July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman has died.

On seeing this news, I literally break down and cry for several minutes. The man was 89 years old.

ADDED: Let's look at the list of his films. Talk about the ones that meant something to you. I'll list the ones I remember seeing:

1. "Autumn Sonata." It's the subject of a wonderful discussion about art in (my favorite movie) "My Dinner With Andre." There's a line, something like: I could always live in my art, but never in my life. Ingrid Bergman says it to Liv Ullmann. Mother to daughter.

2. "Face to Face." Isn't this the movie in "Annie Hall" that Alvy Singer refuses to see because it's already started?

3. "The Magic Flute." Mozart! In Swedish.

4. "Scenes from a Marriage." I think of the scene with Liv Ullmann, playing a therapist, as she's listening to a patient describe her marriage. The patient talks about how the world has come to feel unreal to her. Perhaps she says it feels like paper, and we see a closeup of her hand trying to feel the edge of the table. Then we see a closeup of Liv Ullmann's eyes, with just enough terror showing.

5. "Cries and Whispers." Perhaps the best of them all. I think of the scene where they read "David Copperfield" to each other for some reason. And the broken glass and the blood.



6. "The Touch." Elliot Gould! In English!

7. "The Passion of Anna." I remember being bored. Sorry.

8. "Shame." Another one I saw and couldn't appreciate at the time. I should try again, I'm sure.

9. "Persona." This one is very sharp and simple. Great to rewatch.

10. "The Silence," "Winter Light, "Through a Glass Darkly." Hard to remember which is which now. These were the movies we saw in college and thought precisely exemplified what serious movies were.

11. "The Virgin Spring." Another one we saw in college days, but this one stood out as different.

12. "Wild Strawberries." This is the one they showed us in the dorm -- East Quad -- practically as soon as we arrived as freshmen in 1969. The message was: This is greatness in film. If you don't see why this is great, you have a problem you'd better fix!

13. "The Seventh Seal." Loved this at the time. Loved Woody Allen's spoofing of it in "Love and Death." Have it on DVD but only watched part of it. Let's watch this one tonight. It is about death.



14. "Smiles of a Summer Night." Beautiful, funny, and not that Bergman-y. Woody Allen has a beautiful tribute to it: "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy."

ADDED: Here's the NYT obituary:
“I was very much in love with my mother,” he told Alan Riding of The New York Times in a 1995 interview. “She was a very warm and a very cold woman. When she was warm, I tried to come close to her. But she could be very cold and rejecting.”

The young Mr. Bergman accompanied his father on preaching rounds of small country churches near Stockholm.

“While father preached away in the pulpit and the congregation prayed, sang or listened,” he once recalled, “I devoted my interest to the church’s mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the colored sunlight quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceilings and walls. There was everything that one’s imagination could desire — angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans.”

His earliest memories, he once said, were of light and death:

“I remember how the sunlight hit the edge of my dish when I was eating spinach and, by moving the dish slightly from side to side, I was able to make different figures out of the light. I also remember sitting with my brother, in the backyard of my flat, aiming with slingshots at enormous black rats scurrying around. And I also remember being forced to sit in church, listening to a very boring sermon, but it was a very beautiful church, and I loved the music and the light streaming through the windows. I used to sit up in the loft beside the organ, and when there were funerals, I had this marvelous long-shot view of the proceedings, with the coffin and the black drapes, and then later at the graveyard, watching the coffin lowered into the ground. I was never frightened by these sights. I was fascinated.”...

“I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain,” he said. “I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn’t matter; I will find the same joy in any case. 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. I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. A dragon or a demon, or perhaps a saint, it doesn’t matter!”
Much more at the link, including how he suffered from the fear of death and what completely cured him of that fear.

IN THE COMMENTS: My ex-husband Richard Lawrence Cohen writes:
Ann, after reading the NYT story my first impulse was to come here and find out your response, which is as perceptive and lively as I'd hoped. (I typoed "livly," which is a nice pun for the occasion!) My earliest Bergman experience was stumbling upon The Magician on WOR-TV in New York as a high school student. It was unlike any other movie I'd ever seen and it made me want to see every other movie like it -- movies that enchanted not only the senses and the emotions but the intellect and the aesthetic. Then Wild Strawberries during freshman orientation as you've noted: I thought I remembered that it was shown in the courtyard of the Quad, but maybe that was King Kong instead and maybe they showed Wild Strawberries in the little auditorium. Then several of his classics at Cinema Guild: among them, Smiles of a Summer Night thrilled me with its laughter-filled ideal of romance, and Virgin Spring with its sagalike bright medieval starkness. Just two weeks ago I rented Seventh Seal for my preteen kids because they were fascinated by the idea of playing chess with Death; they liked that scene well enough but it ended too soon for them and they kept asking, "When are they going to show more of the chess game?" before losing interest altogether. For me, the style of the movie felt a bit old-fashioned at this point but many scenes were still powerful, and I was especially taken with the character of the church artist who kept up a cheerful commentary while painting gruesome pictures influenced by the reality of the plague that was all around him.

