Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
This is my latest post (third overall) for the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge hosted by Out of the Past. This book fits in as a biographical/filmographic account, as Bergman speaks of the films he made from 1946 to around 1986.
Bergman and Me
In my second post in this series I chronicled my history with the films of Bergman. With that in mind I was very glad that this is the autobiographical Bergman account I chose to read first rather than The Magic Lantern. When making that decision it was based solely on the fact that Images was published at a later date and therefore would include a few more works.
As it turned out, that was a good thought on a few accounts. One of which was the fact that with further hindsight, and reviewing of his own work, Bergman was able to have more distance between the present day (of when this was written) and production. Therefore, his mind changed for the better, for worse, or he had more clarity on why certain things worked or didn’t work. Furthermore, there were citations from The Magic Lantern used as jumping off points. This may be tiresome for one who read that book but was helpful here.
Clearly the most illuminating to me were the excerpts of texts from his workbooks where he’s literally dissecting his own process from abstract notes you can either clearly see how the film developed, or are let marveling at the genius that he was able to to take something rather obfuscated and turn it into concrete emotion and a visual reality that exudes the intended visceral reactions and ideas.
The very formation of this account is one that’s fascinating. It started with what was going to be another interview book like Bergman on Bergman with interviews conducted by Lasse Bergström, Bergström then deleted his questions and Bergman edited the text. The filmography section, which was crucial in the days before the IMDb, and handy because of the plot synopses they at times contained, was compiled by Bertil Wredlund.
The film is also very interestingly organized as the films are grouped not chronologically so much as thematically. The sections within are:
Dreams and Dreamers
(Wild Strawberries, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, Persona, Face to Face, The Touch, Cries and Whispers, and The Silence)
This section ends with Bergman talking about why he went into self-imposed exile amidst tax evasion allegations that were eventually deemed meritless, then it transitions back to the beginning with-
(Torment, Crisis, It Rains on Our Love, A Ship Bound for India, Music in Darkness a.k.a. Night is My Future, Port of Call, The Devil’s Wanton a.k.a Prison, and Thirst)
This section starts with him in the script department of Svensk Filmindustri then writing scripts and finally directing. It also interestingly discusses his stint as script supervisor (“script girl” as it was frequently called back then), for the first screenplay he wrote. He humorously admits to not being good at it, it’s an important job, and parenthetically, I wasn’t very good at it myself.
(The Magician, The Rite, Sawdust and Tinsel, The Serpent’s Egg, From the Life of Marionettes, Scenes From a Marriage, and After the Rehearsal)
In this section Bergman not only discusses his years out of Sweden but also ties that in with the themes of jesters and traveling entertainers, and puppets which were omnipresent in his work but prevalent in these films
(The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly, The Virgin Spring, and Winter Light)
In this section the discussion at times runs together because of the religious themes that connect them all.
(To Joy, This Can’t Happen Here, Summer Interlude, Waiting Women, Summer with Monika, Shame, The Passion of Anna, Brink of Life, and Autumn Sonata)
While the title of this section is a bit uninspired it does talk of actors in general segues to the discussion on Autumn Sonata, which I will dedicate excruciating detail to in an upcoming blogathon.
(some commentary on Waiting Women, A Lesson in Love, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Devil’s Eye, The Magic Flute, and Fanny and Alexander)
Herein he discusses his struggles with comedy in general and his repeated ventures (yes, there were a few) into the genre. In addition to that there is discussion on how Fanny and Alexander in many ways was born of the influence of both E.T.A. Hoffman and Dickens.
Note:If you want to go into the book knowing as little as possible bypass this section.
Sure there are wide-ranging insights into his process, life, development, and art in general, but for me (as I’m sure is the case with many of us) the greatest thing is the little insights. Things I never knew that aren’t earth-shattering but intriguing, or opinions he has on his work that you don’t share, and those you do.
Some examples of this are: Fanny and Alexander started with different names in his notes, and that he likes the TV version better (as do I). He detested The Devil’s Eye, and working on it; I didn’t like it either and that kind of thing has a tendency to show (like with John Carpenter and Christine). He claims he shouldn’t have included the interviews in the The Passion of Anna.
