Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman: in memoriam

I heard on the radio that Ingmar Bergman died this morning. So lets take a moment and discuss our thoughts on him and his work and his impact.

What are your favorite films of his? What do you think his main contributions were? What is is about Ingmar Bergman that makes him such a titan of international cinema?

I remember when I took Intro to Film at BYU, and we had a unit on "international film", and the three directors we discussed were Bergman, Fellini, and Kurosawa. Which is appropriate, I guess, since they tend to be the three most well known foreign directors. Why is that? What made Bergman so much more well known than Dreyer or Tarkovsky or Truffaut? Maybe becausw of a little help from Woody Allen?

The thing I appreciate about Bergman is that he made films about the big spiritual questions. Is there a God? What are we doing here? What happens after death? What is most important in life? He spent his life thinking about these things and working out his thoughts through his films. Which is probably why I don't respond as well to Godard and others who seem like they were more just trying to be edgy without having anything to say.

I haven't seen even a fourth of Bergman's films (he made over 50), but the ones I have seen leave a definite impact. You feel like you've really experienced something, even though it doesn't all make sense you can tell there's something There.

Some favorite moments:

In the Seventh Seal when Antonius Bloc and squire are questioning the witch, staring at her eyes as she dies to see what she sees.

The dream sequences in Wild Strawberries where the doctor sees himself in the coffin, and goes to judgement.

The single long take in Winter Light of the woman reading her letter to the Pastor. And also the discussion with the humpbacked church assistant about Christ's suffering.

The fade to red in Cries and Whispers

The Papageno/Papagena song in the Magic Flute where they both remove each other's pull-away clothing (sounds racy, but it's hilarious and delightful)

Anyway, let's here what the rest of you think...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know absolutely zero about Bergman. What's the best way to get into Bergman? I have heard people say "The Magic Flute" or Fanny and Alaxander". I really liked "The Virgin Spring" quite a bit. That film gets pretty tough to watch considering the subject matter but somehow it comes out kind of cathartic in the end. I don't want to say too much about it if you haven't seen it. If you have seen it, my one complaint is that they introduce the mouth harp as if it's going to play a key role in the story as a way of building tension but they never use it again. I think the movie "Deliverance" was heavily influenced by "Virgin Spring" and is basically the same story with a weaker ending. However in Deliverance, the banjo is used quite effectively to build tension. I couldn't make it through "Cries and Whispers" and I have had "Wild Strawberries" for five years without watching it. What do you recommend as a gateway film?
I have heard that Bergman wrote his screenplays in an unusual way so that they were less formal, and read more like a short story.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

I would probably start with either the Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries. They tend to be his "must see" films. My students have really enjoyed Seventh Seal, and I think I'll try Wild Strawberries next time. The other ones I've seen are:
Smiles of a Summer Night (supposed to be a comedy, but isn't actually funny)
The Magician (Don't remember it very well)
Through a Glass Darkly (The first of his "chamber trilogy" along with Winter Light and The Silence, all of which concern God's communication with man, or the lack thereof. This one is similar in tone to Cries and Whispers, but not so revolting)
Winter Light (Takes place in almost real-time, about a pastor struggling with his faith and relationships. I think you'd like this one. Very spare and intimate)
Persona (Probably his most experimental, and also the one I like the least)
Cries and Whispers (I watched this with Peter Baumann in his living room, and there are many scenes that we hoped and prayed that his parents didn't walk in during. This is like starting your Kubrick education with A Clockwork Orange)
Magic Flute (This one is delightful, but probably better after you've seen a few others, since this is very different from anything else he's done. Similar to Olivier's "Henry V" in that it's a filmed version of the play but with beatiful cinematography and sets)
the first third of Fanny and Alexander (I think I would like this one, but it's long and I had to take it back to the library)

Also, I highly recommend Sven Nykvist's first (and only?) film, "The Ox" He was bergman's D.P. on everything after Winter Light, and the man is a genius with a heart of gold.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Bryan Summers said...

I have only seen three Bergman films.

Persona - Which I was bored with until one scene which was incredibly powerful. I remember nothing about the scene, or the movie, but man, I remember getting completely sucked in. Also it was beautifully filmed.

Cries and Whispers - Holy crap I wasn't expecting that. I love it. But I wasn't expecting how brutal it was. That was a movie I couldn't stop thinking about for days. I hated it while watching it. (Defense mechanism.) and then slowly began to love it, the more I thought about it.

Seventh Seal - I wish I'd have seen it before it was parodied over and over. It was good but it didn't feel fresh.

4:17 PM  

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