has opened a special section devoted to Bergman. "These second rung, but never second rate, directors hover fitfully behind the handful of geniuses - Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, Rossellini - where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism. What Bergman and the others lack is the (seeming) simplicity of expression that belies inspiration: an inspiration which makes true what would not otherwise have been apparent. In short there is an over-emphasis, an over-weaning power of expression, that obscures the counter currents of emotion lying beneath the surface of the work of those five pantheon directors, in such of their masterpieces as Voyage to Italy (Rossellini), Gertrud (Dreyer), or Lancelot du Lac (Bresson) which are truly beyond criticism." The "final phase of his career as director is notable for the magnificent Fanny and Alexander (1982), shown worldwide in two versions - at 312 and 197 minutes. The period is 1907, and the setting is a Swedish university city. Arguably the most optimistic of his works, it proved an international success and received four Oscars, including one for best foreign film in 1983. It was the culmination of a cinema career that has few equals in terms of quality, volume and integrity."

Norrköpinugs Tidningar: Bergman "Bergman, dead at last, I think," writes Spurious. "Did his demons subside as he grew older? Was he calmer? Some kennels keep old dogs apart from young ones, housing them in a 'contemplation room.' Did Bergman contemplate at the end of his life? Was he more content, less fiery? What was his last wife like? He found happiness with her, didn't he? or did he? Happiness - and for Bergman?" Via wood s lot.

Michael Atkinson thinks back on Bergman, "at once a dinosaur, a one-man New Wave, a mammoth formal influence, a pioneering pop existentialist, a despot in his own nation of cinematic currency, an unexploitable navel-focused artiste who did not bow to the world's entertainment will but instead made it bow to him, an unestimable provider of cultural fuel to the rise of college-educated counter culture between 1959 and 1980, and, let's face it, an astonishingly adventurous sensibility that embraced virtually every stripe of expression available to him, from melodrama to the world's most overt symbolism to gritty realism to epic pageant, farce and avant-garde psycho-obscurism.... Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman.... Still, as cinephiles with memories know, fashion will not win in the end, and Bergman, a classical giant with modernist ordnance, will eventually reemerge as essential for all ages.... When will he reenter the pantheon?"

Persona

Senior editor Dwight Garner quotes liberally from Woody Allen's 1988 review for the NYT Book Review of Bergman's autobiography, The Magic Lantern:

In addition to all else - and perhaps most important - Bergman is a great entertainer; a storyteller who never loses sight of the fact that no matter what ideas he's chosen to communicate, films are for exciting an audience. His theatricality is inspired. Such imaginative use of old-fashioned Gothic lighting and stylish compositions. The flamboyant surrealism of the dreams and symbols. The opening montage of Persona, the dinner in Hour of the Wolf and, in The Passion of Anna, the chutzpah to stop the engrossing story at intervals and let the actors explain to the audience what they are trying to do with their portrayals, are moments of showmanship at its best.

Time's Richard Corliss recalls that "good quarter century" in which "Bergman defined serious cinema":

At the time, the foreign films that made an impact with the cognoscenti were mainly from France, Italy and Japan. Bergman, though, was a one-man film movement; his instant eminence created a cottage industry of Bergmania. Janus Films, with US rights to most of his pictures, ran Ingmar Bergman festivals in theaters around the country. Full-length studies of his work appeared in English, French, Swedish. In 1960 Simon & Schuster published a book of four of his screenplays (Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician). For a generation of budding cinephiles, that settled it. Film was literature. Movies were art. And Bergman was the Shakespeare of the cinema.

They certainly launched a generation of film critics, this one included. Dozens of us have the same story of teenage revelation: of seeing a Bergman movie, usually The Seventh Seal, and saying, "This is what I want to study, devote my life to."

Online listening tips. NPR has an excerpt from a 1979 interview; also Terry Gross spoke with Liv Ullmann in 1993.

"Speaking for myself, it wasn't the first time that I saw The Seventh Seal, an admittedly impressive film that nevertheless was unfortunately tagged as the ultimate art-house (and thusly overanalyzed within an inch of its life), that made me appreciate the genius of Ingmar Bergman," writes Chris Barsanti. "It was seeing Persona, his tightly-wound, avant-garde riff on madness, the dissolution of personality, and Strindberg-ian power plays, that really illustrated his mastery of the artform, and showed that his films could be more than bleak meditations on death and God. If you haven't seen, rent it this week. You won't be disappointed."

"If Ingmar Bergman can make his peace with death, then there's hope for the rest of us." Bryant Frazer explains.

"While I have been thinking about some of Bergman's films, especially Persona, I have also been reflecting on the act of seeing Bergman's films." Peter Nellhaus recalls a secret language.