It is curious that the mention of the The Magic Flute being produced in the Swedish language, and not German, is non-existent. Though reading the whole book, and the section between the lines there are some inferences one can make about this choice.
Also included are insights into his extensive theatre work, which is fascinating as it helps us understand his day-to-day schedule for many years and also see diferences era and country create. There’s also a mind-blowing explanation of a brief stint in TV commercials (news to me), discussion of his lifelong relationships with the opera, and his work therein; radio (also news to me), and influences including Swedish novelist Hjalmar Bergman (no relation). As with any good work on film it made me want to watch and see more.
A Word on Formatting
If interested in reading this book I would advise seeking out a copy in print, even if you’re not a purist. The copy I read on Kindle had some spacing issues, typos in inserting diacritical marks, and captions awkwardly separated from photos. Maybe some of the display issues would be less of a concern if I read it on an iPad or laptop but some of the mistakes would still be there. Having just made a number of these corrections myself in my own books (Plug!) I have a heightened sensitivity to such issues.
If you are interested in Bergman, or the craft of filmmaking, I would definitely recommend this book. However, I recommend it with a grain of salt, if you’ve not seen any of these Bergman movies you will likely have them spoiled. However, keep in mind there are a few I have not seen due to a lack of availability and that made me more interested in it. So, check this out!
This post is part of the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge. This particular title pertains to the blogathon by being a collection of interviews that serve as a biographical account of sorts as they are collected over a number of years, there are some personal questions, and Ullmann is speaks at various times of her life with evolving perspectives.
Interviews: Liv Ullmann
I’ve written about Liv Ullmann here before. Naturally, having written about the films of Ingmar Bergman in the form of a list, and most recently a specific scene she was in that Bergman directed. I also posted a piece called Liv Ullmann: Between Stage and Screen here. This was something I wrote as a reaction to a speaking engagement she had in 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It was held in conjunction with her directing a show there and touched on her career as an actress in both media. Following the engagement I got this book, as I have a tendency to do; it ended up in a pile of books for a while. A similar practice applies to movies as well. I’m trying to use Goodreads and Letterboxd to deal with both issues.
But I digress…
I’ve not made a habit of reading interviews exhaustively. However, it’s fascinating in this case because they are legitimate interviews that take a number of projects and topics into considerations and not as much of the junket/talk show nature is in there. Having them span years you can see certain progression, changes in perspective and priorities, and different career phases. The time when her career began, and the type of films she was usually involved in, I’m sure contributed to the meatiness of these interviews. Plus, she doesn’t give the short shrift to any answers.
The 1970s: The Bergman Years
If we’re being literal Ullmann’s “Bergman Years” began in 1966 with the release of Persona. However, these interviews begin in 1972. It was a different time and cinematic era, therefore, she only came over to the US and started doing interviews around the release of The Emigrants (Dir. Jan Troell), which garnered her a Golden Globe Award and her first Academy Award nomination.
Therefore, many of these interviews concern films like Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Troell’s epics The Emigrants and The New Land; Face to Face, Autumn Sonata; and her brief, mostly unsuccessful, in box office terms, but fun forays into Hollywood and the Broadway stage.
One can trace the growth of Ullmann as a person and her mastery over he instrument through these years. Always emotionally attuned she gives tremendous insights into her philosophy on life, art, the place of her craft, and the world in general.
The 1980s: UNICEF Ambassadorship and Broadening Horizons
When asked to visit refugee camps, and eventually asked to be a UNICEF ambassador; Liv Ullmann admits to a personal epiphany. In a prescient way she talks of the power of the media, and the positive change celebrities can affect by using the media. This is even more true today. She fascinatingly comes to terms with her acting as a profession, something she does for income, but sees this ambassadorship as her new, truer calling.
The 1990s: Sitting in the Director’s Chair
Whether in Hollywood or abroad, the difficulty female actors face landing roles for the same time window of time as their male counterparts is a reality many have to deal with in an inarguably sexist industry. However, Ullmann seems to have found a new direction that personally satisfied her and coincided fortuitously with her entering an age range where actresses struggle to even see scripts much less good ones. Her transition to directing is well-documented, and openly explored.
