Ingmar Bergman died recently aged 89 and one of my few regrets as I approach my three score years and ten is that I did not experience his work as my life progressed and that it is only over the past two years that I have been enriched and enlightened by the greatest artist in portraying fundamental questions of the human condition in the most profound spiritual and psychological depths. And yet there is also the awareness that had I experienced some of films earlier I would have unable to appreciate their intellectual greatness, or been unable to complete a viewing because of their emotional intensity.
Tonight having unintentionally slept during the evening and uncertain if I should go to bed, work or be entertained, I was about to channel hop the satellite when I discovered that the BBC was showing a programme on his work, using the three people he granted interviews over his last four decades, our Melvyn Lord Bragg, writer and documentary maker about the arts, French film maker Olivier Assayas and Swedish film maker Marie Nyrerod whom Bergman gave his longest interview when retired to Faro Island in Baltic Sean. It is she who provided the first clue to why her country produced such a genius. Sweden is a cold sparsely populated land for most of the year, so that its people are restricted to their homes and they look into themselves and each other.
But it was first Melvyn Bragg and then Olivier Assayas who made my heart leap with delight as they spoke of their first experience as very young men of being swept off their feet by young Harriet Anderson in Summer with Monika, and although attracted by young love during the beautiful Swedish summer, something I also experienced as a young man for two brief weeks in 1963, they both were aware of something deeper happening which they only able to comprehend later.
Bergman admitted that he was afraid of death, but not of life, and yet he lived alone on his Island listening classical music because it gave him a sense of some force greater than human existence, yet those who found his film work gloomy, such as film maker Ken Russell, say more about themselves because in fact of his all his works one can be said to be pessimistic, Winter Light which is about the loss of faith by a priest, a subject which has interested since discovering just before my 60th birthday who my father had been.
I have yet to experience all his works and there are some important omissions which I hope to remedy before I too face that final moment of human self aware consciousness.
I pause to find the list of films watched against the list of films to view on Bergmanorama.com to find that its opening screen is now a series of photos. Having also read some of the obituaries and feature articles, it is evident that most touch on only those works which have become well known, which appealed the writer and that only those who have systematically studied his work in chronological sequence against what was japanning in the cinema in each decade can appreciate what a giant he was, writing and directing over forty full length films, writing the script for another dozen and directing over 125 works in the theatre including Shakespeare, Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, Chekov , over 25 TV film dramas, with separate television productions of his two most important works on marital relationships, Scenes from a Marriage 1973 and his last work both for TV and Film in 2003 Saraband together with his longest running film work Fanny and Alexander 1982/1983 and over forty works for radio commencing in 1944 when I was five years of age and which means he created between three and four works throughout sixty years of working.
Many of his early films were released with different titles depending on the language version and of the seven released in the 1940's my experienced list has the first Crisis, Port of Call and Three Strange Loves. It was the 1950's when I became a teenager that he came to world wide attention with Summer with Monika/Monika 1953 and which I did not see until I was sixteen in my first year of working in central London and attending Promenade concerts for the time at the Royal Albert Hall and basements jazz clubs in or near Soho. This beautifully photographed film is about the reality of young infatuation and sex in which the young man is left to look after their child. I have now also seen Waiting Women/Secrets of Women 1952 and A Lesson in Love 1954, The Magician 1958 and his most well known, the Seventh Seal 1957, which I saw at the time and several time son TV, one of his films about spirituality and the possible nature of God, But the film from this period where I have seen six of thirteen which I rank as one his most important because of its theme is Wild Strawberries 1957 about an old man preparing fro death and looking back on his life,
I have also seen the Virgin Spring his first film release of the 1960's, but not recently, Through a Glass Darkly 1961 one of his important works on mental health issues, The Silence 1963, Winter Light also 1963, Personna 1966 and Shame 1968, six of eleven of that decade. Only three films of the nine created in the 1970's Cries and Whispers 1972, but the other two are the great psychological dramas of the cinema. Autumn Sonata 1978 is the most painful psychologically and emotionally intense films about the nature of being a creative woman who is also a mother and on the relationship between all daughters and their mothers. It is not recommended for any woman who has major unresolved issues as a mother in relation to their daughter and vice versa. It has the most extraordinary performance of Ingrid Bergman before her death, portraying the guilt ridden mother who chooses to continue with her declining life as a concert virtuoso and Liv Ullman gives one of the greatest, if not the greatest acting performances on screen as the daughter desperate for her mother's love and recognition, and honest communication, tells the truth on one of the most excruciating painful moments ever to be screened.
It does not surprise me that Sweden's top marital counsellor approached Bergman for advice after watching the television version of Scenes from a Marriage which has Liv Ullman as the devastated wife and Erland Josephson the errant husband. Although this film stands on its own putting such other work such as Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf with Liz Taylor and Richard Burton into perspective, it his decision to create the sequel Saraband as his last film in 2003, an which also towers above all other work as a monument about having relationships when one is old that viewed together, but with a break for a good meal and several glasses of wine, that should convince any remaining doubter about his unfailing brilliance. The film again features Liv and Erland, meeting up after thirty years in real time and sharing one night together in the most beautiful of tender love scenes ever screened. It also covers the relationship between fathers and their sons, and fathers and their daughters with the same brutal sincerity and truth as Autumn Sonata.
Of his last four films I did see the short version of Fanny and Alexander before, but the full four hour length edition only recently. I bore everyone with reminding that what we do and say and who we do it with or say to, lives with you and them for eternity, an this for me is the subject of the film, together with " be careful what you wish for, because those the Gods wish to punish they will grant what is asked of them." I am yet to find out if Bergman died alone and how he faced his final moments. I hope he remembered his gift to people such as me and to the future of humanity.