A corollary memory: seeing Liv Ullman as Nora in A Doll's House on Broadway in the 1970s, with Sam Waterston as Torvald, Sam on crutches after an accident but still pacing back and forth across the stage, unrealistically, so that he could hit his marks.
Yeah, that was an insane Sam Waterston performance. At least he had historically accurate crutches.

"Wild Strawberries" was shown indoors in a fairly small room, where we had to sit on the floor -- which was one of the reasons I didn't enjoy it as much as I was supposed to.

AND: Richard, if the boys like chess movies, here's a list of 1,715 of them.

AND: In today's vlog, I talk about why reading about Bergman's death made me cry.

MUCH LATER: Having collected my "post-of-the-month" for each of the months of 2007 and chosen this for July, I settle down a reread this post, then go back to the top and read the first sentence and break down and cry once again.

26 comments:

AJD said...

Hey, this looks like one of those fake anecdotes pop bloggers make up for their blogs.

MadisonMan said...

I have never seen an Ingmar Bergman film.

vet66 said...

Those winters in Sweden are killers! Beating one's naked self with a birch branch in a sauna followed by an invigorating dip in an icy lake seems downright Lutheran! Interesting that he paid so little attention to the celebration of the summer solstice.

Ingmar will find peace and happiness in death!

R.I.P.

oldirishpig said...

Drifting off topic: The funniest thing I've seen/heard in a film in decades was the line at the end of Waiting For Guffman where Corky references his line of My Dinner With Andre action figures. I snorted my drink and fell out of my chair. The folks I was with had never seen or heard of the movie and thought I was nuts.

ak said...

It's been a long time since I've watched any Bergman films. I saw The Virgin Spring when I was 12 or 13, and I was shocked. Shocked. I don't think I had any idea what rape was before I saw that. Wild Strawberries was quite beautiful, but a lot of his other movies reminded me, unfortunately, of the SCTV parody versions.

Palladian said...

I just showed some of "Cries and Whispers" to a friend of mine in order to convince him of the strange connection between it and Dario Argento's "Tenebrae", the control of color and the use of red.

What a great movie "Cries and Whispers" is, though very difficult to watch. It's hilarious to watch some of Woody Allen's 80's movies and see him completely misunderstand Bergman. It's his misunderstanding of Bergman that most people unfamiliar with Bergman think of when they think of Bergman. It's that Bergman that I don't like, and that one you forget about when you watch his better films.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Ann, after reading the NYT story my first impulse was to come here and find out your response, which is as perceptive and lively as I'd hoped. (I typoed "livly," which is a nice pun for the occasion!) My earliest Bergman experience was stumbling upon The Magician on WOR-TV in New York as a high school student. It was unlike any other movie I'd ever seen and it made me want to see every other movie like it -- movies that enchanted not only the senses and the emotions but the intellect and the aesthetic. Then Wild Strawberries during freshman orientation as you've noted: I thought I remembered that it was shown in the courtyard of the Quad, but maybe that was King Kong instead and maybe they showed Wild Strawberries in the little auditorium. Then several of his classics at Cinema Guild: among them, Smiles of a Summer Night thrilled me with its laughter-filled ideal of romance, and Virgin Spring with its sagalike bright medieval starkness. Just two weeks ago I rented Seventh Seal for my preteen kids because they were fascinated by the idea of playing chess with Death; they liked that scene well enough but it ended too soon for them and they kept asking, "When are they going to show more of the chess game?" before losing interest altogether. For me, the style of the movie felt a bit old-fashioned at this point but many scenes were still powerful, and I was especially taken with the character of the church artist who kept up a cheerful commentary while painting gruesome pictures influenced by the reality of the plague that was all around him.

A corollary memory: seeing Liv Ullman as Nora in A Doll's House on Broadway in the 1970s, with Sam Waterston as Torvald, Sam on crutches after an accident but still pacing back and forth across the stage, unrealistically, so that he could hit his marks.