Kleine Zeitung: Bergman "Throughout the years I've found myself jaded and not as attracted to Bergman as I once was," admits Flickhead. "But make no mistake, there is much to be mined, from the adult themes to his innate grasp of the human condition; the captivating cinematography of Sven Nykvist; and those wonderful casts of actors. He made me fall in love with Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Ingrid Thulin, and I still marvel at their performances in that raft of films that were once in constant demand in theaters: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The Magician (1958), The Devil's Eye (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962), The Silence, Persona (1966). There isn't one filmmaker working today who could come anywhere near that output of sheer quality."

"Even Mr Bergman's comedies have a powerful undertow of sadness, of time rushing by and of dark shadows gathering," writes Stephen Holden in the NYT:

An existential dread runs through the entire Bergman oeuvre. Among the major directors who spearheaded the international art film movement after 1950, he was the one most closely in touch with the intellectual currents of the day. Freud and Sartre were riding high, and Time magazine wondered in a cover story if God were dead. Attendance at Mr Bergman's films was a lot like going to church. Though many of those films are steeped in church imagery, God is usually absent from the sanctuary.

As a college student and avid art-film goer in the early 1960s, I was overwhelmed by Mr Bergman's films, with their heavy-duty metaphysical speculation and intellectual seriousness. In those days, you would no more argue with Mr Bergman's stature than you would question the greatness of the modern Western literary canon; like Mann, Joyce, Kafka, Faulkner, et al, Mr Bergman was an intellectual god whose work could reward a lifetime of analytical study.

Updates, 7/31: "Perhaps the European filmmaker best known to American audiences, Ingmar Bergman is abundantly represented on DVD." Dave Kehr presents a guide in the NYT.

"This sad day may be even sadder for its ultimate revelation that an artist who cornered the market on gravity - a Lutheran minister's son who sprinkled rape, mutilation, disease, mental illness and incest into his oeuvre like Michael Bay invokes product placements - could be remembered so glowingly for his signature brand of existential horror," writes ST VanAirsdale at the Huffington Post. "The talky crises of Persona, Scenes From a Marriage or Autumn Sonata are your crises. The sexual frustrations fueling Monika and sent up in Smiles of a Summer Night are your frustrations. You don't choose sides in a war; nevertheless, just like in Shame and The Silence, you are implicated.... It took me a few years in my early 20s to understand the scope of his artistry. Once I did, I finally realized that the key to really enjoying Bergman is to acknowledge your culpability in the devastation onscreen."

"Bergman's passing is a reminder that serious cinema will only have a place in the artistic world as long as film-makers lay claim to one," reads a lead editorial in the Guardian. "When Bergman's career was at its height, between 1955 and 1980, European art cinema was beyond doubt a central part of the global movie industry. Today that is a questionable claim.... "Bergman's career is a reminder that artists are not judged solely by their technique or their ability to shock but by their inner moral honesty and by their inspiration.... Like Mozart, whom he revered, he knew how to say profound things with great simplicity."

Also, commentary from Rick Moody, Beeban Kidron, Thomas Vinterberg, Hari Kunzru, Michael Winner, Sheila Reid and David Thomson.

Independent: Bergman "If he is regarded as one of the true greats of cinema, it is because he understood the power of the symbol and the possibility of the close-up in a manner no one has ever been able to equal," writes the Independent in a lead editorial. "To see a Bergman film is to feel that you have seen behind the curtain by looking straight at it."

Also:

  • "I would not have made any of my films or written scripts such as Taxi Driver had it not been for Ingmar Bergman," writes Paul Schrader. "[W]hat he has left is a legacy greater than any other director.... I think the extraordinary thing that Bergman will be remembered for, other than his body of work, was that he probably did more than anyone to make cinema a medium of personal and introspective value. Movies by nature are, of course, very commercially driven and very accessible. No one really used cinema as private personal expression in that way. Bergman showed that you could actually do movies that were personal introspections and have them seen by general audiences."

  • "It may be prurient and reductive to pore over the messy private lives of artists. In Bergman's case, it is unavoidable," writes Geoffrey Macnab. "He drew so heavily from his private life in his work that some knowledge of the former can't help but elucidate the latter." For example: "There is one central paradox - how could someone who wrote so creatively and attentively about childhood be so uninterested in his own children's lives?"

"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," writes Peter Rainer. "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."

Also in the Los Angeles Times:

  • "'Bergman was the epitome of a director's director - creating beautiful, complex and smart films that imprinted permanently into the psyche - inspiring filmmakers all over the world to create their own movies with similar passion and brio,; Michael Apted, president of the Directors Guild of America, said in a statement." From the LAT's official obit, by Myrna Oliver.

