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Ingmar Bergman

...because he was perhaps the string theorist of story. Reducing all of the inner workings of humanity to its base form, each film is a picture of our moral and spiritual existences, and a stripping away of all that we use to protect ego. Through high-scope pictures like "Fanny and Alexander," one can see mastery in filmmaking. Through experimental pieces like "Persona," one sees genius pushing the boundaries of cinematic form. But almost most impressively, through intimate chamber films like "Wild Strawberries" and "Autumn Sonata," one sees that vision does not need hoards of money or radical technique to shine through. Present in all of Bergman's work is all of Bergman, and all of us.


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Jesse Kalin extracts six basic experiences present in all of Bergman's films that serve as points of development. They are judgment, abandonment, passion, turning, shame and vision. The religious undertones of these ever-present themes stem from Bergman's Christian upbringing – though paired with the futile, godless landscape of his films, we are exposed to a powerful irony in surreal treatment. Bergman often spoke of the importance of dreams and in an interview detailing his experience under general anesthesia, he described the difference between existing (lucidity) and non-existing (unconsciousness) as states of suffering like a dirty-snake versus utter-perfection, a thought which lends credence to the inventive, dream-like beauty of his pictures.

One viewing of the documentary, "Trespassing Bergman," and you'll see the cavalcade of heavy-hitting directors, visionaries in their own respects, paying homage to who can only be described as their cinematic messiah, Ingmar Bergman. Alejandro Iñarritu, Wes Anderson, Ridley Scott, Ang Lee, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Lars Von Trier, to name a few. But the crowns for Bergman's most notable disciples go to Andrei Tarkovsky and Woody Allen. It can be argued that Tarkovsky, outspoken of his veneration for Bergman, would have loved to be Ingmar – tapping into the same metaphysical themes, using the same actors and even hiring Sven Nykvist to shoot "The Sacrifice," a movie that Andrei wanted to shoot on Bergman's home island. For Woody Allen, borrowing from Bergman would be an understatement. Allen's "Deconstructing Harry" literally lifts the story of "Wild Strawberries" and rethinks it with Woody's signature shlemiel, a "technique" he's used more than once.

Bergman honed his skills as a playwright in the 1940's with influence from August Strindberg. In the 1950's, he applied it to familiar narratives to give us movies like "The Seventh Seal." It was in the 1960's that he started to blend the intimate nature of stage stories and the exploitative powers of cinematic form in productions that were scarce on cast and locations and high on symbolism and suggestions that can only be conveyed through film. Movies like "Persona" and "Autumn Sonata" are, on the surface, simple productions. But when coupled with a masterful sense of blocking, image assembly and most importantly character understanding, the true complexities of Bergman's chamber films are revealed and endowed with timeless accolades.


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Lighting “Persona”

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Ingmar Bergman’s Persona

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The Films of Ingmar Bergman – University of Cambridge

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University of Copenhagen – Scandinavian Film and Television (online course)

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Light Keeps Me Company – Documentary

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