Christy said...

I was greatly moved by The Seventh Seal my freshman year, but could never quite embrace other of his movies. As a kid weaned on The Twilight Zone, I guess hanging around with Death was less alien and off-putting to me than his other slightly more traditional work.

michael farris said...

My Bergman film files (note I've missed some of his most famous movies and seen some of his more obscure ones):

Dreams (1955) A minor early Bergman movie is still a Bergman movie. A little dated, but his love for expressive actresses (and ability to draw from emotional reserves they themselves didn't realize they had) is already clear.

Smiles of a summer night (1955) I think this is misunderstood as some kind of romantic comedy, what I remember is a calculated old world heart that embraced cynicism and humanism at the same time.

Seventh Seal (1957) I love movies like this set in the past that actually seem to be informed by a radically unmodern mindset (Herzog's Heart of Glass is another). Chess, shmess, the scene I'll never forget is when they burn the teenage witch.

Persona (1966) You hear so much about this movie that it's almost bound to be a disappointment, but then it's not. IIRC Liv Ullman's part is silent because she hadn't learned to sound natural in Swedish yet.

The hour of the wolf (1968) Why isn't this one more famous? The creepiest of his movies I've seen. The alienation is so thick that the most mundane interactions are embued with other-worldly menace.

Cries and Whispers (1972) Harriet Anderssons wracking death is bad enough, but the scene with the broken glass is one of the hardest things to watch in the history of cinema.

The Magic Flute (1975) Just thinking of this makes me smile. One of the most joyful movie experiences ever.

Autumn Sonata (1978) Snap! Haaated it. Two memories, Liv Ullman was so repulsive as the needy, unfulfilled daughter I completely sympathized with Ingrid Bergman's rejection of her. Her final scene where she's planning for the future and hoping things will work out so that she can (finally!) commit suicide seems like a bad parody.
Still, the scene were Ullman tries to impress her mother with her piano playing only to be ground into the dust by her diva-mother Bergman burns a hole in the screen.

Fanny and Alexander (1982) I know the minister's house was supposed to be cold and hateful, but I loved the spartan decor (after the over-stimulation of the grandmother's velvety and ornate house). All in all a wonderful roller coaster with a surprise in every scene.

Joe Hogan said...

Ann, Your memory that "Face To Face" was the film Woody Allen's character in "Annie Hall" wouldn't see because it had already started is correct. I just popped in the DVD. Previously in this scene, before Annie arrives, Alvy is harassed by "two guys named Cheech" outside the theater.

In the following scene, Annie and Alvy wait in line for an alternate movie, "The Sorrow and the Pity". This is the marvelous scene in which Alvy produces Marshall McLuhan to rebut the pontificating professor.

Joe said...

I've tried watching Bergman films several times and have never gotten through one to my knowledge. (I was actually astonished at how boring and pretentious Seventh Seal was.)

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

Thanks for the chess movies!

Kevin said...

My favorite is Fanny and Alexander. It is so clearly autobiographical and I think the most straightforward and relatable of his films. To me it plays like a companion piece to 8 1/2. I keep expecting one of the children to start saying "Asa nisi masa."

Persona is NOT simple. For me, Persona made Mulholland Drive look like High School Musical. The jury is still out on how much I liked it, but if there is any word in the English language that does not apply to it, "simple" is it.

And I agree with you on Passion of Anna. I went into it with a relatively well informed and nuanced view of Bergman, and left it thinking he was the most overrated pretentious hack in any art form, period. Took me a while to get over that.

Am I alone in wondering what his last thoughts were when he died? I mean, the guy has been publicly contemplating his own death longer than most of us have been alive, and more intensely than most of us have ever done anything. I just think it would be cool to be in his head when he finally met it. Was it a letdown? Or did even he underestimate his opponent?

Anthony said...

Looking through the list of his movies, I have discovered that (i) I have never watched any of his films and (ii) the only one of his films I have ever planned to see is "The Seventh Seal".

Revenant said...

I've never managed to make it all the way through one of his movies. I started watching "The Seventh Seal", but got bored stopped about halfway in.

SWBarns said...

I watched "The Seventh Seal" at least 50 times while I was in high school. In the early 80's friends and I rented the movie almost every Friday.

Woody's spoof of death was good. Bill and Ted's was 'excellent'. Instead of chess they play Battleship (Death loses and forces 2 out of 3) they then play Clue, and Electronic Football. Death loses them all.

Bill: "Best of 7?"
Death: "DAMN RIGHT!"