  • Theater critic Charles McNulty reminds us that Bergman "will also go down in history as one of the greatest stage directors of the second half of the 20th century, a figure comparable to Britain's Peter Brook, Italy's Giorgio Strehler, France's Ariane Mnouchkine and Germany's Peter Stein. He was certainly the best I have ever seen, a blazing interpretive talent whose productions offered the most thrilling X-rays of world classics. Bergman had a genius for illuminating the subtextual DNA of a drama, the psychosexual forces driving protagonists to their tragic clashes and crescendos. He may not have made a significant theoretical contribution to the art of stage directing, as Artaud, Brecht, Grotowski and Brook all have done, but as a practitioner there were few who could hypnotize with such lightning insight into the conundrums of dramatic existence."

  • "Bergman's ideas trickled down into the popular consciousness in all kinds of ways." A slide show by Deborah Netburn and Rebecca Snavely.

  • "The term 'Bergmanesque' describes a specific worldview - a bleak psychological chronicle of people living in a world that God has abandoned - evidenced in films the director never even made." In another slide show, Deborah Netburn and Patrick Day present "some of our own director-derived adjectives that we think should be added to the film criticism books."

In a special dossier, euro|topics translates reactions from the European press.

die taz: Bergman In the German-language papers: Fritz Göttler and Bernd Graff in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Arno Widmann in the Frankfurter Rundschau (photos), Jörg Sundermeier in the taz, Gerhard R Koch in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (lots of photos there), Christiane Peitz in Der Tagesspiegel, Fritz Joachim Sauer in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Georg Rodek in Die Welt and David Kleingers for Spiegel Online.

Michael Koresky at indieWIRE:

Looking back on my life, there have been distinct stages to my growing awareness of film as something more than entertainment, more than narrative, more than itself - in childhood, Fantasia clued me in to the essentials: sound plus image; in preadolescence, 2001: A Space Odyssey forced me to acknowledge that storytelling needn't be cinema's ultimate goal, and that the unknown is far more pleasurable than what's understood; and in adolescence, when I began to crave even stronger stuff, there was Ingmar Bergman, whose provocatively titled, in-every-way foreign films lined the shelves of my local public library....

There's simply not enough room here to properly pay tribute to the wonders of Bergman's cinema, the ways in which he was able to capture a human face in close-up and make it seem like the most fascinatingly multivalent landscape on earth; how, along with his discerning cinematographers like Sven Nykvist or Gunnar Fischer, he could make the interior of a hotel room or a summer cottage seemingly pulsate like the walls of a living forest; how he so thoroughly created a unique cinematic mind space that filmmakers like Woody Allen and Robert Altman were able to borrow and rearrange its components into its own form, and as a result expand the boundaries of American cinema.

For Owen Hatherley, Saraband "exemplified quite why I love Bergman - its unrelenting cantankerousness and emotional barbarity conflicting and aligning with crystalline, harsh beauty."

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir recalls how Persona changed his life, and then:

Most obviously, his work borrowed from the Scandinavian theatrical tradition of Ibsen and Strindberg, from various northern European strains of painting and sculpture, from Freudian psychology and severe Lutheran theology and the tormented philosophy of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. On the other hand, Bergman was certainly not immune to popular culture; his sense of craft was shaped by the classic Hollywood films of his youth, especially those of George Cukor, a personal favorite. (One can certainly see, in several early Bergman pictures, the influence of Cukor films like Dinner at Eight, The Women or The Philadelphia Story.)...

By focusing on Bergman as a great artist and deep thinker who grappled with God and existentialism and boiled the soul of the post-Holocaust world in his crucible, critics like [John] Simon have done much to drive audiences away from his work, and have distorted Bergman's own conception of his art. Entirely too much emphasis has been placed on the ideas that allegedly lie behind Bergman's movies; those who haven't seen them are often startled to discover that those ideas are delivered as memorably intimate images and as affecting human stories.

The BBC collects more tributes from other filmmakers.

Interviews with Bergman at EuroScreenwriters: Stig Björkman (American Cinematographer, 1972), the "Legendary Playboy Interview" (1964), excerpts from one that ran in the Sydsvenska Dagbladet, an oft-quote fax from Fårö and Daniel Shaw's psychoanalytic dissection of Persona.

Several pix and lots of discussion going on at the House Next Door, also pointing to an online viewing tip, the Bergman parody, De Düva (The Dove).

"One of the best film bloggers the Siren has ever read was the late George Fasel of A Girl and a Gun. His family, in what constitutes a very large service to the film-blogging community, has left his archives up at his old blog. In July 2005, a little more than a month before his own death, George posted a piece on Ingmar Bergman, and summed up the director, and what we have lost with his passing, far better than the Siren can."

