Vintage postcard. Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson in Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973).
Dutch postcard by Art Unlimited, Amsterdam, no. B 3468. Caption: Ingmar Bergman, photographer unknown, ca. 1963.
A magic lantern traded for a set of tin soldiers
Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden. He was the second son of Erik Bergman, a Lutheran minister and later chaplain to the King of Sweden, and Karin (née Åkerblom), a nurse. His conservative father had strict ideas of parenting.
John Russell Taylor at Britannica: "he frequently remarked on the importance of his childhood background in the development of his ideas and moral preoccupations. Even when the context of his film characters’ sufferings is not overtly religious, they are always implicitly engaged in a search for moral standards of judgment, a rigorous examination of action and motive, in terms of good and bad, right and wrong, which seems particularly appropriate to someone brought up in a strictly religious home. Another important influence in his childhood was the religious art Bergman encountered, particularly the primitive yet graphic representations of Bible stories and parables found in rustic Swedish churches, which fascinated him and gave him a vital interest in the visual presentation of ideas, especially the idea of evil as embodied in the Devil."
His 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.
Bergman attended Palmgren's School as a teenager, and in 1937 Stockholm University, where he studied art, history, and literature. There, for the first time, he became passionately involved in the theatre and began writing and acting in plays and staged his first plays, among them adaptations of William Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', August Strindberg's 'Lucky Peter's Journey' and 'Master Olaf', and Maurice Maeterlinck's 'The Blue Bird'.
In 1939, Bergman accepted the job of production assistant at the Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern (the Royal Theatre in Stockholm), leaving school the following year to focus on stage work. From there, he went on to become a trainee director at the Mäster Olofsgärden Theatre and the Sagas Theatre. In 1941 he produced a spectacularly unconventional and disastrous production of the Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 'The Ghost Sonata'. That year he also wrote the play 'Kaspers död' (Kaspers Death) which was produced the same year. In 1944 he was given his first full-time job as a stage director, at Helsingborg’s municipal theatre.
'Kaspers död' became his entrance into the film business as Stina Bergman, from the company Svensk Filmindustri (Swedish Filmindustry), saw the play and introduced him to Carl-Anders Dymling, the head of S.F. Bergman started to rewrite scripts. Dymling commissioned him to commission an original screenplay, Hets/Frenzy (1944). This was directed by Alf Sjöberg, then Sweden’s leading film director, and Bergman was appointed as his assistant director. Because Sjöberg was busy, Bergman got the order to shoot the last sequence of the film. Hets was an enormous success and sparked debate on Swedish formal education. As a result of the international success of the film, Bergman was given a chance to write and direct a film of his own, Kris/Crisis (1946), and from this point on his career was underway.
The original trailer in high definition of Sommaren med Monika/Summer with Monika (1953), starring Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg and Dagmar Ebbesen. Source: HD Retro Trailers (YouTube).
French postcard fort the French DVD release by Dark Star / Carlotta. Photo: AV Svenska Film Industr. Harriet Andersson and Åke Fridel in Sommarnattens leende/Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955).
Gathering a faithful stock company of actors around him
During the following ten years, Ingmar Bergman wrote and directed more than a dozen films. His next four films, Det Regnar på Vår Kärlek/It Rains on Our Love (1946), Skepp till Indialand/A Ship Bound for India (1947), Musik i Mörker/Night Is My Future (1948), and Hamnstad/Port of Call (1948), were all adaptations.
Fängelse/Prison (1949), Gycklarnas afton/Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), and Sommaren med Monika/Summer with Monika (1953), were, if not directly autobiographical, at least very much concerned with the sort of problems that he himself was encountering at that time: the role of the young in a changing society, ill-fated young love, and military service. Fängelse (1949) recapitulated all the themes of his previous films in a story, built around the romantic and professional problems of a young film director who considers making a film based on the idea that the Devil rules the world.
John Russell Taylor: "While this is not to be taken without qualification as Bergman’s message in his early work, it may at least be said that his imaginative world is divided very sharply between the worlds of good and evil, the latter always overshadowing the former, the Devil lying in wait at the end of each idyll."