Her first two films were quite personal yet also included departures. Ullmann is typically seen as a modern woman, emotionally open, intelligent and confidently independent found period pieces to tell her first tales. The first film Sofie is a story of a 19th century Jewish family (Ullmann herself is Christian but has always had Jewish friends and affection for the culture) who pressure their daughter to marry the man of their choosing. Her second feature is a cinematic adaptation of a classic Norwegian saga Kristin Lavransdatter. Also, clearly a temporal departure.
The 2000s: Bringing Bergman Back to the Silver Screen
Even with only a handful of screen directing credits Ullmann herself has already seen phases. First, were her personally befitting period-pieces, and then after Bergman’s initial retirement from film (one he really only broke forSaraband, which Ullmann participated in) she tackled two Bergman adaptations Private Confessions, as a lengthy TV project and edited feature project based on a novel Bergman wrote, and Faithless, an original Bergman screenplay she piloted solo on his insistence.
Conclusion: All the World’s a Stage
Whether it’s been as a legendary screen luminary and muse, activist and force for change, or emerging director; Liv Ullmann has never seemed to back down from a challenge starting from the moment she started Persona not 100% sure what she was getting into and how she was going to pull it off. These interviews cut-off about a decade ago and it shows.
In researching this piece I learned that Ullmann has made her debut directing in the English language with her own adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Chastain. This doesn’t quite surprise me that much as I read some of her thoughts on Strindberg, and her saying she does not see language as an obstacle to directing.
Also, considering that Bergman was her closest collaborator who himself had a fascinating theatrical mash-up of Ibsen, Stringberg, and himself it’s not as surprising.
All the works I touched upon hardly scratch the surface as there is much to find in this book for fans. She talks of her evolving relationship with Ingmar personally and professionally, marriage in general, her relationship with her daughter, aging, fame, social issues, gender inequality, her theatrical works, coming to Hollywood as a newbie, interesting insights in to the film industry and specific films in general; and more.
Sure, as with any interview collection that at times features a few talks from the same year there will be some redundancies, certain titles will come up more than other ones, certain information will be redundant or slightly contradictory; but with minimal editorializing, and many Q & A transcriptions it really is speaking for herself and allowing us a window into her heart, mind, soul, and art. Fans and film enthusiasts should be willing to take a glimpse.
Introduction: Fanny, Alexander and the Magic Lantern
When dealing with a film that Bergman chronicles as being highly personal I feel it is only right that I give it the same treatment when I discuss it here.
There are times when I cannot help but inextricably tie my discovery of a filmmaker, or the genesis of my admiration for them, to the strength of my connection to their work. Which is to say Hitchcock and Bergman, for example, whom I gravitated to without prodding, and of my own volition, hold a more special place in my heart and mind than directors whose greatness I recognize but only found their work after hearing tell of how worthwhile an investment of my time it was and very consciously decided to watch them.
Specifically regarding Bergman, the story of my first viewing is that I decided to take the plunge when I was visiting family in Brazil. I saw a region 0 DVD of Fanny and Alexander on sale and even though to be able to see it I’d really do two translations (hearing Swedish audio, reading Portuguese subtitles and transposing it to English mentally); I went for it anyway.
I almost instantly loved the film a great deal and it fast became one of my favorites. I then proceeded to watch whatever Bergman I could from my teenage years through the present. DVDs were upgraded to Blu-rays at times; new-to-me titles acquired blind; repertory screenings at the Film Forum taken in when I was lucky enough to see them; his swan song was viewed the weekend it was released, dominating much of my annual BAM Awards; and then with his passing an honorary award with his name was created, and has a backstory of its own.
Fanny and Alexander (which I also got the box-set for and then viewed all versions, loving the TV version more than the original) was the impetus not only for my admiration but the best example of how I always inherently, nearly by osmosis, attributed to his films the axiom that the emotional truth of them was far more significant than the literal truth of the nearly fictitious “one true, correct meaning.” For it was without noticing really that I virtually never considered the wild conundrum, the paradox really, that exists in the telling of Fanny and Alexander until I revisited it and saw alternate versions.
