Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge – Interviews: Liv Ullmann

Introduction

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

Liv Ullmann (2006, University of Mississippi Press)

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

Persona (1966, Svensk Filmindustri)

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

Liv Ullman (U.N.)

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

Liv Ullmann

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

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

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 for Saraband, 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

Liv Ullmann (Chicago Film Festival)

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.

Miss Julie (2014, Columbia TriStar)

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.

BAM Award Winners: Best Director

So both here and in Best Cast there was some revisionism over the years, however, rather than try and readjust things I’ll just let things stand where they are at current.

The Best Director category is an interesting one because it is usually, in the mind of many, inextricably tied to the Best Picture winner. There is a certain logic to that, however, they are two rather different awards when you boil it down. In Best Picture you pick the story and the production. In Best Director you are picking a visionary and the architect of a production. There are times when the direction of a film will outshine its narrative or overall impact or a story that is wonderful but handled with a rather invisible hand that allows splits to occur.

I have five such splits in 1997, 1998, 20052012, 2015 and 2020; none of which I was hesitant at all about.

2020 Sam Mendes 1917

2019 Jordan Peele Us

2018 Bo Burnham Eighth Grade

2017 Andy Muschietti It 

2016 Gareth Edwards Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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2015 George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Tom-Hardy-George-Miller

2014 Daniel Ribeiro The Way He Looks

The Way He Looks (2014, Strand Releasing)

2013 Gavin Hood Ender’s Game

Ender's Game (2013, Summit)

2012 Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Bela Tarr

2011 Martin Scorsese Hugo

2010 Christopher Nolan Inception

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2009 Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

2008 Tomas Alfredson Let the Right One In

Thomas Alfredson

2007 Timur Bekmambetov Day Watch (Dnevoy bazar)

Timur Bekmambetov

2006 Richard E. Grant Wah-Wah

2005 Ingmar Bergman Saraband

Ingmar Bergman on the set of Saraband (Sony Pictures Classics)

2004 Jacob Aaron Estes Mean Creek

Jacob Aaron Estes

2003 PJ Hogan Peter Pan

Peter Pan (2003, Universal)

2002 George Lucas Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones

George Lucas (2002, Lucasfilm)

2001 Steven Spielberg Artificial Intelligence: A.I.

Steven Spielberg (DreamWorks)

2000 Julie Taymor Titus

JULIE TAYMOR PRESENTS BOOK OF HER FILM 'TITUS'

1999 M. Night Shyamalan The Sixth Sense

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures)

1998 Steven Spielberg Saving Private Ryan

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1997 Neil Mandt Hijacking Hollywood

1996 Lee Tamahori Mulholland Falls

Ingmar Bergman’s Best

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.

10. Saraband (2003)

This was the film that not only sealed that I’d name the life achievement award in my personal awards after him but also won a few BAMs itself.

9. Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

One of his most haunting dramas.

8. Fanny and Alexander (Theatrical) (1982)

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

The Touch
The Rite
All These Women
A Dream Play
Stormy Weather
Brink of Life
The Venetian
Dreams
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.

Read

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.

Autumn Sonata

Same story as above.

Scenes From a Marriage

Took it out from a library.

Sunday’s Children

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.