Cinema Station

Ingmar Bergman – Part Three | July 14, 2011

Ingmar Bergman – Part Three


Besides being aman of Theatre and Film Bergman was also a man of letters. In fact one could even argue that most of his films though cinematic in nature were also literary at their foundations. And of course he was a playwright too. His adaptations of Strindberg’s Miss Julie, The Ghost Sonata,  A Dream Play along with his version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House called Nora reflects his literary skills as much as they echo the original authors. Then there were the short plays, the monologues and other works like In the Presence of a Clown (1997), The Last Scream and After the Rehearsal (1984) that were his own original creations. Many like his one act play Painting on Wood became the foundation for some of his celebrated films.  That one evolved into The Seventh Seal (1957)


The literary Bergman is on display via the publications of the scripts from many of his best known films because they are viewed as valuable literary works as well as the outlines/floor plans for all those critically acclaimed films. I have read just about everyone that’s been translated into English and can attest to their value as worthwhile literary works. I particularly like the group collected under the title Four Stories by Ingmar Bergman published by Anchor Press/ Doubleday in 1976. It contains the scripts for The Touch, Cries and Whispers, The Hour of the Wolf and The Passion of Anna. What’s interesting about this collection is that the various film scripts are not written in the standard format that we have become accustomed to. They are written in various forms and styles because as he said once “A screenplay can never express what the film wants to convey.” So instead he writes his scenarios sometimes as a novella, as short stories as diary entries and in the case of Cries and Whisper (1972) as a long letter to the cast and crew which begins this way:

 “My Dear Friends, We are going to make a film together. It will look different from our other works and this scrip will also look different. We shall try to strain the medium’s resources in a rather complicated way. More than usual therefore I must tell you what it is I’m after; then we can get together and talk over how we are to give shape to our problems, cinematographically and artistically.”

 He then proceeds for 60 pages to not only tell the story and describe the characters but he also explains where the ideas and the images came from and sometimes the inspiration for them

. “The scene just described has haunted me for over a year. I didn’t know the names of the four women and why they were dressed in white dresses that flowed to their feet, or why they moved about in a gray morning light in a room with red walls.”


The script of Hour of the Wolf (1968) is in the form of a play comprised of a Prologue and Two Acts. The Passion of Anna (1969) is told in the first person… “My name is Anna, I am forty eight. I remember it was a sultry October day.” etc


Another book someone interested in the literary Bergman might want to peruse is The Fifth Act published by The New Press in 1996. Then there are the novels:  Best Intentions, and Sunday’s Children

both published in the by Arcade Publishing in 1994.Then came  Private Confessions in 1997.His best known books are his autobiography The Magic Lantern (1989) Penguin Books and Images (My Life in Films) published by Arcade in 1994. This is a book in which Bergman looks back at selected films from his long career dividing them into categories with titles like Dreams Dreamers, First Movies, Farces Frolics etc. and comments individually on each addressing how it came about, the reception the film received and what he thinks about it now. In effect it is his summing up of his career and provides some wonderful insights into his creative process. I am so pleased with the book that I wish that every director with a substantial body of work would follow his example and provide us with assessments of their careers and the films they consider to be important examples of their creative output. And comment on them in the detail that Bergman does in his book Images…For example I would’ve really liked it if Sidney Lumet in his senior years had provided us with such a document. His book Making Movies (1996) is wonderful but it didn’t go into his works in any real critical detail because that wasn’t its purpose. A book like that from a man like Lumet would’ve provided a resource not just to critics and academics but to film students who are hungry for guidance and inspiration. As I see it the literary Bergman has shown us the way we just need to walk in his footsteps and make the trip into our own journey of creative discovery.


– GE.


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