Thus, when I made it around to Persona, which I believe I first saw as a VHS rental before getting a DVD, it was one I instantly knew I wanted to come back and dissect. Even though I got the Repeated Scene, and it may not even be my favorite part of the film, I always came back to it.
When I began my journey with Bergman, much like Alexander watching the images produced by the magic lantern, I was transfixed, as if by a wholly new experience unlike any I’d seen. Through Bergman’s eye the Repeated Scene in Persona was perhaps the most hypnotically dazzling. So here goes …
For those who have seen the film but would like a refresher here is a YouTube link that works (for now) Those who have not seen it are advised to read carefully and selectively and see it as soon as they can:
Stepping back from the audiovisual image to the script we can look at a few different things.
My need to be current on Bergman has extended a bit beyond films. Be they plays, screenplays, even his novels, I’ve read quite a bit of his work also. Some I took out from the library or photocopied, some I felt impelled to get like the recently republished Persona and Shame screenplays in a single volume.
A few things that become readily apparent when reading the screenplays are:
The edit is the final process so certain things are altered or augmented by the editing process. Specific to Persona the doubling, the very repetition of the scene, was a construct of the editing room rather than the initial design. It doesn’t make it any less a calculated decision just one that came to the film when it was deemed necessary. It’s the same reason famed editor Walter Murch would line up stills of the first frame of each scene in grids, not just to get a different look at the project as a whole (in abstract), but it also provided the occasional new idea.
As for the text itself, it’s instigated by an action and it gains added weight and significance by the visual treatment of the scene. For as talky as Bergman can appear and be he worked in theatre sufficiently to know very well the delineation and the framing, lighting, and editing were always pivotal as well as the dialogue painting images where the camera could not.
Bergman’s thoughts on the dialogue itself as well as the genesis for his creation of the film will be covered in the next section. What matters here are the basics:
An actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullmann) at the height of her fame and power consciously stops speaking but is just short of a breakdown and nothing is deemed physically or psychologically wrong with her. She and her nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), retreat to a country estate while she recovers. As Alma talks to her and observes her they clearly make an impression on one another such that the line that separates one from the other is blurred.
Also interesting to note, is that this film had a change of shooting locale from Stockholm to Fårö Island that remedied many of the issues Bergman and company perceived when they saw the need for reshoots.
In examining the photo of Elisabet’s son that was Alma concocts a story about who this child in the ripped up photograph is clearly her son, so why is it ripped up? Alma speculates, to put it bluntly and concisely, that he was: the abortion that never happened. However, after the seeming coup de grâce of this judgment Alma reaffirms that she is she and coming up with something. She isn’t Elisabet only she can be.
Then the cycle starts anew. Alma repeats the story from a different point-of-view, in the camera’s view. However, where the tale was not quite complete here it is with Alma struggling against Elisabet invading her mind and soul. The story becomes Elisabet’s and Elisabet becomes Alma.
The first half of the sequence culminates in the (in)famous double-image of the “bad” side of each of their faces spliced together in one frame.
The transformation is not as literal as it would be in a genre film but for the intents and purposes of this story its just as true and for either character to move on whether recovered or depleted a fracturing needs to occur to get them apart from one another.
Ingmar Bergman’s Perspective in Images: My Life in Film (1995)
Many directors bristle at symbolism being imposed on their work or film theorists. And, at times, the bristling is more about that old chestnut of the “one, true version.” When it is quite clear that certain directors like Kubrick invited audiences engaging and refused to define the film for its audience. Therefore, Bergman’s background he gives on the making of the film give you the genesis, what was happening with him and how it shaped him and the story.
It should be noted that right before this he was burning the candle at both ends frequently writing and directing films for Svensk Filmindustri and was then appointed director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre. It was a lot but he thought he could handle it and ultimately chalked it up as so: “That experience was like a blowtorch, forcing a kind of accelerated ripening and maturing.”
