1976 Goethe Prize Winner:
Ernst Ingmar Bergman (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈɪŋmar ˈbærjman] ( listen); 14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007) was a Swedish director, writer and producer who worked in film, television, and theatre. He is recognized as one of the most accomplished and influential auteurs of all time and is most famous for films such as The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), and Fanny and Alexander (1982).
He directed over sixty films and documentaries for cinematic release and for television, most of which he also wrote. He also directed over 170 plays. From 1953, he forged a powerful creative partnership with his full-time cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Among his company of actors were Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in his country, and numerous films from Through a Glass Darkly (1961) onward were filmed on the island of Fårö. His work often dealt with death, illness, faith, betrayal, bleakness and insanity.
Bergman’s film career began in 1941 with his rewriting of scripts, but his first major accomplishment was in 1944 when he wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (Hets), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg. Along with writing the screenplay, he was also given position as assistant director to the film. In his second autobiographical book, Images: My Life in Film, Bergman describes the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut. The international success of this film led to Bergman’s first opportunity to direct a year later. During the next ten years, he wrote and directed more than a dozen films including The Devil’s Wanton/Prison (Fängelse) in 1949 as well as The Naked Night/Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton) and Summer with Monika (Sommaren med Monika), both from 1953.
Bergman first achieved worldwide success with Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) (1955), which won for "Best poetic humour" and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes the following year. This was followed by The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) and Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället), released in Sweden ten months apart in 1957. The Seventh Seal won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and Wild Strawberries won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström. Bergman continued to be productive for the next two decades. From the early 1960s, he spent much of his life on the Swedish island of Fårö, where he made several films.
In the early 1960s he directed three films that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en Spegel, 1961), Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna, 1962), and The Silence (Tystnaden, 1963). Critics created the notion that the common themes in these three films made them a trilogy or cinematic triptych. Bergman initially responded that he did not plan these three films as a trilogy and that he could not see any common motifs in them, but he later seemed to have adopted the notion, with some equivocation. In 1964 he made a parody of Fellini with All These Women (För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor).
In 1966, he directed Persona, a film that he himself considered one of his most important works. While the shockingly experimental film won few awards, many consider it his masterpiece. Other notable films of the period include The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1960), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968), Shame (Skammen, 1968) and A Passion/The Passion of Anna (En Passion, 1969). Bergman also produced extensively for Swedish television at this time. Two works of note were Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap, 1973) and The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten, 1975).
After his arrest in 1976 for tax evasion, Bergman swore he would never again make films in Sweden. He shut down his film studio on the island of Fårö and went into self-imposed exile. He briefly considered the possibility of working in America and his next film, The Serpent’s Egg (1977) was a German-U.S. production and his second English-language film (the first being 1971’s The Touch). This was followed a year later with a British-Norwegian co-production of Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten, 1978) starring Ingrid Bergman. The one other film he directed was From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten, 1980) a British-German co-production.
In 1982, he temporarily returned to his homeland to direct Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. After that he wrote several film scripts and directed a number of television specials. As with previous work for TV, some of these productions were later released in theatres. The last such work was Saraband (2003), a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage and directed by Bergman when he was 84 years old.
Bergman developed a personal "repertory company" of Swedish actors whom he repeatedly cast in his films, including Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Bengt Ekerot, Anders Ek, and Gunnar Björnstrand, each of whom appeared in at least five Bergman features. Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, who appeared in nine of Bergman’s films and one televisual film (Saraband), was the last to join this group (in the 1966 film Persona), and ultimately became most closely associated with Bergman, both artistically and personally. They had a daughter together, Linn Ullmann (born 1966).
Bergman began working with Sven Nykvist, his cinematographer, in 1953. The two developed and maintained a working relationship of sufficient rapport to allow Bergman not to worry about the composition of a shot until the day before it was filmed. On the morning of the shoot, he would briefly speak to Nykvist about the mood and composition he hoped for, and then leave Nykvist to work, lacking interruption or comment until post-production discussion of the next day’s work.
By Bergman’s own account, he never had a problem with funding. He cited two reasons for this: one, that he did not live in the United States, which he viewed as obsessed with box-office earnings; and two, that his films tended to be low-budget affairs. (Cries and Whispers, for instance, was finished for about $450,000, while Scenes from a Marriage, a six-episode television feature, cost only $200,000.)
Bergman usually wrote his own screenplays, thinking about them for months or years before starting the actual process of writing, which he viewed as somewhat tedious. His earlier films are carefully constructed and are either based on his plays or written in collaboration with other authors. Bergman stated that in his later works, when on occasion his actors would want to do things differently from his own intention, he would let them, noting that the results were often "disastrous" when he did not do so. As his career progressed, Bergman increasingly let his actors improvise their dialogue. In his latest films, he wrote just the ideas informing the scene and allowed his actors to determine the exact dialogue. When viewing daily rushes, Bergman stressed the importance of being critical but unemotive, claiming that he asked himself not if the work is great or terrible, but if it is sufficient or if it needs to be reshot.
Bergman’s films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and religious faith. While these topics could seem cerebral, sexual desire found its way to the foreground of most of his films, whether the setting was a medieval plague (The Seventh Seal), upper-class family activity in early twentieth century Uppsala (Fanny and Alexander) or contemporary alienation (The Silence). His female characters are usually more in touch with their sexuality than the men, and unafraid to proclaim it, sometimes with breathtaking overtness (e.g., Cries and Whispers) as would define the work of "the conjurer," as Bergman called himself in a 1960 Time Magazine cover story. In an interview with Playboy in 1964, he said: "The manifestation of sex is very important, and particularly to me, for above all, I don’t want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them." Film, Bergman said, was his demanding mistress.
