Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) – Part #1
There was time some years ago when the name Ingmar Bergman was always part of the conversation when serious cinema was being discussed. His name even became part of the language of cinema criticism. Whenever a film was referred to as “Bergmanesque” everyone knew exactly what that meant. Today he is almost completely forgotten but nevertheless his influence is still being felt in the corridors of serious moviemaking. More than forgotten his works are now considered for the most part irrelevant. I have even read articles where critics and some academics have chastised themselves in public for being duped into taking Bergman’s work as seriously as they did. I can’t go along with this view. I loved Bergman’s work then and I love it even more now.
Granted he wasn’t a filmmaker for anyone who goes to the movies for light entertainment or escape. His films were often slow, rigorous and sometimes difficult to comprehend. One had to mentally work with a Bergman film and work hard too. For many filmgoers this was contrary from anything they ever heard or knew about film and how one interacts with the medium. This doctrinaire was essentially perpetrated by the Hollywood film industry which for more than half a century was the dominant means of film education most people ever got. So by their sights if it wasn’t being done the “Hollywood way” it wasn’t really a movie. I still run into people who feel that way and I understand it. What I have trouble understanding is that they’re not content to luxuriate in that belief but often feel the need to disparage or belittle anyone who doesn’t. So I have often gotten a “Why are you always looking at that crap?” from people who would like me to not only embrace their mode of film entertainment but also abandon what I’ve liked before. And when it comes to Bergman people don’t seem afraid to voice their displeasure out loud. I even saw it in a film one time. The wife of the leading character was going to see a Bergman film. Her husband comments to a friend: “I saw a Bergman film once; it was like watching paint dry.”
On the other end of the scale there were and still are those who felt that A) he was the greatest filmmaker of his time. Or B) He is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, filmmaker in the history of motion pictures. I don’t know if he was the greatest but I think that he is one of the greats right up there with Ford, Hitchcock, Griffith, Fellini, Welles, Renoir and a few others. And whenever I see a Bergman film I’m once again reminded of what a powerful and profound medium moving pictures (as they used to call it in the old days) could be in the hands of the right creator. A medium capable of asking universal questions about man’s journey through life which he often did with films like Wild Strawberries (1958), The 7th Seal (1958), Winter Light (1963) and The Silence from that same year. He was also one of the few directors capable of making films without conventional plots. Persona ((1966) is one example The Hour of the Wolf (1968) is another. But he was also a filmmaker of many sides because although he was primarily known as a director of serious, rigorous films that delved deeply into the psyche of their various characters, Bergman also made comedies that were both charming and sublime. One of his best Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) was adapted into the Stephen Sondheim delightful musical “A Little Night Music”. Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) seemed to be directly influenced by that film as well. In fact Allen is very open about his admiration and love of Bergman’s works and many of his films reflect that.
Approaching a Bergman film one is likely to be a bit startled by the stark nature of its setting. And the unadorned manner in which the characters reveal themselves. The people in Bergman pictures are for the most part humans in pain searching for a release. And they sometimes find it through religion, sex and psychoanalysis. But it is never an easy journey either for the characters or the audience. But if you persevere or even accept the challenge of working your way through one of his films I guarantee you that you will be rewarded with one of the most stimulating mental exercise you’ve ever had in your movie going experience.
Some films that I would recommend besides the ones that were previously mentioned are: Cries and Whispers (1972) – my personal favorite, The Virgin Spring (1960), Shame (1968) and The Passion of Anna (1968).
Theatre and film critic John Simon once wrote that in his most carefully considered opinion Ingmar Bergman was the greatest filmmaker the world had produced thus far… High praise indeed for a man whose works are virtually forgotten, Give him a try see what you think?