Happy Birthday Ingmar Bergman! A Look Back at the Master’s Brilliant Career
In my opinion, the five best filmmaking minds of all time are Sergei Eisenstein, Orson Welles, D.W. Griffith (apart from the racism), George Mélies and Ingmar Bergman. Though he wasn’t the most influential, Bergman has to top the list for me.
And it is his birthday today. Despite the fact he died four years ago, I’ll still continue to celebrate his birthday for he is a director that I hope will never be forgotten and should be rejoiced and cherished with plentiful viewings of his amazing movies.
I only became a fan — or really acknowledged his existence — back in February when I first saw his films (my friend Stephen turned me onto them). Now, two of them are in my Top 10 favourite films of all time (Winter Light at #9 and Persona at #5) and there are another four in my Top 50 (The Seventh Seal at #25, Cries and Whispers at #34, Fanny and Alexander at #48 and Through A Glass Darkly at #50), as well as two more in the top hundy (Hour of the Wolf at #67 and The Silence at #79). Phew! That’s a lot of Bergman for my Top 100. And there are others which are worming their way up there, too (Smiles of a Summer Night and The Virgin Spring most notably). I could go on all day!
So who is he, really?
He’s a Swedish filmmaker, whose first film Crisis was released in 1946. It was with Smiles of a Summer Night and The Seventh Seal that he earned fame, however, the latter producing some of the most well-known, influential and copied sequences in film history. He often used the same actors/actresses, and you are likely to see these names popping up throughout his catalogue: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, and a few others. My personal favourites are Bjornstrand for Winter Light and Ullmann because she’s just so damn cute (despite the fact she’s playing some really serious characters) in the late 1960s!
What are his movies about?
Throughout the different phases of his career, he dealt with many different themes, from sexual frustration (Sawdust and Tinsel, All These Women), the darker side of the human personality (Persona, The Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers), religious doubt (a big one, most notably with The Seventh Seal, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light) and sometimes the general ups and downs and confrontations of the human existence (Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander). His movies weren’t always serious, and he dabbled in some comedy, with Smiles of a Summer Night providing a few decent laughs in a strange, Bergmanesque manner.
They seem very oriented on themes; is there much to the plots?
Sometimes yes, but quite often not so much. Bergman (and his cinematographers Gunnar Fischer from the early years and Sven Nykvist from the later ones) made sure that his films were always brilliant to look at, as well as deeply rooted in emotional strength, so often plot didn’t matter too much.
So where’s the best place to start?
The Seventh Seal, almost definitely. And it was really amazing for me, because coming back to it after seeing about 15 of his movies, it looked and felt completely different because I recognized it as a Bergman film, not as just a film. And this happens after you really get used to a director, but Bergman has his own special quality and style that sets every single scene of every single film (and quite often the dialogue) apart from any other director’s. If you showed me a film that I definitely hadn’t seen without giving me any clue as to who made it, and it was a Bergman film, I would recognize it almost instantly.
Can I rely on him always for a good film?
Considering his whole career, I’d say 85% of it is pure gold, though I certainly haven’t seen everything. It depends on what sort of films you’re interested in, how you look at cinema, and whether you think you can think on the subconscious, lateral level which Bergman sees things. Swedish cinema is a very unique cinematic genre, so you need to have an open mind about it and consider every single image you see while watching a Bergman movie. Some of it can be quite heavy, but others seem comparitively light, which is nice, to know he had that variety.
Where does he sit on your list of favourite directors?
Number one, baby. He’s the best of all time, hands down, nuff said.
And now, to conclude this post and properly salute this prodigious cinematic emperor, I give you a countdown list of his ten best films. Not my ten favourites, his ten best, although I can’t say it’s too much different from my own top ten. Note: I won’t be writing short paragraphs or plot summaries about these films because I’ve already said heaps, and this isn’t my first post about Bergman movies.
10: The Magician (1958)
9: Shame (1968)
8: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
7: Smiles of a Summer Night (1956)
6: Through a Glass Darkly (1962)
5: Fanny and Alexander (1982)
4: Winter Light (1962)
3: Cries and Whispers (1972)
2: Persona (1966)
1: The Seventh Seal (1957)
And now OVER TO YOU! The following is a poll of some of Bergman’s best films. If you’re experienced with him, please vote for which one is your favourite!
If you’re new to Bergman, I hope this was a decent guide to help you decide where to start.
If you’re an experienced Bergman fanatic like me, I hope this was a decent enough tribute to the man for his birthday. May his memory forever hold in our thoughts, for this day only, if not all days.