Roger Ebert passes along an amazing collection of comments he's received from filmmakers, critics and others via email. Thanks, Ray! And yesterday, he wrote, "In 1975 I visited the Bergman set for Face to Face. He took a break and invited me to his 'cell' in Film House: A small, narrow room, filled with an army cot, a desk, two chairs, and on the desk an apple and a bar of chocolate. He said he'd been watching an interview with Antonioni the night before: 'I hardly heard what he said. I could not take my attention away from his face. For me, the human face is the most important subject of the cinema.'"

"Perhaps fittingly, I will always associate him with my childhood and, most particularly, with my father." A terrific appreciation from Lylee via MS Smith.

I'm posting this in both the Bergman and Antonioni entries: Do read all Glenn Kenny's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Ingmar Bergman," which he posted yesterday; here's "XIII," addressing some of what we're talking about in the comments following the Antonioni entry:

"Today, we are aswarm with Antonioni imitators, but no one seems to want to be the new Bergman," Michael Atkinson notes. That's partly because nobody can be the new Bergman. And not just for the obsious reason.

Unlike a lot of younger filmmakers today, Bergman was a highly, richly cultured individual. He knew the Bible backward and forward, Shakespeare too; fine art, music, and so on. All of his knowledge did more than inform his work - his work is suffused with it, it gains much of its texture and heft from it. Of course, Antonioni is similarly cultured, but his depth in this area doesn't play so much upon the surface of his work; it motivates the form, rather than thickens it. Today's young filmmakers aren't, for the most part, as polyglot. For a lot of them, all the culture they've got is film. And Antonioni's got a signature style that's accessible to them, and seems imitable: shoot some architecture and negative space, have characters disaffectedly utter banalities, and you think you've got it. To emulate Bergman, you've got to know what he knew, and knowing that... go on to be yourself.

Dennis Cozzalio on Bergman and Antonioni: "I'd dare say the concerns of Bergman's films seem far more in tune with my own concerns as an adult, and an adult filmmaker, than do Antonioni's. I remain interested in Bergman's grappling with his own sense of God, the pervasive influence of religion as a form and manifestation of psychological behavior, and the influence of a deity who may or may not be, shall we say, as interactive as even believers would prefer him to be."

The Shamus may have watched From the Life of the Marionettes with Woody Allen. But he's not 100 percent sure.

At long last, someone mentions this one: "Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece Cries and Whispers is the film that drove me to writing about film as a profession," writes Phil Morehart at Facets Features. "Its screening in an 'Existentialism in Literature and Film' course in college and the subsequent, required post-film paper deconstructing its many layers and emotions were stunning revelations. To put it simply, I figured it out: Digging into cinema was what I wanted (and needed) to do. Thank you, Ingmar."

Updates, 8/1: The NYT's posted a piece by AO Scott on Bergman and Antonioni that'll be running in Sunday's paper: "The two of them upheld, as filmmakers, TS Eliot's observation that 'poets, in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult.'... There was, among certain filmgoers in the 1960s, an appetite for difficulty, a conviction that symbolic obscurity and psychological alienation were authentic responses to the state of the world. More than that, the idea that a difficult work had special value - that being challenged was a distinct form of pleasure - enjoyed a prestige, at the time, that is almost unimaginable today. We would rather be teased than troubled, and the measure of artistic sophistication is cleverness rather than seriousness."

"In 1974, I got a job interviewing movie directors with films premiering in New York for a magazine called Millimeter. Over two years, I got to interview around two dozen active Hollywood pros - some great ones like Altman, Polanski, Rafelson and Frankenheimer and some mediocre ones. When I asked them, 'Who's your favorite director?' about ninety-nine percent instantly replied, 'Ingmar Bergman.'" From the first of Larry Gross's "Five Ways To Think About Bergman As A Genius" at Movie City News.

"Of the great filmmakers of the high-art period - Kubrick, Fellini, Kurosawa - it was Bergman who worked on the smallest and most intimate scale," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "'I'm passionately interested in human beings, the human face, the human soul,' he told Dick Cavett in an interview. When screening a mental clip reel of my most memorable Bergman moments, I find that nearly all of them involve faces."

"My attitude towards Bergman has really changed a lot over the years," writes Steven Shaviro. "When I was in college and graduate school, in the 1970s, I worshipped him - he was second only to Godard in revealing to me the potentialities of film, the heights of artistry of which it was capable." But: "Sometime during or after Scenes from a Marriage (1973), Bergman's artistry seemed to me to have lost its edge." The pendulum swings on, then: "All in all, Bergman still does not emotionally move me, or intellectually engage me, as profoundly as Godard, Fassbinder, and Antonioni do. But I think that now I am more able than I was for a long time to appreciate the considerable beauties and virtues of his art."

