Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge: Images: My Life in Film by Ingmar Bergman

Introduction

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

Bergman Island (2004, Sveriges Television)

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.

Fanny and Alexander (1982, Svensk Filmindustri)

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

The Silence (1963)

(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-

First Movies

Port of Call (1948)

(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.

Jests Jesters

The Serpent's Egg (1977)

(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

Miscreance Credence

The Seventh Seal (1957)

(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.

Other Films

Autumn Sonata (1978)

(To Joy, This Can’t Happen Here, Summer Interlude, Waiting WomenSummer 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.

Farces Frolics

Fanny and Alexander (1983, Svensk Filmindustri)

(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.

Anecdotal Awe

The Passion of Anna (1969)

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.

Ingmar Bergman

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

Images: My Life in Film (All Rights Reserved)

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.

Conclusion

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman

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!

Favorite Older Films First Seen in 2012, Part 4

This is an idea I first saw on @bobfreelander‘s blog. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Tales from the Hood (1995)

Tales From the Hood (1995, Universal)

There was a span of time when I was watching as many horror anthology films as I could stream. Most, as one would expect were inconsistent, on occasion one had one very memorable story. However, most surprising to me was that the most consistently excellent was the one I held out little hope for and watched on a whim; great unique takes, balanced with humor and social relevance.

Summer Interlude (1951)

Summer Interlude (1951)

If I got every Criterion release that intrigued me I’d watch nothing else. There are those that scream: “YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO BUY ME, RIGHT?” And and edition of a Bergman film I had yet to see is, indeed, one of those screamers. A really intrguing take that acts as a bridge from his early sensibility to the form we’re more used to seeing.

Brats (1930)

Brats (1930, MGM)

I didn’t catch too many Laurel & Hardy films in 2012, truth is when I was younger I saw most of them. This one where they play bratty little kids in forced perspective and composites struck me as new and humorous.

Always (1989)

Always (1989, Universal)

One heretofore unseen gem from a legendary filmmaker deserves another. I saw this at an awesome outdoor summer screening series and I figured it was the best way to finally see Always in preparing my oft-delayed Spielberg ranking.

Jet Boy (2001)

Jet Boy (2001, Smash It Up/Interstate 80 Entertainment)

This film is part road movie, homecoming, a tale of maturation and also of putting the past behind you. In a tale where a man and a runaway orphan cross paths by chance these bifurcated issues and wants can seem to be at odds, but they are combined in a very uniform way to good effect.

Student Bodies (1981)

Student Bodies (1981, Paramount)

If you miss old-school comedy parodies and have a sense of humor the horror genre this is for you. Works on both levels.

The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903, Star)

It’s hard to keep your silent filmographies current especially when dealing with shorts but this Méliès seemed new to me, and is inventive even for him, especially being of such early vintage.

Planet of the Vampires

Planet of the Vampires (1965, MGM)

This sat around on my Netflix queue for quite a while. I’ve seen a lot of Mario Bava’s films and this one always struck me as an outlier, and not in a good way. I was delighted to be proven wrong. It’s an excellent, and as I later found out, influential work.

O Pagador de Promessas (The Promise Keeper) (1963)

O Pagador de Promessas (1963, Lionex Filmes)

This was one of the few films I was missing seeing to be more decisive about picking my most representative Brazilian film. It is also the only Latin American film to win the Palme d’Or and thankfully none of the fame or hype soured it for me at it. It is a brilliantly made film and a masterpiece of the Cinema Novo.



The Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981)

The Omen II: The Final Conflict (1981, 20th Century Fox)

Though I have my issues with the first installment, in the real of horror trilogies The Omen is one that gets overlooked far too often. Granted you’ll either buy how far this one takes it or not, think it’s appropriate or not, but at least it goes for it (no guts, no glory) and tries to bring the Damien chapter to a close. I think it does so very successfully.

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.