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.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on July 14, 2011, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Happy Birthday Mr Bergman.

    To be honest and also as you know I am not really a big Bergman film lover. It is not because I don’t like his work, I just haven’t been introduced to very much.

    I will have a look now if just to put a pin in it and say I have done it!! OK. I will watch Seventh Seal over the next few lunch times at work and report back 🙂

    Deal?

  2. There is a Bergman season running on UK TV Channel Film4 at the moment, and because all the films of his they’re showing are on at 1/2 in the morning, I keep missing them because of work in the morning!

    I definitely want to check out more Bergman stuff than I have, though. Especially the 5 hour version of Fanny and Alexander (which my dad has on Criterion, and said it was amazing.)

    I’ll definitely bear your list in mind when checking out more of Bergman’s films.

    • Fanny and Alexander is always amazing, no matter what form you’re watching it in but I have yet to see the 5-hour one, sorry. But when I get around to my bi-monthly Criterion DVD shopping, it’s definitely there.

  3. Really nice write up Tyler! I wasn’t aware it was his Birthday. I have seen around 25 of his films and my absolute favorite is the Summer with Monika (I couldn’t find it on your poll) it was way before its time in depicting a woman standing up for herself.

    Other than that I really enjoy Fanny and Alexander, Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal (of course but it has been ruined by all the spoofs).

    • Have still got to see Summer with Monika (would’ve put it on the poll but I decided to just put the more popular ones to make voting easier.)

  4. Ah ok.I actually thought it was considered to be one of his more well known. I know Harriet Andersson became really famous in France thanks to that film.

    Smiles of a summer night I think have aged terribly and I have always had trouble sitting through Cries and Whisperers even though its probably one of his most successful films internationally ever.

  5. If I had to order the ones I’ve seen, I’d say something like: Winter Light, Wild Strawberries, Shame, Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, The Virgin Spring, Fanny and Alexander, Secrets of Women, The Magician, Smiles of a Summer Night, Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, The Silence, Summer with Monika, Hour of the Wolf, The Summer Interlude, Prison.

    A lot of them I haven’t seen for a while, so maybe that ordering isn’t so great. And even his “average” films are still better than the best films of most other directors. I thought the Seventh Seal was pretty overrated, maybe I need to see it again though. I have a few at home that I still haven’t watched (From the Life of the Marionettes, Sawdust and Tinsel, A Lesson in Love, Autumn Sonata).

    • Huh, I’m impressed by all the Bergman movies you’ve seen. If I had to put them in order from best to worst, it would look something like this: Persona, Winter Light, The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers, Fanny and Alexander, Through a Glass Darkly, The Hour of the Wolf, The Silence, The Virgin Spring, Shame, Wild Strawberries, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Magician, The Passion of Anna, Autumn Sonata, Face to Face, Scenes from a Marriage, Sawdust and Tinsel, Brink of Life, The Serpent’s Egg, and that’s about it, I think, so far. I live in New Zealand so there’s not as many available as I’d like, but over the next few months I’m hoping to knock down Crisis, A Ship to India, It Rains on Our Love, Dreams and The Devil’s Eye. Whew! Good to get that all off my chest.

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