"If you put aside the infinite variety of pleasures afforded by his Magic Flute, Bergman's greatest gift to movies was his work with actors," writes Steve Vineberg for the Boston Phoenix. "As I reflect back on his movies in the wake of his death, most of the moments I call up are indelible acting moments."

"After a while, life and work and a few laughs turn us all into Mary Wilke (Diane Keaton) in Woody Allen's Manhattan," writes Dan Callahan at the House Next Door:

"I mean, the silence, God's silence... OK, OK... I mean, I loved it at Radcliffe, but alright, you outgrow it!" Surely Allen means us to reject the self-loathing, brittle Wilke, who churns out novelizations of popular movies instead of trying to create serious art. But her comments nail the Bergman/Antonioni pretensions and the mindset that would most appreciate them. She also sees Bergman's "fashionable pessimism" as "adolescent." This hits even closer to the bone. Wilke has a point. Several points, actually. She is also evil. Her pop mindset rules today, and we have to do everything we can to topple it. Paying attention to the virtues of Bergman and Antonioni is definitely a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Time's Richard Corliss talks with Woody Allen himself:

RC: You knew he was Ingmar Bergman, but maybe he didn't. He didn't get to view his reputation from the outside.

WA: Exactly. The world saw him as a genius, and he was worrying about the weekend grosses. Yet he was plain and colloquial in speech, not full of profound pronunicamentos about life. Sven Nykvist told me that when they were doing all those scenes about death and dying, they'd be cracking jokes and gossiping about the actors' sex lives.

Update, 8/2: "It would obviously be a crude-minded injustice to reduce Bergman to an unintentional cautionary tale against atheism," writes Victor Morton. "Among other reasons, his films are far more complicated than that - partly because hell-on-earth cannot literally exist and partly because even though Bergman became an atheist, he was serious enough that he could never live happily with that thought." Do not be put off by the title of the blog, "Rightwing film geek." This is an excellent appreciation, culminating in a hopeful take on Cries and Whispers. Thanks, Michael!

"When I laugh and gasp and shudder and try to hide under my chair during the interview that opens Bergman's Scenes From a Marriage, I'm struck by how much I need this kind of experience from a film," writes Spencer Parsons in the Austin Chronicle.

"Persona remains one of my favorite and most dreaded cinema experiences," writes Andy Klein in the LA CityBeat:

Ironically, while it is, arguably, the 'artsiest' of Bergman's creations, it's also one of the greatest horror films ever made.... Persona may not have all the trappings of the genre - it has almost nothing that resembles the more explicitly blood-soaked horror films of the last 20 years - but its influence is still apparent in the best of them. As in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973), Cronenberg's The Fly (1985), Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) and Rosemary's Baby (1968), it's identity - one's very sense of self - that is under attack. You can always fight an external attacker. But Bergman knew that no mutant lizard or robotic boogieman could rival the terror of a corrupted or disappearing sense of self.

"Maybe I have a thing for impending mortality, but I find the last works by Bergman and Antonioni to be among the most chilling, compelling and enthralling works that either made," writes Kevin Lee. "Saraband looks like a Bergman movie transmitted from the afterworld. If this is true, it's oddly reassuring that Ingmar the Grouch is still carping about the human race in the great beyond. I wouldn't have it any other way."

Johanna Schiller, who's produced several Bergman DVDs for Criterion, is currently working on Sawdust and Tinsel and tells a few stories at On Five. Liv Ullmann "spoke to me so eloquently about Bergman that she brought tears to my eyes.... Looking back now, I don't think I really learned about Bergman through the interviews I conducted with his actors and crew, or even through his autobiography or the interviews he gave over the years. Truly, I feel like I knew him through watching his films. I can't think of another filmmaker who managed to be both so personal and so universal at the same time."

Summer With Monika Online browsing tip. A collection of original Swedish posters. Thanks, Jim!

Online viewing tip. Tribeca's artistic director Peter Scarlet reminisces about Bergman and Antonioni.

"He did not quite belong here and had to work in a headwind of opposition," writes Leif Zern for the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter. "But what became apparent is that he managed his best work in headwinds. He was not welcomed by the establishment in the 1940s, the film world was not always refined enough, and the theatre was a 'half world.' His own plays and scripts were too conventional, or immature as they were often labelled with intellectual contempt. In the end he became, with his beret, leather jacket, ulcers and actresses, 'Bergman' - the great director he was destined to be. All of the films and productions that came from his hands are marked by these difficulties, as if the discipline he strived for and in the end conquered was what it took to keep his demons and explosive powers in check."

