He and I had dinner in his New York hotel suite; it was a great treat for me. I was nervous, I really didn't want to go. But he was not at all what you might expect: the formidable, dark, brooding genius. He was a regular guy. He commiserated with me about low box-office grosses and women and having to put up with studios.
Film has dream, film has music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul. A little twitch in our optic nerve, a shock effect: twenty-four illuminated frames in a second, darkness in between, the optic nerve incapable of registering darkness. At the editing table, when I run the trip of film through, frame by frame, I still feel that dizzy sense of magic of my childhood: in the darkness of the wardrobe, I slowly wind one frame after another, see almost imperceptible changes, wind faster — a movement.
During the prevideo period, "The Seventh Seal" was booked by colleges across America more than any other title. Since then, on cassette, on laserdisc, on DVD, and now in an extraordinary Blu-ray version from Criterion, Bergman's medieval allegory has continued to touch fresh generations of viewers.
No other art-medium–neither painting nor poetry–can communicate the specific quality of the dream as well as the film can. When the lights go down in the cinema and this white shining point opens up for us, our gaze stops flitting hither and thither, settles and becomes quite steady. We just sit there, letting the images flow out over us. Our will ceases to function. We lose our ability to sort things out and fix them in their proper places. We're drawn into a course of events–we're participants in a dream. And manufacturing dreams, that's a juicy business.
Ingmar Bergman, the master filmmaker who found bleakness and despair as well as comedy and hope in his indelible explorations of the human condition, died yesterday (July 30, 2007) at his home on the island of Faro, off the Baltic coast of Sweden. He was 89. Mr. Bergman was widely considered one of the greatest directors in motion picture history. For much of the second half of the 20th century, he stood with directors like Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa at the pinnacle of serious filmmaking.
If you revisit “The Seventh Seal” with a smirk on your face, you will likely be struck anew by the power of this life-and-death chess match and the scary ashen face of a black-robed Death. What may seem the essence of portentous symbolism when taken out of context retains its primal force within the film. You are inescapably reminded that in the metaphysical and emotional struggles portrayed in Mr. Bergman’s films, the stakes are all or nothing and extremely personal.
Bergman has often been criticized as apolitical, producing chamber dramas of the soul detached from any larger sociopolitical context. In this regard, Shame in 1968 is a film radically different from any of its predecessors, both in its political awareness and unremitting focus on political events and forces, and in its dramatic resolution. It marks most clearly a crisis in Bergman's thought that had been developing throughout the 1960's and a nadir of depression and despair in which even the most restrained hopefulness of his earlier films is lost.
Rebelling against his parents' strict morality, he left home at 19 to become a stage director. His incisive productions soon gained attention and in 1944 he was appointed director of the Helsingborg City Theatre. There were subsequent appointments in Malmo, Gothenberg, and Stockholm; even at the height of his cinematic career stage work still occupied much of his time, feeding into and colouring his films. Theatre, he once remarked, 'is like a loyal wife, film is the great adventure, the costly and demanding mistress'.
A Sunday child, born into a clerical Stockholm family on the French national holiday in the year ending the first World War, Bergman at an early age--as shown in Fanny and Alexander-- was a 'director' already in the nursery. There he staged plays in his puppet theater and made up 'film' stories with the help of his laterna magica. When only 17 he wrote his first play; in the 1940's some twenty-three others were to follow, a few of which were published and staged.
10 of his films are listed in the 5th edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (edited by Steven Jay Schneider). He is the third best represented director (behind Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks) and has the greatest number of writing credits on that list of any screenwriter. On the list are the films Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), Persona (1966), Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968), Cries and Whispers (1972) and Fanny and Alexander (1982).