After writing, shooting and promoting All These Women, and directing Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler for the stage, his health was waning: fever lead to double pneumonia and acute penicillin poisoning. As he was admitted to Sophiasammet Royal Hospital to recuperate the idea for Persona struck him and he began to work on it “mainly to keep my hand in the creative process.” And in doing so it was a bit freeing in a few different ways.
With an unmade project canceled, his wondering about the place of theatre in the art world, and himself as an artist; he found a vehicle to express these doubts and pains and channeled it mostly through Elisabet Vogler’s personage. This is an emotional state he accurately encapsulated in what he wrote when he accepted the Dutch Erasmus Prize, an essay entitled “The Snakeskin,” which served as the foreword for the published edition of Persona. That state is rounded out and linked to the film more thoroughly in the book.
What is perhaps most fascinating is that I had not read this book, whole or in part before researching this (only the “Snakeskin” portion in Persona); so there was much information to discover, and it’s always interesting to glean insights into an artist’s creative process, but more illuminating that that is the fact that much of this story and truth is translated to the screen without overt underlining. It’s there, you feel it, and it either affects you or it does not but it’s there for you to see. Bergman’s art is not unlike his philosophy on why he is an artist:
“This, and only this, is my truth. I don’t ask that it be true for anybody else, and as solace for eternity it’s obviously rather slim pickings, but as a foundation for artistic activity for a few more years it is in fact enough, at least for me.”
In his notes Bergman has not only poetics about his creative crisis and things that are implied by the film like “The conception of time is suspended,” and most importantly “Something simply happens without anyone asking how it happens.” Yet there is also the key to the emotional heart of the film, which is right there in the film itself:
Then I felt every inflection of my voice, every word in my mouth, was a lie, a play whose sole purpose was to cover the emptiness and boredom. There was only one way I could avoid a state of despair and a breakdown. To be silent. And to reach behind the silence for clarity or at least to try to collect resources that might still be available to me.
Here, in the diary of Mrs. Vogler, lies the foundation of Persona.
It’s interesting to note here that Bergman, as he himself notes has named a character Vogler before such as in “The Magician —with another silent Vogler in the center — is a playful approach to the question.” The name would then pop up in later films. The usage of silence, one of the quintessential traits of cinema that separates it from the stage, is also strongly present in this title as well as others by Bergman including the appropriately titles The Silence which features hardly any spoken dialogue.
About the Repeated Scene specifically he writes in his book:
“…Suddenly they exchange personalities.”
“They sit across from each other, they speak to each other with inflections of voice and gestures, they insult, they torment, they hurt one another, they laugh and play. It is a mirror scene.
The confrontation is a monologue that has been doubled. The monologue comes, so to speak, from two directions, first from Elisabet Vogler, then from Alma.”
“We then agreed to keep half their faces in complete darkness — there wouldn’t even be any leveling light.”
Leveling light here refers to fill light, which is any light that would be aimed at the darker side of an actor’s face to lessen the contrast ratio. In keeping the highlight normal and the fill side very underexposed there is an inherent additional disquiet added to the viewership of the scene combine that with the editing tactics, then the unconventional treatment of the dual dialogue, including some jump cuts, and there is a crescendo to climax that is fairly universal even if the beats are more subsumed and the conflicts more internalized than in a standard, conventionally structured and told film. Upon seeing rushes of the scene edited Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann reacted as follows:
Bibi exclaims in surprise: “But Liv, you look so strange!” And Liv says: “No, it’s you, Bibi, you look very strange!” Spontaneously they denied their own less-than-good facial half.
The trick had worked and fooled the actresses themselves into seeing each other’s faces on the film. The film from that point was already speaking to people through its images alone. Yet despite the unconventional approaches, even on the written page, Bergman warns about those as well saying that “The screenplay for Persona does not look like a regular scenario.” And that it “May look like an improvisation,” but it is quite clear that there is a meticulous level of plotting that is only elevated by the inspired choice made in the edit.