Also, a longish piece by Bergman biographer Maaret Koskinen: "His peer and fellow filmmaker Vilgot Sjöman referred to him as 'Berget' ('The Mountain') in one of his autobiographic novels. A suitable pseudonym indeed."

Take it or leave it: BergmanBits.

Updates, 8/3: "So to commemorate the passing of those monolithic, for-so-long-seemingly-immortal titans of 1960's European cinema I pulled out my DVD of... Before Sunset. What?" You'll find an explanation at Memories of the Future. Works for me.

"The old-style 'auteurs' are fast disappearing," sighs Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent. "Their impact was once enormous. The British filmmaker Mike Leigh has talked about his experience of arriving in London from Salford in the autumn of 1960 and immediately being 'blasted from here to eternity by the French cinema, the Italian cinema, the Russian cinema, the Japanese cinema, the cinema of Satyajit Ray, etc.' In other words, the cinema of auteurs. His experience was far from unique."

"Both directors were old men, and so grief is bested by appreciation," writes Nathan Kosub at Stop Smiling. "Beyond themselves, there is nothing to compare the accomplishments of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni to: not literature, not music. Quite simply, there is nothing that compares to the joy of movies."

Barbara Schweizerhof remembers Bergman in Freitag (and in German).

"In Europe, when I first came upon Bergman and Antonioni, we called their work films, not movies, and we honoured them as among the great artists of the century," writes Derek Malcolm in the Evening Standard. "This is a difficult concept for us Brits, with our literary and theatrical traditions to contemplate. We tend to find it difficult to admit that filmmakers such as Bergman, Buñuel and John Ford should be accounted along with the best writers, artists and composers of the century." But "long live cinematic art. And long live movie entertainment, too. It is perfectly possible to love Antonioni's L'Avventura and the Carry On movies as well. Or Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Creature from the Black Lagoon."

Filmbrain stumbles across a quote that has him muttering, "Oh, Orson..."

Update, 8/4: "The hard fact is, Mr Bergman isn't being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard," writes Jonathan Rosenbaum in the New York Times:

His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson - two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr Bergman's heyday.... [F]or younger cinephiles like myself, watching Mr. Bergman's films at the same time I was first encountering directors like Mr. Godard and Alain Resnais, it was tempting to regard him as a kindred spirit, the vanguard of a Swedish New Wave. It was a seductive error, but an error nevertheless....

Mr Bergman simply used film (and later, video) to translate shadow-plays staged in his mind — relatively private psychodramas about his own relationships with his cast members, and metaphysical speculations that at best condensed the thoughts of a few philosophers rather than expanded them. Riddled with wounds inflicted by Mr Bergman's strict Lutheran upbringing and diverse spiritual doubts, these films are at times too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world, limiting the relevance that his champions often claim for them.

Updates, 8/5: "It is an interesting question why so many people serious about religion, believers in particular, feel such a loss at the death of Bergman," writes Peter Steinfels in the New York Times. "[W]ere believers, and again Christians foremost, drawn to [Bergman and Antonioni] as powerful witnesses to what happened when God was declared dead? No doubt some religious defenders wanted to employ these bleak visions in a smug apologetic for faith, a greater temptation perhaps in the case of Antonioni, a post-Christian Italian, than of Bergman, an ex-Christian Swede. But for the most part, religious admirers of these directors treated them and their films not as object lessons for nonbelievers about the consequences of nonbelief but rather as revelations for believers about the true challenges of faith."

"Last Tuesday the Guardian, the Times and the Independent had near identical cartoons depicting President Bush as Death and Gordon Brown as a medieval knight confronting each other on a beach," notes the Observer's Philip French. "It was both an apposite idea for the Camp David meeting and an appropriate tribute to Ingmar Bergman, who had created this iconic image 50 years ago in his most famous movie, The Seventh Seal, and had died the previous day.... Bergman did not spring from nowhere, though that is the way it seemed in the late 1950s... Setting the pace politically, morally and philosophically, Sweden had begun to confront the questions of spiritual emptiness and the meaning of life that arise when material comforts have been satisfied and traditional beliefs, restraints and standards set aside. Though working in a language few outside Sweden understood, Bergman had the freedom to explore these ideas with intense seriousness, and he developed stylistically, influenced first by French poetic realism and Italian neo-realism, before discovering German Expressionism." Further down that page are reminiscences from Gunnel Lindblom and Erland Josephson.

