July 30, 2007

CHECKMATE:

Ingmar Bergman, Famed Swedish Film Director, Dies at 89 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/30/07)

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died Monday, the president of his foundation said. He was 89.

''It's an unbelievable loss for Sweden, but even more so internationally,'' Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, which administers the directors' archives, told The Associated Press. [...]

The son of a Lutheran clergyman and a housewife, Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala on July 14, 1918, and grew up with a brother and sister in a household of severe discipline that he described in painful detail in the autobiography ''The Magic Lantern.''

The title comes from his childhood, when his brother got a ''magic lantern'' -- a precursor of the slide-projector -- for Christmas. Ingmar was consumed with jealousy, and he managed to acquire the object of his desire by trading it for a hundred tin soldiers.

The apparatus was a spot of joy in an often-cruel young life. Bergman recounted the horror of being locked in a closet and the humiliation of being made to wear a skirt as punishment for wetting his pants.

He broke with his parents at 19 and remained aloof from them, but later in life sought to understand them. The story of their lives was told in the television film ''Sunday's Child,'' directed by his own son Daniel.

Young Ingmar found his love for drama production early in life. The director said he had coped with the authoritarian environment of his childhood by living in a world of fantasies. When he first saw a movie he was greatly moved.

''Sixty years have passed, nothing has changed, it's still the same fever,'' he wrote of his passion for film in the 1987 autobiography.

But he said the escape into another world went so far that it took him years to tell reality from fantasy, and Bergman repeatedly described his life as a constant fight against demons, also reflected in his work.

The demons sometimes drove him to great art -- as in ''Cries and Whispers,'' the deathbed drama that climaxes when the dying woman cries ''I am dead, but I can't leave you.'' Sometimes they drove him over the top, as in ''Hour of the Wolf,'' where a nightmare-plagued artist meets real-life demons on a lonely island.

Bergman also waged a fight against real-life tormentors: Sweden's powerful tax authorities.


None are so deaf as those who will not hear.


MORE:
-Ingmar Bergman Foundation
-INTERVIEW: Ingmar Bergman - The Legendary Playboy Interview: A candid conversation with Sweden's one-man new wave of cinematic sorcery (Playboy, June 1964)
-TRIBUTE: Ingmar Bergman (The Guardian, 7/30/07)
-ESSAY: Operation Ingmar: One Bergman film is undoubtedly a good thing, but 38?: Joe Queenan watched the director's entire oeuvre - from callow, depressing early efforts to sophisticated, depressing masterpieces (Joe Queenan, March 22, 2007, Guardian Unlimited)

Bergman, whose heyday stretched from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, but who made a film as recently as 2003 (Saraband), is renowned as a staggeringly gifted auteur given to directing uncompromisingly depressing motion pictures in which God's existence is brazenly challenged and the notion that life has any meaning is ceaselessly questioned, and oftentimes ridiculed. This is a reasonably accurate representation of his overall worldview, particularly in the mid-career films that define him as an artist, but the emphasis on God and life's ultimate meaning is somewhat misplaced. The 16 motion pictures he made before achieving international fame with The Seventh Seal in 1957 do not deal with God at all, and this is also generally true of the films he has made in the 35 years since Cries and Whispers was released.

The central theme of the movies that bookend his career, and at least a secondary theme of his mid-career films about God, man's place in the universe and the meaning of life, is that human existence is hell on earth, not because of supernatural forces who are either malicious or indifferent, but because of the cruelty men and women routinely inflict upon one another, usually in marriage. This is the theme of his early movies, including the ones featuring the cuddly-wuddly puppy and the self-incinerating oven; it is true of his classic films The Virgin Spring, The Magician, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light; it is true of his gorgeous, hysterically pretentious Cries and Whispers, true of his ambitious television series Scenes From a Marriage, and equally true of his over-the-hill clunkers From the Life of the Marionettes, Autumn Sonata, After the Rehearsal and Saraband. It is even true of his comedies - yes, Ingmar Bergman made several lighthearted comedies (Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil's Eye) and one out-and-out knee-slapper - All These Women, which was also his first colour film.

No one who ever ventured behind a camera has adopted a more unapologetically bleak view of the relationship between men and women than Ingmar Bergman. With a handful of exceptions (The Seventh Seal, The Serpent's Egg) where the director goes in somewhat different directions, Bergman's movies break down into three broad groups: the ones where men torment women, the ones where women torment men, and the ones where men and women torment each other. Not terribly surprisingly, Bergman's first movie (as an actor) is entitled Torment.


-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman dead (The Local, 30th July 2007)
-TRIBUTE: Bergman's anguished life inspired movie masterpieces (The Local, 7/30/07)

In his native Sweden he was often accused of portraying the country as a nation of neurotics though this softened in the last decade of his life.

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on July 14, 1918, the second of three children.

His father Erik was a Lutheran minister who imposed a strict upbringing on his children. Family relationships influenced Bergman profoundly and were reflected in all his work.

