Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman (July 14, 1918 – July 30, 2007)






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Ingmar Bergman, Famed Director, Dies at 89

By MERVYN ROTHSTEIN

Ingmar Bergman, the “poet with the camera” who is considered one of the greatest directors in motion picture history, died today on the small island of Faro where he lived on the Baltic coast of Sweden, Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, said. Bergman was 89.

Critics called Mr. Bergman one of the directors — the others being Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa — who dominated the world of serious film making in the second half of the 20th century.

He moved from the comic romp of lovers in “Smiles of a Summer Night” to the Crusader’s search for God in “The Seventh Seal,” and from the gripping portrayal of fatal illness in “Cries and Whispers” to the alternately humorous and horrifying depiction of family life in “Fanny and Alexander.”

Mr. Bergman dealt with pain and torment, desire and religion, evil and love; in Mr. Bergman’s films, “this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in The New York Times Magazine in a profile of the director. God is either silent or malevolent; men and women are creatures and prisoners of their desires.

For many filmgoers and critics, it was Mr. Bergman more than any other director who in the 1950s brought a new seriousness to film making.

“Bergman was the first to bring metaphysics — religion, death, existentialism — to the screen,” Bertrand Tavernier, the French film director, once said. “But the best of Bergman is the way he speaks of women, of the relationship between men and women. He’s like a miner digging in search of purity.”

He influenced many other film makers, including Woody Allen, who according to The Associated Press said in a tribute in 1988 that Mr. Bergman was “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera.”

In his more than 40 years in the cinema, Mr. Bergman made about 50 films, often focusing on two themes — the relationship between the sexes, and the relationship between mankind and God. Mr. Bergman found in cinema, he wrote in a 1965 essay, “a language that literally is spoken from soul to soul in expressions that, almost sensuously, escape the restrictive control of the intellect.”

In Bergman, the mind is constantly seeking, constantly inquiring, constantly puzzled.

Mr. Bergman often acknowledged that his work was autobiographical, but only “in the way a dream transforms experience and emotions all the time.”

He carried out a simultaneous career in the theater, becoming a director of Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theater. He married multiple times and had highly publicized and passionate liaisons with his leading ladies.

Mr. Bergman broke upon the international film scene in the mid-1950s with four films that shook the movie world, films that became identified with him and symbols of his career — “Smiles of a Summer Night,” “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “The Magician.”

He had been a director for 10 years, but was little known outside Sweden. Then, in 1956, “Smiles” won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The next year, the haunting and eloquent “Seventh Seal,” with its memorable medieval visions of a knight (Max von Sydow) playing chess with death in a world terrorized by the plague, won another special prize at Cannes. And in 1959, “The Magician” took the special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Audiences flocked to art cinemas all over the world to see his films. Then, in 1960, “The Virgin Spring”, told of a rape and its mysterious aftermath in medieval Scandinavia; it won the Academy Award as best foreign film. In a few years, he had become both a cult figure and a box-office success.

Throughout his career, Mr. Bergman often talked about what he considered the dual nature of his creative and private personalities. “I am very much aware of my own double self,” he once said. “The well-known one is very under control; everything is planned and very secure. The unknown one can be very unpleasant. I think this side is responsible for all the creative work — he is in touch with the child. He is not rational, he is impulsive and extremely emotional.”

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born on July 14, 1918, in the university town of Uppsala, Sweden. His father, Erik, a Lutheran clergyman who later became chaplain to the Swedish royal family, believed in strict discipline, including caning and locking his children in closets. His mother, Karin, was moody and unpredictable.

“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.”

At the age of 9, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a battered magic lantern, a possession that altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created, by playing with this toy, a private world, he later recalled, in which he felt completely at home. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts.

He entered the University of Stockholm in 1937, nominally to study the history of literature but actually to spend most of his time working in amateur theater. He soon left home and university for a career in the theater and the movies.

He split his time between film and theater beginning in the early 1940s, when he first was taken into the script department of Svensk Filmindustri — a youth, as his first boss described him, “shabby, rude and scampish with a laugh born out of the darkest depths of the inferno.”

In his theater career, he became head of the municipal theater in the southern Swedish city of Halsingborg in 1944; in 1946, he switched to Goteborg for four years, then spent two years as a guest producer in a couple of cities before going to Malmo in 1952 to become associated with the municipal theater there.