James Meek reports in the Guardian on struggling - and failing - to get Bergman to bring him down. Smiles of a Summer Night is "a celebration, if you can believe it, of life and love." As for The Seventh Seal, "I'm sure I would have been depressed by the characters' obsessive brooding over the existence or non-existence of God as they faced up to the slow, agonising sickness that would bring their doom, if Bergman had only avoided making such a great film." Wild Strawberries? "So promising - but Bergman has to throw it away by reconciling the couple and consoling the professor with a reincarnation of his cousin. By the film's close, we are wallowing in whatever the opposite of depression is. Hope, I suppose."

"[W]hat I've been mourning these past few days is not so much the passing of these difficult, masterful old men but of the cinematic era they dominated - which sputtered out, its passing largely unremarked, well over 30 years ago," writes Richard Schickel in the Los Angeles Times. "[T]o an unprecedented degree, we redefined the nation's high and middlebrow culture. In this era, collegiate film studies burgeoned, publishers flooded the market with books about movies and, when I began my career as a movie reviewer at Life, which had the biggest weekly circulation among American magazines, I wrote regularly, without objection from editors or readers, about all the great directors listed above." And they are: "Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sica, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray, the entire French New Wave (Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Melville) and, lest we forget, the cheeky Czechs of the Prague Spring." Anyway, get this: "At one point, the competition from foreign films grew so intense that the Los Angeles Times, no less, called for a protective tariff on cinematic imports."

"Things always look nearer and dearer in pop culture's rear-view mirror," writes the Toronto Star's Peter Howell. Yes, last week was a sad one, he concedes, but come on: "In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a lover of intelligent film, especially if you live in a city as fortunate as Toronto." Via Movie City News.

"In 1948, just two years after Bergman commenced his directorial career, the novelist Alexandre Astruc thundered across the pages of L'Ecrain Francais with a piece that in its time was seen less an essay than a call to arms," writes Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger...:

In this article, "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde," he advanced the idea of "Le camera-stylo," and argued that film artists could only realize the full potentialities of the medium by means of direct, singular authorship, an authorship at once similar to that of a novelist or a painter but wholly dissimilar in that its methods were exclusively those of cinema. It was idealism run rampant, but that only made its allure, for some, all the more alluring.

It's a proposition with which one can, of course, dispute endlessly, but in the realm of narrative filmmaking Ingmar Bergman consummated Astruc's ideal more completely than any director of his day. So it falls, then, as naturally as night falls upon day, that in the full flower of his creativity he would often find himself dismissed by the high tide of auteurist movie reviewers, usually American, whose critical mandate was virtually fueled by such outlandishly romantic proclamations as Astruc's. The reason for this had little to do with his movies and everything to do with the attitudes of a certain breed of reviewer: Auteurist criticism, as it came to be, was essentially a sport, one where each critic mined a body of work for the oft-hidden authorial hand of its director and then wrote their way (often poorly) to Olympus. It's an engaging preoccupation, always good for passing the time, but Bergman made it too easy.

"A propos of Cries and Whispers, when I worked for Roger Corman in the 70s, he said he persuaded Bergman to let him distribute the picture by promising him he'd get the ultra-serious drama booked into drive-ins," recalls Variety's Todd McCarthy. "'I'm going to make you the new Jack Hill!' Corman told the Swedish auteur, referring to one of the era's low-budget maestros. Bergman evidently was so tantalized by this prospect that he let Corman have the film, and Corman was good to his word, playing a dubbed version at ozoners and making the picture one of Bergman's greatest successes." Via Scott Macaulay at Filmmaker.

Online viewing tip. Facets Features has a short clip from an interview with Bergman in which he references Antonioni.

And another. The cinetrix points to a collection of Bergman's soap commercials.

"Whatever Bergman's strengths finally are, I suspect they are not served by vanguardist treatments of modernity but of the continued tradition of certain older patterns within modernity," writes Zach Campbell in reaction to Jonathan Rosenbaum's NYT piece. "I think this is why he might still matter, which is not to say that he automatically matters, that he's beyond any debate, that he is necessarily more universal or timeless. We certainly cannot, should not, assume the last. (Less 'great,' less prolific, less spiritual, but I think Walerian Borowczyk actually harvests from some of the same fields - a premodern past beckoning within the trappings of modernity.) Are Bergman's works 'landmarks in the history of taste'? Of course they are - all very hallowed and very reviled works are. (And I'm sure Rosenbaum would not dispute this.) But that doesn't prove the facts of their merits or demerits, either, does it? Just as Godard may have had his heyday in the 1960s: his reception is important historically, helps us understand his art, but his worth is ultimately not correlative to his [acknowledged] relevance or acceptance (or dismissal) at any given time or place."