Bergman’s views on his career
When asked in the series of interviews later titled "Ingmar Bergman - 3 dokumentärer om film, teater, Fårö och livet" conducted by Marie Nyreröd for Swedish TV and released in 2004, Bergman said he held Winter Light, Persona, and Cries and Whispers in the highest regard. There he also states that he managed to push the envelope of film making in the films "Persona" and "Cries and Whispers". Bergman stated on numerous occasions (for example in the interview book Bergman on Bergman) that The Silence meant the end of the era in which religious questions were a major concern of his films. Bergman said that he would get "depressed" by his own films and could not watch them anymore. In the same interview he also states:" If there is one thing I miss about working with films, it is working with Sven" (Nykvist), his third camera man.
Although Bergman was universally famous for his contribution to cinema, he was also an active and productive stage director all his life. During his studies at Stockholm University, he became active in its student theatre, where he made a name for himself early on. His first work after graduation was as a trainee-director at a Stockholm theatre. At twenty-six years, he became the youngest theatrical manager in Europe at the Helsingborg City Theatre. He stayed at Helsingborg for three years and then became the director at Gothenburg city theatre from 1946 to 1949.
He became director of the Malmö city theatre in 1953 and remained for seven years. Many of his star actors were people with whom he began working on stage, and a number of people in the "Bergman troupe" of his 1960s films came from Malmö’s city theatre (Max von Sydow, for example). He was the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm from 1960 to 1966 and manager from 1963 to 1966, where he began a long-time collaboration with choreographer Donya Feuer.
After Bergman left Sweden because of the tax evasion incident, he became director of the Residenz Theatre of Munich, Germany (1977–84). He remained active in theatre throughout the 1990s and made his final production on stage with Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 2002. A complete list of Bergman’s work in theatre can be found under "Stage Productions and Radio Theatre Credits" at Ingmar Bergman filmography.
Tax evasion charges
On 30 January 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg’s Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, he was arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income tax evasion. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a nervous break-down as a result of the humiliation and was hospitalized in a state of deep depression.
The investigation was focused on an alleged 1970 transaction of 500,000 Swedish kronor (SEK) between Bergman’s Swedish company Cinematograf and its Swiss subsidiary Persona, an entity that was mainly used for the paying of salaries to foreign actors. Bergman dissolved Persona in 1974 after having been notified by the Swedish Central Bank and subsequently reported the income. On 23 March 1976, the special prosecutor Anders Nordenadler dropped the charges against Bergman, saying that the alleged crime had no legal basis, saying it would be like bringing "charges against a person who has stolen his own car, thinking it was someone else’s". Director General Gösta Ekman, chief of the Swedish Internal Revenue Service, defended the failed investigation, saying that the investigation was dealing with important legal material and that Bergman was treated just like any other suspect. He expressed regret that Bergman had left the country, hoping that Bergman was a "stronger" person now when the investigation had shown that he had not done any wrong.
Even though the charges were dropped, Bergman became disconsolate, fearing he would never again return to directing. Despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, he vowed never to work again in Sweden. He closed down his studio on the island of Fårö, suspended two announced film projects, and went into self-imposed exile in Munich, Germany. Harry Schein, director of the Swedish Film Institute, estimated the immediate damage as ten million SEK (kronor) and hundreds of jobs lost.
Although he continued to operate from Munich, by mid-1978 Bergman had overcome some of his bitterness toward the government of Sweden. In July of that year he visited Sweden, celebrating his sixtieth birthday at Fårö, and partly resumed his work as a director at Royal Dramatic Theatre. To honour his return, the Swedish Film Institute launched a new Ingmar Bergman Prize to be awarded annually for excellence in filmmaking. Still, he remained in Munich until 1984. In one of the last major interviews with Bergman, conducted in 2005 at Fårö Island, Bergman said that despite being active during the exile, he had effectively lost eight years of his professional life.
Bergman retired from filmmaking in December 2003. He had hip surgery in October 2006 and was making a difficult recovery. He died peacefully in his sleep, at his home on Fårö, on 30 July 2007, at the age of 89, the same day that another renowned film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, also died. He was buried in the cemetery of Fårö Church on 18 August 2007 in a private ceremony. A place in the Fårö churchyard was prepared for him under heavy secrecy. Although he was buried on the island of Fårö, his name and date of birth were inscribed under his wife’s name on a tomb at Roslagsbro churchyard, Norrtälje Municipality, several years before his death.
When Bergman died, a large archive of notes was donated to the Swedish Film Institute. Among the notes are several unpublished and unfinished scripts both for stage and films, and many more ideas for works in different stages of development. A never performed play has the title Kärlek utan älskare ("Love without lovers"), and has the note "Complete disaster!" written on the envelope; the play is about a director who disappears and an editor who tries to complete a work he has left unfinished. Other canceled projects include the script for a pornographic film which Bergman abandoned since he did not think it was alive enough, a play about a cannibal, some loose scenes set inside a womb, a film about the life of Jesus, a film about The Merry Widow, and a play with the title Från sperm till spöke ("From sperm to spook"). The Swedish director Marcus Lindeen went through the material, and inspired by Kärlek utan älskare he took samples from many of the works and turned them into a play, titled Arkivet för orealiserbara drömmar och visioner ("The archive for unrealisable dreams and visions"). Lindeen’s play premiered on 28 May 2012 at the Stockholm City Theatre.