Even though Bergman saw his return to his position at the theatre as a temporary setback (“When I returned to the Royal Dramatic Theatre in the fall, it was like going back to the slave galley.”) there is no doubt that Persona was a personal triumph due to the very personal, even if abstracted, look at himself that revitalized virtually everything in his life as evidenced by the statement “I said that Persona saved my life — that is no exaggeration.” Persona also marked an artistic revolution for Bergman, a change in his whole approach wherein he realized “The gospel according to which one must be comprehensible at all costs, one that had been dinned into me ever since I worked as the lowliest manuscript slave at Svensk Filmidustri, could finally go to hell (which is where it belongs!).”
Liv Ullmann’s perspective in Liv Ullmann: Interviews (2006)
What Ullmann added in interviews through the years does speak more to the scene itself, and as one of its participants she gives tremendous insight into the making of it, as well as her process as an actress. Also, how she was cast became a legendary story as she is a Norwegian-born actress and Bergman had only worked with Swedish actors at the time. It is the kind of stuff legends are made of but not as fantastical as people make it out to be.
“He had seen one picture I’d been in. And it wasn’t like he picked me up off the street, because I’d been an actress for many years in Norway. But he did take a terrible chance because I was very young — I was twenty-five — and I was to play a woman at the height of her career and having neurosis, which I knew nothing about. So he decided to use me on intuition, and I did the whole part completely by intuition, because I only understood what it was about many years later.”
About production specifically:
“That was very strange because he did that with two cameras. There was one on Bibi when she told my story. It was supposed to be cut up, using the best from each. But when he saw it as a whole, he didn’t know what to pick. So we used them both. Many people have tried to analyze why he does this. The real reason is that he felt that both told something there which he felt was important. He felt he couldn’t tell which was most important so he had both. “
That above reaction reinforces Bergman’s feelings and vision. Closer to the time she made it she revealed:
“The way I prepared was to read the script many times, to try and block it into sections. I would try to think, ‘This is the section where this is happening to her, and now he goes a little deeper in this section.’
“That is the way I very often work. I divide the manuscript into sections which always makes you know where you are shooting.”
Later on she elaborated even further:
“A lot of things I seriously didn’t understand. I just had to do it on feeling, on instinct. I couldn’t ask him because I felt so grateful he was giving me this, that I must pretend. When I see it now, I understand it so much better. I understand the character. But in a way I think it doesn’t matter because deep down we can experience even if we don’t really understand. I think you can instinctively play a character without intellectually or by experience being at that level. So many more people would appreciate him if they would dare to go in and think he’s really simple that he’s going to their emotions, not worry about the symbols.”
So with all these vantage points where does that leave us?
Conclusion: The Film Tears
One of the structural totem poles in Persona is an image of a film strip burning and breaking. It marks a rupture in the reality as its being presented, and it reveals to us, as a reminder the eyes through which this story is being seen (Elisabet’s son played by Jörgen Lindström).
When the film tears for us as viewers what are we left with? Is all theorizing to be tossed out the window? An interview Ullmann gives later on in her career when she took on Faithless as a director, based on Bergman’s screenplay:
Both women are called Marianne, so you can make all sorts of fantastic connections. Every viewer should have the freedom to do that.
Everyone also has the freedom to make connections with Elisabeth Vogler, I didn’t know very much, but I just knew I was playing Ingmar. That’s why I said that Max von Sydow could have played the part. I thought at the time “I will just watch Ingmar and I will try to act like him. In the current film, the character is called Bergman like the character he made into a woman and I played as Elisabeth Vogler in Persona. You can have great fun with this.
Which actually is not discordant with her assertions that “The real reason is that he felt that both told something there which he felt was important. He felt he couldn’t tell which was most important so he had both,” and that “So many more people would appreciate him if they would dare to go in and think he’s really simple that he’s going to their emotions, not worry about the symbols.”
If the film guts you it’ll pay to dig and pick apart these images and examine the interplay of the characters, the questions about reality, dreams, psyche, life, death, and sexuality. If it doesn’t move you an intellectual examination may not make it any better for you, and what would your motivation be to go in search of answers anyway?
When seeing the Repeated Scene in Persona you will think any of three things: a noble attempt at an experiment that fell short, a brilliant gamble that pays off in spades or a wasteful piece of sophistry. Many of the scenes in the film can be seen along this spectrum. It just bears noting to modern audiences that while his style, at-times starkness, look, and human dramas have become clichéd through the reverence of film students and arthouse filmmakers through the years, but many of the things he was doing were new and unique when he did them.
