The Compleat Ingmar #25: Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Sawdust and Tinsel tells a story of love, humiliation, abandonment, broken dreams and the pathos and piteousness of art, artists – and men. It is, you could say, a typical story for Ingmar Bergman – but while there are elements (and faces) here that by now are familiar when it comes to the director’s work, what the film made me think of is Fellini. The world of Bergman is more commonly that of the bourgeoisie – but the characters at the heart of Sawdust and Tinsel are outsiders who travel around with the world apart that they have made for themselves.

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The Compleat Ingmar #24: All These Women (1964)

It had to happen sometime. Twenty-four films into Criterion’s big Bergman box set, we’ve arrived at the first film by the director that I would call bad. And I’m not alone in this: Roger Ebert called the 1964 comedy All These Women the worst film Bergman ever made (in his 1978 review of Bergman’s ‘American’ film, The Serpent’s Egg). Now, it might be tempting to say that good old Ingmar, he should’ve stuck to what he knows to do best: brooding psychological drama. But, frankly, that’s rubbish. Bergman was perfectly capable of delivering delightful comedy, and while it is often of the sardonic kind, humour is not infrequent in the director’s work, from the way he pokes fun at male insecurities to the deadpan cheekiness of The Seventh Seal‘s Death. Bergman used humour throughout his films, and the cliché of Bergman as a dour dramatist becomes all the less valid the more you look at his work.

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The Compleat Ingmar #23: The Devil’s Eye (1960)

Things are not well in hell: the devil has a pain in his eye, and as everyone knows, this can only mean one thing: there’s a young woman on earth who is about to enter marriage as a virgin. What’s a devil to do? Clearly, there’s only one thing: that famous sinner Don Juan must be dispatched post-haste to seduce the young Nordic maid!

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The Compleat Ingmar #22: The Seventh Seal (1957)

It’s been a while since we last visited with the Swedish master of existential crisis, but we’re returning with what is probably his most famous, most iconic work. Mention Bergman’s name, and what do people think of? Max von Sydow on a desolate beach playing chess with Death, probably.

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The Compleat Ingmar #21: The Virgin Spring (1960)

It is quite amazing to see how prolific a filmmaker Bergman was, and how varied his oeuvre was within a fairly short time. To make a somewhat arbitrary cut, between Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a romantic comedy with a melancholy streak and a wonderfully light touch, and Persona (1966), whose psychological drama veers into something not too dissimilar from Lynchian horror, lie ten films that include the strange, phantasmagoric The Magician (1958), the chilling, existentialist Winter Light (1963) and, of course, The Seventh Seal (1957), a film so iconic that its central image is surely familiar to many more than have actually seen the film. Even halfway into Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, I still tend to have a somewhat reductive image of Bergman as the writer-director of psychological drama set in upper-middle-class circles, films of midlife crises and marital strife – and along comes the primal, harrowing The Virgin Spring to remind me that Bergman’s films were much more than just this.

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The Compleat Ingmar #20: The Silence (1963)

I was not prepared for the extent to which Ingmar Bergman’s oeuvre would embrace the uncanny. He may not be a David Lynch, but where Lynch’s nightmares are often emphatically surreal, Bergman’s use of the dreamlike is more subtle, more psychological, and probably more Freudian – though not in the overly literal way that pop-Freudians tends to go for. Unless we’re talking about Hour of the Wolf, which indeed feels like proto-Lynch in its final third, Bergman’s onereic sequences – when they are not explicitly dreams, as for instance in Wild Strawberries – always leave it up to the viewer whether what they are seeing is really happening or not, and to what extent it is filtered through, or even distorted by, a character whose perception is less than reliable.

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The Compleat Ingmar #19: Winter Light (1963)

It has been said many, many times, but it bears saying again: for someone who described himself as an agnostic, Bergman had something of a fixation on religion. Not in social or cultural terms, mind you: Bergman’s concern seems to be almost entirely with very personal matters of faith. Winter Light is probably the most literal in this respect: its protagonist, Tomas (Gunnar Björnstrand), is the pastor of a small Swedish church out in the sticks who finds that as his congregation dwindles (the first scene sees him preaching to a handful of people, several of whom politely try but fail to hide their disinterest), so does his belief.

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The Compleat Ingmar #18: Through a Glass Darkly (1961)

The door opened, but the god was a spider. He came up to me and I saw his face. It was a terrible stony face. He scrambled up and tried to penetrate me, but I defended myself. All along I saw his eyes: they were cold and calm. When he couldn’t penetrate me he continued up my chest, up into my face and onto the wall. I have seen God.

The individual elements of Through a Glass Darkly are familiar. We’ve previously seen Bergman play with techniques familiar from the horror genre, especially in Hour of the Wolf. We’ve also seen his characters grapple with mental illness, as well as with religion and crises of faith. However, Through a Glass Darkly feels quite different from these other films – perhaps because of its intense focus on its central female character, another striking addition to the cast of women created by Bergman and his leading actresses throughout their collaborations. Bergman’s male protagonists are often weaker than his female characters, but this time, they are basically a supporting cast to the female lead. Without a doubt, the star of this film is Harriet Anderson.

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The Compleat Ingmar #17: Fårö Document (1970) and Fårö Document 1979 (1979)

Truth to tell: after a series of Bergman films focusing on dysfunctional relationships, from Scenes from a Marriage via From the Life of the Marionettes to Shame and The Passion of Anna, I was ready for a change, and as much as I like Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow, I thought I could do without them for a film or two. Lucky for me, the next two instalments on our journey through Ingmar Bergman’s cinema were the two documentary films, Fårö Document (made throughout 1969 and first aired on Swedish television on 1 January 1970) and its follow-up Fårö Document 1979, which act as a welcome palate cleanser in Criterion’s box set.

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