Bergman recounted some episodes of his childhood in "Fanny and Alexander," which won four Oscars in all and was his last major film for the cinema.

At Stockholm University, the young Bergman discovered his vocation when he chose the drama society, which put on plays by Strindberg and Shakespeare, over literature and art history classes.

He directed his first film "Crisis" in 1945 and for more than three decades produced on average a movie a year. He did not earn international acclaim until 1956 when "Smiles of a Summer Night" was shown at the Cannes Festival.

Known in Sweden mainly as a dramatist, Bergman obtained poor reviews for work that was considered dark and incomprehensible, with its focus on love, loneliness, existential angst and relations with God.

Women occupied a central role in his work. He had loved his mother intensely as a child and when a doctor advised her to put more distance in their relationship or he would be damaged for life, he felt the loss deeply.


-ARTICLE: "We never understood how big he was" (The Local, 30th July 2007)
-ESSAY: Widescreen: My generation never liked Ingmar Bergman (Mark Cousins, February 2003, Prospect)
-OBIT: Dark arthouse director Ingmar Bergman dies (Philippe Naughton and agencies, Times Online)
-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman is dead at 89 (The Associated Press, July 30, 2007 )
-OBIT: Ingmar Bergman is dead at 89 (Mervyn Rothstein, July 30, 2007, NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: RIP Ingmar Bergman: The critical buzz on the great Swedish director (Blake Wilson, July 30, 2007, Slate)
Ingmar Bergman: the sense of the world (Roger Scruton, 2007-08-03, OpenDemocracy)
Bergman's actors behaved, under the disciplined eye of his camera, with an unusual empathy for their rôles. They were not film-stars, pouting out their good looks, nor were their features adjusted to some predetermined repertoire. In Bergman's hands they were entirely reimagined, immersed in the story and guided by its inner meaning. And Bergman was not merely a master of the camera: he was a great storyteller, who knew how to cut the fabric of a tale, so that not a line or an image was superfluous.

Like Shakespeare or Wagner (and the comparison with the latter is irresistible), he entered into each of his characters, finding their words and gestures out of a true dramatist's abundance of sympathy. Evil enters the world of his films only metaphysically, as it were, as part of the human condition. He has no stage villains, or Hitchcock-like destroyers. For the most part he finds in his characters, whatever the degree of their loneliness and anxiety (and they are all suspended at some point on the scale of metaphysical solitude) the aspect which can be loved. He has given us some of the most tender images in all cinema - the reminiscences in Wild Strawberries, the death-scene in Cries and Whispers, the Shakespearian flowering of young love in Smiles of a Summer's Night - and, by bringing words and images together with the kind of exactness that unites the words and music in Wagner, he has shown what the cinema can do, by way of ennobling human sympathy.

Music was important to Bergman, and his lifelong fascination with The Magic Flute culminated, first in the strange puppet show version in The Hour of the Wolf, and then in his own realisation of the opera. This fascination was continuous with his love of symbols, Mozart's masterpiece achieving its effects only because we see its protagonists as symbols, without knowing what they symbolise or why. Each of Bergman's films follows that pattern, being organised on two dimensions, as drama, and as myth. For we live our lives, in Bergman's view of things, both as individuals and as archetypes. Much that happens to us enacts the universal myths that describe our pilgrimage through this world.

Hence, even at his most humorous, Bergman takes a religious view of human beings, as creatures who are not merely in the world, as animals are, but also aspiring to make sense of it. Wild Strawberries shows that we achieve that aspiration when we look upon all that has happened to us, and accept it in a condition of forgiveness. That very Christian theme constantly recurs in Bergman's most important films. It may be one reason why he has fallen out of fashion; but it is also a reason why he will very soon be in fashion again, and appreciated for what he was: the man who brought cinema into the fold of western art.


Artist & Artisan: Bergman's legacy. (Thomas Hibbs, 8/03/07, National Review)
Of course, Bergman specialized in the depiction of certain kinds of familial affliction — infidelity and divorce. To borrow from Diane Keaton’s line, Bergman never “got over it.” In his inability to get beyond the gravity of infidelity and the searing tragedy of divorce — as much as in his unvarnished style and his preoccupation with life’s big questions — Bergman set himself apart from contemporary filmmakers. As his script for Faithless — a telling line has it, “Divorce is no common failure . . . with one cut it slices more deeply than life itself.”

Why does infidelity matter? Why should we be plagued with guilt over past misdeeds, over harms caused to others? Why be burdened with a need to confess, to put into words and to come to see clearly where things went wrong? Why the insatiable desire for forgiveness? Despite his claim that, after the faith trilogy, he simply dropped the religious issue, these questions are as prominent in Bergman’s last artistic creations as in his earlier films.

Bergman’s inability to shake these terrifying questions, his direct and supple depiction of the strains, sorrows, and pains of infidelity, distinguish him as a master craftsman who will remain worthy of our attention for many years to come. Comparing himself to the craftsmen who built medieval cathedrals, he accurately observed in an interview with Andrew Sarris: “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.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2007 6:55 AM
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