When the film tears for you as a viewer as Persona ends Bergman seeks for you to have been moved, to have thought and to have examined just as he moved, thought on, and examined his own life in its making. All else is fun, as Ullmann says, but there is no wrong. In this film Bergman rebelled against the tyranny of coherence and singular meaning and came out a victor, and we are all better for it; for now we have been moved.
Here is another list that is inspired by an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The first filmmaker I thought of picking was inevitably Ingmar Bergman. He is one of my biggest sources of inspiration and I have seen many of his films, as evidenced below.
The dangers in any list like this is the potential of denigrating the work of a great, which is part of why I wanted to start with someone whose talent and filmography is unimpeachable. I also qualify the list by saying listing his films was a decision ratified by the fact that the films I would say I love encompass about half the list, which proves how a ranking can be misleading.
I have also noted below what I haven’t seen and discuss some of his written works also.
32. The Seventh Seal (1957)
This may be one of the few controversial rankings of my piece. I’ll readily admit I saw this film for the first time at far too young an age, but while I appreciated it more when I revisited it I just do not connect with this film as I do with the rest of his works.
31. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Herein commences the part of the list I’d mostly describe as “good but not great in general” but on a Bergmanesque curve they get downgraded a bit more. There’s nothing wrong with this film per see, again I just don’t feel it.
30. The Devil’s Eye (1960)
The quote on the opening title card is the most memorable portion.
29. The Magician (1958)
This is just a film I was left wanted a bit more from.
28. Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
This is one I often associate to Smiles of a Summer night with regards to the visceral reaction I had to it, tepid in comparison to his best.
27. Torment (Written by) (1944)
Here’s one that I saw because of the great Criterion Eclipse set and due to that I will count it, though he did not direct it. While it does suffer some from not having him helm it his voice writing-wise is there.
26. Port of Call (1948)
Here’s one of the few I’ve actually managed to see on the big screen, at Lincoln Center I believe. It’s a fairly light neorealist romance that has its moments.
25. Faithless (Written by) (2000)
As I was editing this list I was reminded of this, and if I include one written by and not directed by I should include another. This film was one that came along when Bergman was sort of semi-retired. It debuted in Sweden three years before his swan song and was directed by Liv Ullmann, his frequent star. I can’t say I recall much about it save that I did like it more than many who saw it and more than Torment above. It is worth seeking out.
24 The Making of Fanny and Alexander (1986)
I debated whether or not to include this one but considering that he is credited as director and it does chronicle one of his most epic productions I allow it. It’s a fairly engaging chronicle of a production.
23. Summer with Monika (1953)
Here’s the part of the list where the list picks up quality-wise. This dramatic romance has its rough patches but it connects emotionally and has really good performances.
22. The Passion of Anna (1969)
This is a film that definitely needs revisiting that I have only seen once. Based on my first impression I liked it and some of the simulacrum but I wasn’t enamored by it.
21. The Serpent’s Egg (1977)
This could perhaps be the most severely underrated of his films, based on what I’d read I was not expecting much from this one at all, but I really did enjoy this a great deal and love the concept.
20. The Silence (1963)
I would also say I need to see The Silence again. I most definitely enjoyed it but not as much as I thought I would. It definitely fits the trilogy. I just felt slightly let down.
19. Shame (1968)
This is the kind of film that doesn’t really hit you immediately but works on you over time. I’ve been fortunate enough to both read it and view it.
18. Crisis (1946)
I’d have to see this again to give you a detailed impression of my thoughts on this, but I do remember thinking that it was middling in his canon when I saw it.
17. Thirst (1949)
Similar comments to be made here as above. This is really a delineation point in the list. The more ascendant films start now.
16. Face to Face (1976)
This is a film I happened to read before I saw. It only got released on US home video last year and I was very glad to see it at last and also see a greatly executed visual interpretation of the text.