They play Twister and Death loses again.

Since you didn't like "My Breakfast with Blassie", I'm not really expecting you to run out and rent a Keanu Reeves movie (and "Bogus Journey" is a sequel).

Another great spoof is in Monty Pyton's Meaning of Life:

"Excuse me, Mr. Death? How is it that we all died at the same time?"
(long dramatic finger pointing)
"The salmon mouse."
(guy turns to his wife)
"Did you use canned salmon?"
"Oh dear, I'm dreadfully embarassed."

You know Bergman's Death was a wonderful character is it can be spoofed in so many ways.

Cedarford said...

He made very personal films. I understand why he had rabid admirers in a tight, but small pack, like Robert Altman except for his commercial homages before he could be granted the right to become a money-losing artiste` by the critics.

Bergman played out big, though, as a technician he influenced everybody about framing closeups, use of elements of light and darkness connected to the storyline or emotions of the scene. The Japanese were crazy about him. And when Kurosawa and other Japanese in turn hit HOllywood's community with "their creative genius in filmaking" - and influenced hundreds of hits and well regarded American flicks using Japanese inspiration -Kurosawa, for one, said it was in good part coming from their study of the Master, Igmar Bergman.

I remember seeing the "Magic Flute" and being amazed at how joyous and different it was from other Bergman flicks. I loved "Seventh Seal". Was pretty sure I was not a rabid fan, but was definitely appreciative of his work, particularly his photography. And for him giving a path for some great Swedish film stars to be noticed globally and have international careers.

A life well done. He uplifted his craft and profession, he was influential on millions. He found a cure for his fear of death. Not a bad go of it.

reader_iam said...

I wrote this once on a 2005 Althouse thread about movies:

...(Although, to this day, I question my sanity at once watching 10 different Bergman films in a single week. Not what I would recommend for your average adolescent--I was in a funk for weeks afterward.)...

I'm referring to a Bergman film festival I attended while in high school at the end of the '70s. And while I do think that was overdoing it, in context, I also was hooked. Back when I was still a big film-goer, I saw all of the ones you mention, plus The Magician, Fanny and Alexander, Cry Wolf, and a couple more, I think.

I find mysef oddly upset about Bergman's death. Weird that while I knew his approximate age, I keep thinking that it he should be so much older (not in the sense that he died young, but in the sense that I always thought of him as eternally old--or something like that; can't put it into words). What is that about?

R.I.P.

blake said...

reader,

Jeff Goldstein recently wrote this on his blog at the passing of his grandmother:

"We’d been expecting it, but still, when a person has already lived into her mid 90s, you kind of expect that she’ll always be around."

That had a certain resonance with me.

Smilin' Jack said...

Kevin said...
Am I alone in wondering what his last thoughts were when he died?


"Dammit! I should have taken that pawn with the knight instead of the bishop!"

downtownlad said...

He was old. Who cares.

Jim Hu said...

manual trackback

frankodbzoorts said...

I am suprised that no Bergman fans have mentioned the short subject:

The Dove (Du Duva)

It features Madeline Kahn's first screen appearance. It can be seen at:

http://bergmanorama.com.temp.omnis.com/media/dove.wmv

frankodbzoorts said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Madison Guy said...

The trees dance their homage to Ingmar Bergman. I miss him too.

And Antonioni, too. Speaking of trees, the wind-rustled trees in the park played such a memorable part in Blow-Up.

Sheepman said...

Not sure if anyone is still here. I just got back from Gotland. I'm not a big Bergman fan, but part of the reason I went to Gotland was to cycle around Faro and see some of the landscapes from his films.

I was in Faro, just a few miles from Bergman's home, when news of his death became known. I was using the Internet at the tourist information in Faro when I learned of it. I mentioned it to the guy behind the counter - later that evening I saw him on Swedish TV giving a local's view of Bergman.

There was extra coverage about Bergman on Swedish TV that night. I ended up watching most of it. A few things stood out:
- It was said a few times that Bergman was bigger outside of Sweden than at home.
- That most Swedes found Bergman's early work to be too somber and dramatic and he didn't find widespread acceptance with a Swedish audience until Fanny and Alexandria (that's my view as well).
- That theater was probably more important to him than film and that he spent a good part of his working life directing plays.
- The general mood was not of sorrow but of appreciation for all that he did. The only person I saw with tears was the actor Peter Stormare (of Fargo fame) who played Hamlet under Bergman's direction. He said that he was like a father to him.