Ingmar Bergman


Ingmar Bergman

Born July 14 (The Day of the Convincing Storyteller)

If Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman are to be regarded as the holy trinity of 20th century filmmakers, then it is suggestive to call the venerable Kurosawa the father, the youthful Fellini the son, and the mysterious Bergman the holy ghost. However, this is not to imply that Bergman was religious at all, since a strongly agnostic and atheistic attitude emerges in his films. (This despite or perhaps even because of his strictly religious upbringing as a preacher’s son.) As the Scandinavian representative in this trio, Bergman embodied the Nordic temperament in his aloofness and strictly formal approach. Using the same actors over and over again in different roles in his films, Bergman built what would be regarded as a repertory company in the stage world, featuring Liv Ullmann, Max Van Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Harriet Andersson,  and several others as his principal actors.

Yet each of these actors in Bergman’s film world still often played a similar type of character: Van Sydow, the protagonist knight in The Seventh Seal is the stern farmer-father in The Virgin Spring, Gunnar Bjornstrand – Van Sydow’s powerful squire sidekick in The Seventh Seal and the doctor-son in Wild Strawberries, Bibi Andersson  – the innocent, cheerful wife-mother in The Seventh Seal and other sparkling roles.  It is suggestive that Bergman even wrote the scripts to his successive films creating characters with the personality and appearance of these actors in mind, thus blending casting and writing. Physical movement is frequently restricted in Bergman’s films (unlike both Kurosawa and Fellini), particularly the early ones, giving viewers the impression of watching the filming of a play. In fact, in bringing  Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute to the screen, Bergman seems to be doing just that, but in building the film of the opera from the very opening around the audience and their facial expressions he brings both film and opera to another dimension.

From youth, Ingmar Bergman was fascinated with the stage and in one of his earliest films graphically reveals his involvement with the magic lantern, which as a child he used to project images on an improvised screen. This love affair with acting and character development, employing strict scriptwriting and casting, is behind all of his films. Although Kurosawa, Fellini and Bergman all inevitably  made the switch to color films from black and white ones, it was Fellini who took to the new color technology the most easily, perhaps due to his own vibrant, exciting personality, while the more interior Bergman was most at home in his psychological, tortured dramas which employed the sharp contrasts of black and white that became his trademark.

Bergman’s involvement with his star Liv Ullmann reminds one of Fellini’s marriage to his star Giulietta Masina and Roger Vadim’s to Jane Fonda (his Barbarella). Ullmann describes this relationship in great detail in her autobiography entitled Changing. Reading the  work after seeing Bergman’s psychological thriller Persona throws a whole new light on the film. In addition to Persona, which stars both Ullmann and Bibi Andersson, Through a Glass Darkly, Wild Strawberries, and Hour of the Wolf are chilling investigations into the depths of the human soul and brilliant representations of the torture and terror Bergman uncovers there.

But perhaps the eye behind the camera proves ultimately to be the most unifying force in all of Bergman’s films, brought home dramatically by Bergman’s exclusive use of cinematographer Sven Nyquist, who can perhaps be given credit for moving Bergman away from the orientation of the more static filming of plays to truly filmatic expressions.  Bergman, free to write his own screenplays alone, plus the cinematic chemistry of the Bergman-Nyquist duo, and finally the use of the same group of repertory actors over and over again produced a series of films of unsurpassed quality and brilliance.

– Gary Goldschneider

Similar Posts


  1. Dear Gary,
    I like Ingmar’s article a lot; especially because you mentioned his many films and the actors he used repeatedly, apart from his cameraman.
    The thing is he was foremost a theatre man, used to theatre companies like even today’s directors have; in that respect it explains for his static approach you also mentioned apart from the techniques used at the time.
    We should also not forget if we compare him to Kurosawa and Fellini it is our task to mention ”ǵods” like Kubrick, Scorcese, Coppola and Tarkovski if these seven make up the 20th century along with Wenders, Fassbinder, (Germany) Eisenstein (at and on the start of the Russian revolution) There are too many gods, too many plays..too many tastes..and what about Wong Kar Wei or Zang Yimou-(Asia) or Emerick Pressburger and Michael Powell (first to use technicolor in the feature A Matter of Life and Death (Amalot) where the imagined world is in B&W and reality in colour)…did we think of Ettora Scola and Bertollucci or the Coen brothers…damn I forgot Greenaway…and that guy Almodovar and his rival at the Oscars some years ago Polanski…etc..etc..all interacting and influencing one another.

    Now the statement of father, son and holy ghost helps to understand that comparison, but really there are so many holy men out there. And: No mother Mary’s?

    These three are among the greatest of the 20th century, that is for sure. Maybe it would help to say that these men started more or less in the middle of the 20th century in Black and White and all made a transition towards colour in their later works. But for a photographer nor a filmmaker going over the difference between the two is a non discussion or an endless one.

    But what is, is that all of them were keen on detail. Like Kubrick, Tarkovski and some more; detail is what makes them so great. It could explain why film was more magical to them, maybe because they grew up in a time where there were just cinemas and theatres- no TV and no moving colour images mass over production as we know it today. The question to them still was: What is it that creates or has meaning?
    The decisive element in any play. The instant in editing that turns the clock.The way Shakespeare used one word instead of another, to create consonance. In that respect Fellini is the playful seducting Mediterranean (dominated by his lust for voluptuous woman in constant dialogue with the church and ”the madonna”), Bergman the Nordic intellectual artist in search for himself and an answer to the question : ”does or did god at all exist, ever?!” and Kurosawa – to me simply: the visionary poet.

    As all great filmmakers need vision and have a signature of their own, I truly believe it should be made clear that these were directors that were at the heart of an awareness growing that film is an art form. In my opinion they have helped to point that out clearly along with some of the other old masters first in B&W and later during the late 50-ties and sixties in colour later in the last age.

    People like Scorcese and Coppola, Wong Kar Wei, were already used to massive cinema and Tv productions first in B&W and later in colour.
    Stanley Kubrick created his own world. Space Odessey takes us away from worldly issues propelling us right back to where we started from: Man opposed to the forces of the universe and creation. Also Tarkovski did that and his Solaris is a reaction (but Tarkovski just did what he wanted and believed in and his films are certainly not to be seen as counteracts to American or Western cinema) to Kubrick’s recap of human history as Tarkovski stays within the human mind; in that way closer to Bergman – Less story more intellectual content.To me these men belong among the three, four, five or seven big ones-maybe even more than Fellini as he speaks of childish issues, rather then philosophical issues that Kubrick or Scorcese dig into. And we should not forget Luis Bunuel if we speak of the times of Bergman.

    These are just thoughts- I know you’ll understand why I write them to you. I am going to have a coffee now and start work.

    Thanks to Bergman and so many others there is so much to talk about and so much to see.

    1. Yeah, Aleph, so many others. I will try to write another 600 words or so on each of them as their birthday comes up. Ingmar is one of my favorites but my absolute personal favorites are, first, Kurosawa, then Kubrick (particularly Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory, recently Lolita as I begin to understand it better, and of course 2001, a space odessey), and Truffaut. I am also a sucker for the great individual masterpiece. Here my favorites are, in order: Les Enfants du Paradise of Marcel Carne, The Seven Samurai and Ikiru of Kurosawa, Teshigihara’s Woman in the Dunes, Kon Ichikawa’s Burmese Harp, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, both Jules et Jim and Tirez sur le Pianist of Truffaut, and of course Alexander Nevsky of Eisenstein with the wonderful music of Prokofieff (a high point in movie music, although I also love Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrman and Georges Delerue). GG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.