Sunday, May 18, 2014

Film History Student Final Paper #2 - Ingmar Bergman

Here is the second Student Final Paper from my Spring 2014 semester class of Film History at the College of DuPage. Enjoy!
By Scott Alexander
     I have grown up interested in the process of film and how the cooperating parts put them together. Looking at the style in films, I could always notice trends used by certain directors in almost all their works. This trend in the director’s personal creative vision is known as Auteur Theory. For me, Wes Anderson is the epitome of reoccurring schemes, themes, and overall tone every time I pop in one of his films. I just fell in love with his work and wanted more and more. Now, being in film history and learning about the pioneers that have paved the way for people like Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, or even Wes Anderson, it’s amazing to see how each one has grabbed a piece of each other’s style, and made it their own. Like Wes Anderson, the first time I watched Ingmar Berman, I was sold and wanted more.

     When I was 12-years-old, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Sweden. I arrived in Stockholm and gazed at the scenery unable to take my eyes off everything that created the culture. From that point on, I have always had an affinity for anything Swedish. So when I learned of Bergman in class, my ears perked up and soaked in as much as possible.

     Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on July 14th, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, one of the countries larger cities. He grew up in a strict parented household where religion was a constant sight and topic of conversation. “Bergman’s interest in theatre and film began early: At the age of nine, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a magic lantern, a possession that altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created, by playing with this toy, a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts” (Rothstein). By 1937, Bergman was attending the Stockholm University College with a focus on art and literature. During these years he became a film geek and participated heavily in the student theatre. Although he would go on not to graduate, his writing took off as he wrote several plays and even an opera. “In 1942, he was given the chance to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar’s Death. The play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri, which then offered Bergman a position working on scripts” (Vermiyle). In 1944, Bergman began seeing success in his work. He wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (1944), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg, who gave Bergman the role of assistant director on the film. This would go on to ignite Bergman to greater triumphs that saw him directing his own works of art.

     Bergman became a global figure with his film, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). “It explores the frightening insight that it is possible for two people to love each other even when they find it impossible to live together. It also contains a bit of nostalgia, looking back at my own life and my relationship with my daughter, full of great confusion and sorrow” (Bergman). In that quote Bergman refers to nostalgia, and the role his own life experiences play into the film. That, to me, is the foundation of Bergman. The way he could grasp old memories and release them through performances so audience could relate was simply magical.

     What made Bergman an auteur were his almost forbidden-like films that usually explored dark themes and the absence of God. Gunnel Lindblom said, “I came out of that movie house reeling like a drunkard, drugged speechless, with the film rushing through my bloodstream, pumping and thudding” (Ford, Ingmar Bergman). Many people have evoked this feeling over again by Bergman films. I believe this is not the subject matter or storyline particularly, but because it is Bergman and his sense of composition, or cinematography. For instance, if you gave two directors the same script to shoot, the film that was turned out by the other director would be nowhere near the influence of a Bergman film. He just had an intuition of how to juxtapose the camera to gain the maximum emotion he wanted to draw from the audience. Bergman would use the close-up like no one before him, where you could almost feel the performers’ emotions through the screen. “The relentless close-up of the face is a useful formal and thematic key to Bergman’s work. In these frequent, almost embarrassingly close and radically elongated moments the viewer can see, think and feel existential sureties in different states of crisis – as we watch subjects reduced to pure flesh, bones, mouth, nose, hair and eyes” (Ford, Ingmar Bergman). For example, Bergman uses the close-up brilliantly in Winter Light (1963). “Marta pours her heart out to him in the letter in a way that she could not do to his face. To present the letter reading, Bergman shows Marta reciting it in close-up, directly into the camera for more than six minutes, sincerely and emotionally pleading her case. (Breaking the “fourth wall” by directly gazing into the camera always induces a heightened sense of empathy, and it is effective here.) This is perhaps the most memorable scene in the film, because of its attempt at direct communication” (The Discussion of Film Expression).

     Like I mentioned before, religion is a constant theme Bergman tackled throughout his film career. The Seventh Seal (1957) could easily be defined as one of these films. Truly a masterpiece in many ways, it still stands as a landmark of film expression, since it delved cinematically into the ultimate questions of existence and death. “Bergman’s cinematic storytelling techniques are worth mentioning straightaway. Although the film is largely set out of doors, we are not at all presented with a naturalistic setting.  Instead the stark, high-contrast black-and-white cinematography creates a moody and expressionistic visual environment” (Berg). That is what jumps off the screen when experiencing a Bergman film. Almost like a play, each setting is a stage perfectly set-up and every element on screen presents a particular meaning.

     Ingmar Bergman was also a major influence on the art-house cinema movement. A film like the aforementioned The Seventh Seal helped launch the movement, which made perfect sense because of Bergman’s style and overall understanding of film. Another film that grew the art-house cinema movement was Fanny and Alexander (1982). This film, once again, addresses religion and the overall questions that life cannot answer. “The director spent the bulk of his career tackling the notion of a world without God (how liberating this is; how terrifying, too), only to arrive at the conclusion that we are all God, and that man makes God in his own image, for better or worse” (Brooks).

     It has been a true pleasure looking into the work of Ingmar Bergman over the past few weeks. His style has been an instant inspiration, and I enjoy learning anything I can from his legacy. The investigation needed to dig out information on Bergman has simply made him one of my favorite directors.


Berg, Cassidy. "Read Into It." 15 November 2010. Auteur Theory: Ingmar Bergman. 1 May 2014 <>.

Bergman, Ingmar. Images: My Life in Film. New York: Arcade, 2011.
Brooks, Xan. "Film Season." 19 October 2010. The Guardian. 1 May 2014 <>.

Ford, Hamish. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <>.

—. "Ingmar Bergman." December 2002. Senses of Cinema. 1 May 2014 <>.

Rothstein, Mervyn. "Ingmar Bergman." 31 July 2007. Wikipedia. 1 May 2014 <>.

"The Discussion of Film Expression." 13 August 2013. The Film Sufi. 1 May 2014 <>.

Vermiyle, Jerry. "Ingmar Bergman." May 2001. Docstoc. 1 May 2014 <>.

No comments:

Post a Comment