bergman started my obsession with film canons. imdb's top 250 was my renting bible and i was knocking off all the american classics like chinatown, the sting, and of course, citizen kane. after that, i realized that there were a bunch of foreign films i was vaguely familiar with that i should see. the seventh seal wasnt the first one i watched (that honor belonged to yojimbo) but after seeing it, i saw cinema in a different way. the film drops you straight into a surrealistic scene of a -too comfortable for sitting on a rocky beach- max von sydow with a chessboard, waiting expectedly. then death appears and the wheels of motion for the film are set. i didnt see it as the bleak depressing tale that many do. i looked at it as an analysis of the cycle of life. with death, there was life and a child is saved. there is a reason to fear death but it will come for all of us. there is an inevitability to it.
among the many iconic images in this film, my favorite is the look of ectasy and fear of inga gill (the deceased blacksmith's nameless) when death appears to take the sydow, bjornstrand, andersson, and co. away. afterwhich came the shot of the five of them dancing happily in the distance. as wonderful as the dance was, it was the look on gill's face that astounded me. it was perfect. it was beautiful. as i would come to learn, it was pure bergman.
i was devastatingly sad when he died because it meant there would be no more films. however, he was already retired, over the age of 80, and lived on a secluded estate in the faro islands so he wasnt going to come to the US nor would he make anything else. however, he was alive and for some reason, i more hope in cinema. his death marked the demise of the last of cinema's great 3, along with the already gone kurosawa and fellini. the problem is i dont see anyone to take their places and i dont think its possible to replace them or even succeed them.
for the two year anniversary of his death, i wanted to learn about bergman the man and what drove him. i have seen interviews and listened to all the DVD commentaries available but with the release of BERGMAN ISLAND, i saw another opportunity to learn about the director i admire so much. that was the first of three films i watched to prep this blog entry.
what i learned was that he was a driven and intense filmmaker whose principal concern was beauty and achieving his vision. he was not however, a good person in his private life. in fact, he was self centered, womanizing, a self admitted terrible father, and prone to fits of rage. somehow, this fit the vision i had of him even before i learned about him. to achieve what he did, i cant see how he could lived a normal well adjusted life. from bergman island, we learned the extent of which fanny and alexander was inspired by his childhood and truth about the dreamlike visual imagery of cries and whispers. in many ways, this was the first interview he gave as normal guy rather than a filmmaking discussing his films.
he made up a lot of what he said in interviews to make his stories sound more complicated than what they were. in the 70s, he claimed the 4 women in white in a red red room that began cries and whispers were 4 different versions of his mother. It was not. It was a vision he had and liked it. in fact, most of his films were ideas of his and given his international reputation, bergman received free reign on his films. he lamented this and was sorrowful about the lack of genuine criticism for his films. bergman never had a true critic he could trust and later in life, it bothered him greatly.
vilgot sjoman's INGMAR BERGMAN MAKES A MOVIE (featured on the bonus disc to Criterion's Faith trilogy) follow bergman through the entire production process of the silence. in the pre-production, sjoman follows bergman working out blocking, getting subtleties in the dialogue correct, and making ingrid thulin put on different costumes to get her character look right. for a bergman fan, this is the best way to watch him work. he looked focused and confident behind the camera and in the 70s he was at his creative peak. he yelled at the set people and appeared aloof in sjoman's interviews. he even stressed the importance of not listening, reading, or talking to critics. it was a fantastic comparison to the reserved old man on faro.
[on a side note, i didnt really care for the doc. i dont really care for sjoman's direction style and i didnt really like i am curious yellow (curious blue is on the q though).]
in his waning years, bergman the snooty filmmaker gave way to bergman, the man who made films. he was remarkable and self reflective and has a frankness about his past years that is unapologetic yet aware of his mistakes. throughout his life, it seemed bergman was happiest as a loner. in both interview sets, he makes the points of stressing the lonliness of life and predictably, god's silence, the theme of the silence, naturally. in bergman, he discusses the relaxation and joy of not talking to anyone for days on end.
The final and somewhat tangential exploration of bergman was a documentary on Sven Nykvist, Light Keeps Me Company. Nykvist was Bergman's director of photography/cinematographer for the bulk of his career and was key in creating the starkness of persona and the vivacity of fanny and alexander (at least the beginning. its stark again in the second half).
Like bergman, nykvist was a man prone to anger driven by vision and beauty. however, he was a man who valued family so much so that the death of his Ulla, put a dampener on his career. in the documentary, they say that he never fully recovered emotionally from her death. still, during those years, he managed to lens some spectacular looking films including crimes and misdemeanors, the unbearable lightness of being, and tarkovsky's amazing ofret (the sacrafice). they were good friends and one influenced the other though and while each of them were different people, they shared enough a similar eye toward film.
would there have been a bergman without a nykvist? probably, but his films wouldnt have looked so good.
through bergman's films, i learned that movies could be way more than entertainment. he taught me that a movie can transport you to a world of the inescapable beauty, intensity, sadness, and drama. i know there are some more adventures he and i are going to have together and im sure that when ive seen all his films, it will take me the rest of my life to find all the other hidden treasures of the amazing ingmar bergman.