In films, he wrote many scenarios as well as directed. His name first appeared on the screen in 1944 in “Torment,” which he wrote and Alf Sjoberg, one of the dominant figures in Swedish film, directed. The film, based on a story Bergman wrote about his final, torturous year at school, won eight Swedish awards as well as the Grand Prix du Cinema at Cannes. It made an international star of its leading performer, Mai Zetterling, who portrayed a shop girl loved by a young student and shadowed by the student’s sadistic teacher.

Mr. Bergman got his first chance to direct the next year. His early films were essentially training films — basically soap operas that enabled him to experiment with directorial style.

Most experts agree that his first film of note was “Prison,” his sixth movie and the first all-Bergman production. The film is the story of a prostitute who committed suicide. He made it in 18 days, and while critics have called it cruel, disjointed and in many ways sophomoric, it was an early favorite of his.

In the next few years, he made “Summer Interlude” (1950), a tragedy of teen-age lovers; “Waiting Women” (1952), his first successful comedy; “Sawdust and Tinsel” set in a traveling circus and originally released in the United States as “The Naked Night”; “A Lesson in Love” (1953), a witty comedy of marital infidelity, and, finally, “Smiles of a Summer Night” and “The Seventh Seal,” his breakthroughs to fame.

In 1957, the same year as “Seventh Seal,” Mr. Bergman also directed “Wild Strawberries,” his acclaimed study of old age. In the film, the 78-year-old Isak Borg (played by the silent-film director and actor Victor Sjostrom), drives through the countryside, stops at his childhood home, relives the memory of his first love and comes to terms with his emotional isolation. “I had created a figure who, on the outside, looked like my father but was me, through and through,” Mr. Bergman has said. “I was then 37, cut off from all human emotions.”

Mr. Bergman won his second Academy Award in 1961 for “Through a Glass Darkly,” and then came the turning point in his career — “Winter Light,” which he made in 1963, the second of his trilogy of the early 60s that ended with “The Silence” and portrayed the loneliness and vulnerability of modern man, without faith or love. Many of his earlier films had been animated by an anguished search for belief, Ms. Kakutani wrote, but “Winter Light” — which shows a minister’s own loss of faith — implies that whatever answers there are are to be found on earth.

Mr. Bergman explained that the philosophical shift occurred during a brief hospital stay. Awakening from the anesthesia, he realized that he was no longer scared of death, and that the question of death had suddenly disappeared. Since then, many critics feel, his films have contained a kind of humanism in which human love is the only hope of salvation.

Some critics lashed at individual films as obscure, pretentious and meaningless.

But every time he made a failure, he managed to win back critics and audiences quickly with such films as “Persona” — in which the personalities of two women break down and merge — “The Passion of Anna,” “Cries and Whispers” — a stark portrait of three sisters — and “Fanny and Alexander.”

Mr. Bergman often used what amounted to a repertory company — a group of actors who appeared in many of his films. They included Mr. von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson and, above all, Liv Ullmann, with whom he had a long personal relationship and with whom he had a child. He also for many years used the same cinematographer, Sven Nykvist.

The ideas for his films, he said, came to him in many ways. “Persona,” the study of two women in neurotic intimacy, came to life, he said, when one day he saw two women sitting together comparing hands. “I thought to myself,” he said, “that one of them is mute and the other speaks.”

The germ for “The Silence” — in which a dying woman and her sister are in a foreign country with no means of communication — came from a hospital visit, he said, where “I noticed from a window a very old man, enormously fat and paralyzed, sitting in a chair under a tree in the park.”

“As I watched,” he said, “four jolly, good-natured nurses came marching out, lifted him up, chair and all, and carried him back into the hospital. The image of being carried away like a dummy stayed in my mind.”

In other cases, films were suggested by essays, novels, pieces of music. In every case, he said, some outside event had turned the key on some deep-seated memory — each film was a projection of some past experience.

“I have maintained open channels with my childhood,” he told Ms. Kakutani. “I think it may be that way with many artists. Sometimes in the night, when I am on the limit between sleeping and being awake, I can just go through a door into my childhood and everything is as it was — with lights, smells, sounds and people . . . I remember the silent street where my grandmother lived, the sudden aggressivity of the grown-up world, the terror of the unknown and the fear from the tension between my father and mother.”

Mr. Bergman used his memories in many other films: “Scenes From a Marriage” (which was originally done for television), “Autumn Sonata,” “From the Life of the Marionettes,” “Hour of the Wolf,” “Shame,” “Face to Face” and his version of Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” considered by many to be the most successful film ever made of an opera.

