Monday, July 30, 2007

INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007)

07.14.1918 - 07.30.2007

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, perhaps the worlds greatest living filmmaker, died today at the age of 89 years old.

Bergman’s career is impossible to define or discuss in a couple sentences. He leaves behind one of the most remarkable bodies of work in the history of cinema, a filmography that includes over 30 films in a span of nearly 60 years. I had Bergman listed at #5 on my Top 122 filmmakers list last from last year. Here is what I wrote:

Master Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman is sometimes unfairly considered as pretentious, boring, or arty, but to classify him as such is to seriously underrate him as an artist. Bergman is without question one of the most original filmmakers in the history of cinema. An artist with a truly personal vision that speaks to the very nature of film as an art form. Bergman’s films are all very autobiographical in the way of a truly great artist. You see a piece of him yet even more amazingly you can find something of yourself not in the sense that you are looking at yourself, but more a cinematic reflection about yourself. It can be a truly captivating experience and Bergman’s passion for cinema as an art form keeps the timeless beauty of films (it also explains the reason he stands among the most respected filmmakers among fellow directors). The pure imagination and beauty of Bergman’s originality and captivating visual style can very often be forgotten by the complex emotional depth they carry. Though Bergman’s personal presence is felt with every film, the versatility should not be overlooked as well. While Bergman is well known for his bleak portraits of death and faith he has shown his ability to master dark comedy (Smiles of a Summer Night), human psychology (Persona), martial relationship (Scenes of a Marriage), and magical celebration of the importance of a human life (Fanny and Alexander). Of course those are just a couple examples. Bergman has made over 50 feature films in a career that spanned from 1945 to his final film, 2003’s Saraband. Bergman may not be the greatest or most important and influential filmmaker, but very few are more personal and original and Bergman may have made more “great” films then any other filmmaker in the history of cinema (at least of what I have personally seen). Bergman was well known for using the same small crew (of course most notable is his masterful collaboration with the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who embodied the visual style of Bergman’s films) as well as the same actors (Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin). It is this team of collaborators that have been critical to the longevity and greatness of his career. Bergman began in the theater and many of his films represent his theatrical roots. Particularly his earliest films as he began to discover the boundaries of film language. His earliest work beginning with 1945’s Crisis is not as emotionally and visually complex or rich and display his early roots of theater, melodrama, and comedy. Bergman’s early mastery developed in the beginning of the 1950s, with Summer with Monika in 1952 and Sawdust and Tinsel in 1953. Perhaps the earliest film to put Bergman on the international level was his 1955 comic masterpiece Smiles of a Summer Night. The film won a special award at Cannes for it’s ‘Poetic Humor’. However it was his next two releases (both from 1957) that cemented Bergman’s reputation among the world’s greatest filmmakers: The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Both films still stand among his most memorable and certainly draw back to the central ideas and imagery Bergman would use as a master filmmaker throughout the remainder of his career. With The Seventh Seal, Bergman examined the very meaning of life and the existence (or absence of God). The visual style of the film is quintessentially symbolic with a contrasted use of lighting and shadows, and the emotional mood is bleak, but Bergman also blends a bit of dark comedy that traces back to his earlier films. Wild Strawberries continues with a similar theme as the film opens with a dream sequence in which a man sees the nearing of death and is ultimately haunted by the questions of the significance of his life. It is here that Bergman established the central themes he would expand upon with his later masterpieces. The early 1960s began with Bergman’s loose “Faith Trilogy” (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence), three films that seek significant spiritual ideals in a world where humanity has no defining purpose and there are many resistances to connection. This is where his relationship grew with his cinematographer (Sven Nykvist) and Bergman’s visual style made him one of the most unique masters of world cinema. It is also where Bergman and Nykvist established one of the trademark visuals: capturing the human face. No filmmaker in the history of cinema has captured the very essence and expression of the human face as masterfully as Bergman. In 1966, Bergman made a psychological masterwork that stands as one of filmmaking greatest artistic achievements. It is a film that captures the self-conscious mystery of film and of the human mind. Persona is Bergman’s most complex film and depicts the very essence of his visual genius. It’s a film of multiple depths and layers but is ultimately a film, and one in which the very progression of watching and making films is examined as equally as the characters. Bergman’s films after Persona (all starring Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow- Hour of the Wolf, Shame, The Passion of Anna) were depressing and frightening films of nightmares, apocalyptic war, and mental chaos. In the 1970s Bergman made some of his most emotionally powerful and painful films (Scenes From a Marriage, Autumn Sonata, and perhaps his greatest film Cries and Whispers). Cries and Whispers marks Bergman at the peak of his visual and emotional mastery and expresses the essential themes of his filmmaking (notably the meaning of a life in the face of death). In 1982 Bergman made his richest and most personal film Fanny and Alexander (as both a three hour theatrical version and a 5-hour television version). It was to be his last film (though he made several more for television and did make a return with 2003’s Saraband before officially retiring). Bergman’s films have a very theatrical approach on an emotional level, yet the truest mastery of his films come from the dazzling force of his images, as well as the haunting moments of silence. Often the combination of images and silence define Bergman’s narrative in a way that is truly unique from any other artist in filmmaking. Bergman is one of the greatest visionaries of filmmaking. An artist that took the very nature of the medium to new heights and expressions. He explored challenging subjects of filmmaking, of himself, of life, of death, of God, and maybe more then anything else of ourselves.

>> Bergman may have cinemas most impressive filmography so nearly all his films are recommended, but here are my personal 10 favorites:
PERSONA (1966)
SHAME (1968)
SILENCE (1963)


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