Harry Tuttle's a bit angrier at Rosenbaum, arguing that the NYT piece "demonstrates a selective memory, dishonest arguments, double standard principles and the poorest clichés on art cinema." More from Jonathan Lapper: "Rosenbaum is as always a superb writer and distiller of ideas and as I recently noted on these pages one of my favorite critics. His argumentation here however, seems specious at best."

Adam at Another Green World: "The films that are preferred among the film students and film lovers that I know are atypical, in that they don't conform to the Bergman archetype (which does, to be fair, conflate Bergman with his imitators and parodists): Fanny and Alexander, Smiles of a Summer Night, the early films just issued on Criterion's Eclipse box set. Persona seems to remain the one Bergmanesque Bergman film that even his detractors admire."

Updates, 8/6: Online listening tip. David Denby for the New Yorker.

Jim Emerson notes that Robert McKee has used The Virgin Spring "to illustrate the principles of a well-structured story":

Shame is another reminder that Bergman's movies weren't solely aimed at "art" - they were made to appeal to an audience. Right up to its bleak ending (downbeat, even nihilistic finales - as in Easy Rider - were fashionable and popular in mainstream cinema in the late 1960's, too), Shame is a rip-roaring story, with plenty of action, plot-twists, big emotional scenes for actors to play, gorgeously meticulous cinematography, explosive special effects and flat-out absurdist comedy. I don't know how "arty" it seemed in 1968, but it plays almost like classical mainstream moviemaking today.

"Rosenbaum's piece is definitely a putdown but I don't really see it as vicious or scandalous," writes Girish. "It's a contrarian dissent and I think it can be put to productive use." Meantime:

Can I confess something? I really admire Bergman both as a film-historical figure and as a filmmaker, but I have some trouble with a couple of aspects of his work. Sometimes his films seem to contain (for me) a sadomasochistic streak that sets up a through-line from the creator's self-punishment, that punishment then proceeding to characters and then the audience in sequence. I find it hard to come up with a convincing aesthetic justification for this strategy (which in itself, of course, is neutral and not worthy of condemnation) in Bergman's films; I can also sense the filmmaker taking a certain relish in this gratuitous exercise. This bothers me.

Continued here.



Bookmark and Share

Posted by dwhudson at July 30, 2007 2:46 AM

Comments

What a man.

Posted by: b at July 30, 2007 8:24 AM

Here's some random personal thoughts I had about Bergman's films. Cinephiles might enjoy reading Joe Queenan's experience of seeing all the Bergman films at once (which alas, I see Greencine already covered a few months ago). Great Hamish Ford article. I like his insight about how Scenes from a Marriage used the television medium. Reading Ford's essay, I remembered that I saw Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny & Alexander in forms truncated from TV. I look forward to watching them in original form.

Besides Allen, I find Jill Sprecher to be carrying on Bergman's torch in USA.

Posted by: Robert Nagle at July 30, 2007 8:25 AM

Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, and Rossellini the 'Pantheon' directors and Bergman, Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ray, Wilder, Visconti the 'Second Tier?' Those highbrow Guardian critics sure like to slight American filmmakers (John Ford and Buster Keaton, of course, can't even make second tier). And what of Mizoguchi, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Sjostrom, and Murnau (to name but a few who apparently don't deserve the second tier, either)? Ack, what a bunch of phonies.

Posted by: Kris at July 30, 2007 10:40 PM

i just heard that antonioni has passed away as well. on the same day as ingmar bergman. i have tears streaming down my cheeks - two of my favorite directors, whose works of unparalleled intelligence have inspired so many filmmakers, gone on the same day. it's absolutely heartbreaking - especially at a time when movie theaters are filled with mind numbing, moronic "films" whose main aim is to make as much money as possible, spurring lucrative sequels... it's such a sad day for people who believe in cinema as the "seventh art."

Posted by: Elena at July 31, 2007 3:18 AM

Good Lord, Elena. This is one July we'll never forget.

Someone check in on Godard, make sure he's ok.

Posted by: David Hudson at July 31, 2007 3:35 AM

I heard Godard has been hiding in his basement for the last three days and Resnais is bringing him his cigars every morning.

By the way, in the great pantheon of filmmakers I have yet to see Bunuel's name mentioned. Surely he is in the "upper tier" or whatever pretentious name they give it. Forgotten because he was one of a kind and never imitated except in "surreal" commercials. Still, I wish someone would mention him.

Posted by: Levari at August 1, 2007 10:59 PM

Kris: Why worry that your favorite artist didn't make somebody's list? Isn't it a nice feeling that some director is "yours" and doesn't belong to "critics"?

Posted by: sorie at August 7, 2007 9:47 AM