From the 1950s through the 1990s, Mr. Bergman maintained his successful theatrical career in Sweden. It was while rehearsing Strindberg’s “Dance of Death” at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm in 1976 that he was arrested for tax evasion. The incident received a great deal of publicity, and while the charges were later dropped and the Swedish Government issued a formal apology, Mr. Bergman exiled himself from Sweden to West Germany, where he made “The Serpent’s Egg.” He had a nervous breakdown over the incident and was hospitalized for a time. The exile lasted for a number of years and he only returned permanently to his native country in the mid-80s.

In 1982, Mr. Bergman announced that he had just made his last theatrical film — it was “Fanny and Alexander,” a look at high society in a Swedish town early in the last century that was in part inspired by his own childhood.

“Making ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was such a joy that I thought that feeling will never come back,” he told Ms. Kakutani. “I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn’t understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.”

“Fanny and Alexander” won four Oscars, including the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1984.

Mr. Bergman did not, however, leave the world of film altogether. He spent much of his time on Faro, a sparsely populated island that visitors described as chilly and desolate but that he considered the one place he felt safe, secure and at home. And he would devote his mornings to working on his plays, novels and television scripts.

He made a television film, “After the Rehearsal” — about three actors working on a production of Strindberg’s “Dream Play” — which was released theatrically in the United States. He wrote “The Best Intentions,” first as a novel and then in 1991 as an eloquent six-hour film directed by Billie August about Mr. Bergman’s parents’ troubled marriage just before his birth.

“The slightly fictional Anna and Henrik Bergman are complex, stubborn, well-meaning people who share a heartbreaking inability to be happy no matter what they try,” Ms. James wrote, and Mr. Bergman “is a benevolent ghost hovering over the film.”

Mr. Bergman said in an interview in Sweden that the act of writing the film had changed his attitude toward his parents. “After this,” he said, “every form of reproach, blame, bitterness or even vague feeling that they have messed up my life is gone forever from my mind.”

“The Best Intentions” was one of three novels he wrote in the 80s and 90s about his parents. The second, “Sunday’s Children,” was made into a film and directed by his son Daniel. The third, “Private Confessions,” about his mother, became a film directed by Ms. Ullmann.

In 1997, he directed a two-hour made-for-television movie, “In the Presence of Clowns,” set in the 1920s and based on a story he discovered among the papers left by an uncle who appeared as a main character in “Fanny and Alexander” and “Best Intentions” and was played in all three films by Borje Ahlstedt.

He directed two plays every year at the Royal Dramatic Theater. In May 1995 the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of a New York Bergman Festival that included retrospectives by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Museum of Television and Radio, presented the Royal Theater in two plays Mr. Bergman directed, Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” and Yukio Mishima’s “Madame de Sade.”

He also directed operas, and wrote many plays and television dramas, several novels and a 1987 memoir, “The Magic Lantern.”

[In the fall of 2002, Bergman, at age 84, started production on “Saraband,” a 120-minute television movie based on the two main characters in “Scenes From a Marriage,” The Associated Press reported. In a news conference, the director said he wrote the story after realizing he was “pregnant with a play.” “At first I felt sick, very sick,” he said. “It was strange. Like Abraham and Sarah, who suddenly realized she was pregnant,” he said, referring to biblical characters. “It was lots of fun, suddenly to feel this urge returning.”]

In addition to Oscars and prizes at film festivals, Mr. Bergman’s films won many awards from the New York Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics, among others. In 1977, he was given the Swedish Academy of Letters’ Great Gold Medal, one of only 17 people to have received it in this century.

Mr. Bergman’s fifth wife, Ingrid Karlebo Bergman, died in 1975. They had no children, but he had many children from his previous marriages and relationships.

Once, when asked by the critic Andrew Sarris why he did what he did, Mr. Bergman told the story of the rebuilding of Chartres Cathedral in the Middle Ages by thousands of anonymous artisans.

“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!”

Mr. Bergman’s celluloid carvings often revealed an obsession with death. But in later life he said that the obsession had abated. “When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying,” he said. “But now I think it a very, very wise arrangement. It’s like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about.”

According to The A.P., which cited TT, the Swedish news agency, the date of Mr. Bergman’s funeral has not been set but will be attended by a close group of his friends and family. Source: NYT obit

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