Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007

The Siren pauses to mourn the death of the great Ingmar Bergman. Her knowledge of Bergman's filmography is largely confined to his earlier films--The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night, Summer Interlude, The Magician, Persona, The Magic Flute. But the Bergman films she has seen, she loves passionately. Most of all, she loves Fanny and Alexander, that fantastically beautiful ode to family love and the warm, carnal world of art and the theatre.

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:

    Bergman could be funny--uproariously funny--when he chose to be: just have a look at The Magic Flute and especially Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a timeless comedy of great invention. But for the most part, his work bluntly and unapologetically portrayed intense psychic pain, the emotional violence that people did to one another as a matter of course in the name of love, duty, and God. Bergman hurts, and if you don't feel it, you've unplugged your antennae. But he also presents his pain--which you have no doubt he has felt himself many times--with such honesty, clarity, and aesthetic scrupulosity that one can only respect him. He makes his audience work, not just by enduring the agony, but to find out what is really going on, who is the reliable source and who is not, why people say they are lying when they are actually telling the truth, why they subject themselves to injury needlessly.

    In spite of the subject matter, it all looks and sounds gorgeous. Bergman first hooked up with DP Sven Nykvist in 1960 and they were still together in Fanny and Alexander; I doubt there was a cinematographer in the twentieth century who could render emotional states by light, shade, framing, and camera positioning with his skill and subtlety. And the casts? Well, consider: Harriett Andersen, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlberg, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Erland Josephson--every one of them willing to do what the boss called for, make it even better, and most of all completely submerge themselves in their characters. I can do something with Bergman films I almost never do otherwise, which is to watch them for performances only...

    As [Saraband] finished, I didn't want to believe this was it, that we wouldn't be seeing anything new from this genius. All right, he turned eighty-seven just last week, and a man has a right to throttle back. But I wish he wouldn't. We need his honesty and mastery more than ever.


lylee said...

I'm also very fond of "Fanny and Alexander" - partly because I used to watch it so often with my parents growing up, especially around Christmas time. And yet, despite its warmth, it still retains Bergman's spooky, almost gothic sensibility that puts it in line with his other, darker films. It's that tonal complexity that makes it so riveting, I think.

"Wild Strawberries" is probably my #1 Bergman film, though. Such a hauntingly beautiful meditation on mortality, and less heavy-handed than - well, "The Seventh Seal," for one.

Dan Leo said...

I think I'm with you, dear Siren, on Fanny and Alexander. It's one of those works of which you can say, "If he'd never made another one, he would be great thanks to this."

But then he made so many other great ones.

Exiled in NJ said...

Last night on the beach at Point Pleasant, Pam and I saw Frid's moon rising over the calm Atlantic, smiling on the two lovers and fools standing in the sand watching it. That wonderful Midsummer Night will always be part of my movie memory.

Lance Mannion said...


I'm so glad you dug out George's post. I remember that one. After reading it I ran out and cleaned our library out of Bergman films.

It's sad about Bergman, but now I'm missing George again too.

Noel Vera said...

Bergman, Kovacs, Antonioni, Isidor Isou...they've been very busy.