The Compleat Ingmar #37: Brink of Life (1958)

One of the things Ingmar Bergman is famous for is the great parts for women in his films, and consequently his work with great actresses. So many of the films feature complex roles for women, and while Bergman must often have been a terror to the women in his life, both in private and in his professional capacity, many of his leading ladies have said again and again that it was a gift to be in a Bergman film and to portray those characters. As much as Bergman can be criticised, and rightly so, for his behaviour towards women, we have several actresses who nonetheless were eager to work with him repeatedly – sometimes even after they had been in a relationship with him that had ended badly.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #36: Waiting Women (1952)

There have been times over the course of Criterion’s Bergman collection where I couldn’t really say why they went from this film to that one, but those instances have very much been an exception. Obviously a chronological sequence would’ve been very easy for them to do, but it’s clear that they had ideas about how these films fit together: relationships on the rocks, theatre and actors, God’s silence. Having such a curated collection may be somewhat leading, suggesting certain approaches to interpretation over others, but this gives the collection a shape that mere chronology does not (leaving aside that chronology isn’t a neutral approach either). At the same time, the sequence chosen by Criterion’s curators can work against a film – watching the fourth or fifth variation on one of Bergman’s insufferable husbands vacillating between expressing smug superiority and neurotic inferiority towards the women in their lives, the Bergman tropes can become a bit tiresome, especially if the strongest film featuring this particular trope has already come up. After Scenes from a Marriage, many a Bergman male seems yet more tiresome because they cannot have the nuance that Bergman and his actor Erland Josephson brought to Scenes‘ male lead, Johan, in five hours of material.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #35: Cries and Whispers (1972)

While the supposed heaviness of Bergman’s filmography is frequently exaggerated (or am I the only one who finds The Seventh Seal with its snarky Death entertaining, even if the film undoubtedly isn’t a laugh riot beginning to end?), it is certainly true that many of his films deal with heavy themes. Mortality in the abstract is a frequent motif, but so is death in the very concrete. And death in Bergman’s films may never have been as harrowing as in his 1972 film Cries and Whispers, the first half of which depicts the suffering and agony of Agnes, one of its four main characters.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #34: Port of Call (1948)

Port of Call doesn’t make a great first impression. In the context of Bergman’s complete oeuvre (if movie watching had a progress bar, we’d be somewhere between 80% and 90% through his filmography), its first fifteen, twenty minutes or so is more striking in its images than its storytelling, as the latter seems oddly impersonal, almost generic. Once past the initial hurdle of a decidedly middling beginning, however, there’s more to like about Port of Call than is immediately apparent.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #33: Thirst (1949)

It’s a difficult act to follow Persona, and Criterion probably made the right choice when it decided to follow Bergman’s monolithic masterpiece with a number of his earlier, smaller films, in which he was trying to find his voice as a director. Thirst is one of those films. It’s by no means bad – in fact, some of the later films that are more clearly Bergman’s work are probably worse films (and yes, All These Women, I’m looking at you). However, it is a film that in the context of Bergman’s filmography feels like he was trying his hand at themes and techniques that he’d later use to better effect.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #32: Persona (1966)

And here we are: perhaps the film by Ingmar Bergman that is most famous, apart from The Seventh Seal, and probably the one most written about in film studies. Persona may not be as immediately iconic as the film that brought us a medieval knight playing chess with Death, but it is undoubtedly one of the films most responsible for the director’s reputation – as a master of his craft, but also as a storyteller who did tremendous work especially with his female protagonists (sorry, Max von Sydow, but it’s true) and whose films explore harrowing psychological and metaphysical territory.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #31: The Serpent’s Egg (1977)

Get ready for Bergmanception: you know how Woody Allen has long been a big Bergman fan and how many of his films are clearly inspired by Bergman’s? Well, the beginning of The Serpent’s Egg feels a bit like Bergman got Allen and his creative team to create the titles. White writing in a timeless serif font on a black screen, listing the cast and crew, accompanied by jaunty 1920s jazz tune – it’s all there. Except even at his most glib, Allen did not make films as sour as The Serpent’s Egg.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #30: The Touch (1971)

Is it strange that I associate adultery with the 1960s and 1970s? Obviously I don’t think that adultery was invented in 1963, just after sexual intercourse (because, after all, Don Draper got there much earlier, right?), but when I think of the stories of or about the time, what comes to mind are the novels of John Updike or novels like The Ice Storm, which is set in the early ’70s. When I think adultery, I first and foremost think of men with sideburns wearing corduroy suits, sleeping with the wives of their colleagues or friends, much more so than I think of crazed blondes that boil bunnies before breakfast.

The Touch (1971)

In that respect, Ingmar Bergman’s The Touch, the first English language film by the director, is a good fit for the era. Adultery, check. ’70s hairdos, check. (There are probably few actors whose hair denotes the ’70s as much as Elliott Gould.)

And somehow, none of the people in these adulterous relationships seem to be happier due to their affairs. You can see why Bergman would be drawn to this material.

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #29: After the Rehearsal (1984)

I’ve said before that I greatly enjoy the film historian’s approach that Criterion’s Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema allows me to take to the director’s work. While the films are largely organised thematically rather than chronologically, just having the vast majority of Bergman’s works in one handy package means that I’m not just seeing these films in isolation but in relation to one another. That comparison adds another dimension to my appreciation of the films that is often fascinating and illuminating.

Mind you: the flipside of this is that sometimes it can get quite tiresome to watch yet another Bergman film obsessing about the same concerns and voicing the same attitudes. We’ve now had a series of films of his focused on art and artists and especially the theatre, either literally or metaphorically, starting with Sawdust and Tinsel. By the time we get to After the Rehearsal, a 1984 TV movie starring Bergman regulars Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, and Lena Olin (who looks much younger in this than her actual age of 29), it’s difficult not to give an exasperated sigh: All right, enough with all the theatre!

Continue reading

The Compleat Ingmar #28: The Magic Flute (1975)

In 1975, Ingmar Bergman directed a production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute for Swedish television (which was later given a cinema release). I had seen Mozart’s opera before, at the theatre, but that was about 35 years ago. I don’t remember much, other than the relatively sexy outfits the Three Ladies were wearing (or at least what I considered sexy at the age of 11). Having watched Bergman’s screen version, though, I can safely say that The Magic Flute is weird.

Continue reading