15. The Magic Flute (1975)
I haven’t the complaints of this one that opera snobs have with regards to the language in which the performers sing or the performances themselves. I’m not familiar with many and was introduced to this tale through this film, which I think is great. I also love the opening montage.
14. Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Here’s a case where ranking can seemingly slight a film. This may be perhaps the most well-acted film he ever did. However, there is an intangibility that the film is hinting at that keeps it from being just at the upper crust. That being said it is very watchable all the way through many times over.
13. Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Here’s one I revisited and took many a note on, I may look over them and post a review for 61 Days of Halloween. It truly is a horror tale a la Bergman, he does the genre as he would, which makes it fascinating.
12. Summer Interlude (1951)
I had to delay the making of this list to watch this film, which was recently released by the Criterion Collection for the first time. I thought this was such a sensitive, slight and moving love story that really is a great transitional Bergman film. It really serves as a thematic bridge from his earlier works to his later ones. With that in mind I expected to plop it down somewhere in the middle of this list. However, I got past the middle and was able to move it up just a little bit further than I expected. It’s definitely one I’d want to revisit, but I am comfortable placing it here.
11. Cries and Whispers (1972)
One of the first of his films I remember seeing. Amazing use of color and tremendous drama.
This is a film I happened upon in part once, then bought on a whim to discover I’d seen part of it before. It was here I fell in love with Bergman after The Seventh Seal nearly short circuited that for me. I was still rather young, maybe 15, and I was so glad to have given him another shot. It’s a film that resonates with people of all ages I feel. For I’ve grown with it and its grown with me.
7. Fanny and Alexander (TV) (1982)
I try and treat different edits of films on a case-by-case basis because they may or may not differ in how the film is affected. When you consider that this version of the film is about two hours longer (about five total) and I watched it straight through, I’d say that makes it bit better than the already fantastic theatrical cut.
6. Autumn Sonata (1978)
One of the most intense viewing experiences of all his films and one I was able to see on the big screen also at The Film Forum.
5. To Joy (1950)
Without question the most incredible discovery of the Criterion Eclipse set. An astoundingly moving tear-jearker with an assist from Beethoven.
4. The Virgin Spring (1960)
Might be the kind of movie you only need to see once. Brutal and devastatingly brilliant.
3. Wild Strawberries
Death is one of my continual fears, I’ve reached peace with the notion from time to time, but it comes back as life is cyclical. Bergman dealt with death a lot (amongst other things) and I think that’s part of the kinship I feel to his work and no observation he made about life or death is perhaps as well-realized as this is.
2. Persona (1966)
The embodiment of his quote that he’d rather have his films understood emotionally rather than intellectually. A tremendous work that begs to be seen many times over.
1. Winter Light (1963)
Here’s where the list becomes truly personal. Many would likely list something like the above as their number one and I’d offer no argument. This was and is a film that personally affected me a great deal. It connected with where I was as a college student and feeling rather apocalyptic about life and the world. Yet, I also drew a lot of inspiration from it. In fact, a short I did (that I had to change for a number of reasons) owes its genesis to my thinking on this film.
Below you will find films of his I still need to see:
Need to See
All These Women
A Dream Play
Brink of Life
Music in Darkness
A Ship Bound for India
It Rains on Our Love
After the Rehearsal
Bergman, however, is not only someone I’ve watched extensively. I’ve also read his work and about him.
The Fifth Act
A collection of some shorter later works, which are all interesting. After the Rehearsal is perhaps the best.
A Project for the Theatre
A brilliant work, which I’d love to see realized on screen. Here Bergman creates a tale of progressive women through the ages that time travels from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, Strindberg’s Miss Julie (this interpretation, I actually enjoyed more than the original) and a truncated treatment of Scenes from a Marriage.
Persona and Shame
When I saw this was being published I had to jump at it. I ended up reading Shame before I saw it.
Face to Face
I read this by chance well before I ever saw the film. I found a paperback and ran off a copy of it.
Same story as above.
Scenes From a Marriage
Took it out from a library.
A memoir-like novel by Bergman, which is a quick light read. I have yet to see the cinematic rendition. The Films of Ingmar Bergman (Kalin)
A great read. An essential for fans and neophytes alike.