In 1951 Bergman’s career in films, like nearly the whole of Swedish filmmaking, came to an abrupt halt as the result of a major economic crisis and a ten-month strike by studio personnel, intended as a protest against an 'amusement tax' levied against film producers. But in 1952 he returned with the film Kvinnors väntan/Waiting Women, which was followed by Sommaren med Monika/Summer with Monika (1953). These films marked the beginning of his mature work.
In 1952 he also was appointed director of the Malmö municipal theatre, where he remained until 1959. This new phase introduced two markedly new characteristics in his work. In subject matter, Bergman, now himself married, returned again and again to the question of marriage. Viewing it from many angles, he examined the ways by which two people adjust to living together, their motives for being faithful or unfaithful to each other, and their reactions to bringing children into the world.
At this time Bergman began to gather around him, in his film and stage productions, a faithful stock company of actors - including Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlbeck, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann, and Max von Sydow - with whom he worked regularly to give his work and their interpretation of it a manifest consistency and style.
Official Trailer for Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Seal (1957). Source: The Cultbox (YouTube).
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 53. Photo: Bibi Andersson in Smultronstället/Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957).
A kind of Bergman fever swept over the international film scene
In 1955 Ingmar Bergman had his first great international success with Sommernattens leende/Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), a bittersweet romantic comedy-drama in a period setting. It was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes the following year.
In the next few years, a kind of Bergman fever swept over the international film scene: two masterpieces - Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Seal (1957), a medieval morality play, and Smultronstället/Wild Strawberries (1957), a meditation on old age - were released in Sweden ten months apart in 1957. Det sjunde inseglet won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, and Smultronstället won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström.
All of his early work was shown, and Bergman was universally recognized as one of the most important figures in cinema. Indeed, a far wider section of the cultured public became aware of his work than of that of any previous filmmaker. For the first time, a filmmaker was as widely and as highly regarded as artists in any of the more traditional media. Inevitably, a reaction set in, though Bergman continued to make films and direct plays with undiminished activity.
In the early 1960s he directed three films that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Såsom i en Spegel/Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Nattvardsgästerna/Winter Light (1962), and Tystnaden/The Silence (1963). This trilogy was regarded by many as his crowning achievement. Through a Glass Darkly won an Academy Award for best foreign film.
About this time, Bergman acquired a country home on the bleak island of Fårö, Sweden, and the island provided a characteristic stage for the dramas of a whole series of films that included Persona (1966), Vargtimmen/Hour of the Wolf (1968), Skammen/Shame (1968), and En passion/A Passion (1969), all dramas of inner conflicts involving a small, closely-knit group of characters.
With Beröringen/The Touch (1971), his first English-language film, Bergman returned to an urban setting and more romantic subject matter, though fundamentally the characters in the film’s marital triangle are no less mixed up than any in the Fårö cycle of films. And then Viskningar och rop/Cries and Whispers (1972), Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (1973), and Höstsonaten/Autumn Sonata (1978), all dealing compassionately with intimate family relationships, won popular as well as critical fame. With his cinematographer Sven Nykvist, Bergman made use of a crimson colour scheme for Cries and Whispers (1972), which received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
French postcard for the French DVD release by Dark Star / Carlotta. Photo: Bo Arne Vibenius / AV Svenska Film Industri. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966).
The original trailer in high definition of Viskningar och rop/Cries and Whispers (1972), starring Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann, and Kari Sylwan. Source: HD Retro Trailers.
Arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income tax evasion
Through the years, Ingmar Bergman continued to direct for the stage, most notably at Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre. He also produced extensively for Swedish television at this time. Two works of note were Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (1973) and Trollflöjten/The Magic Flute (1975).
On 30 January 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg's 'The Dance of Death' at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, he was arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income tax evasion. On 23 March 1976, the special prosecutor Anders Nordenadler dropped the charges against Bergman, saying that the alleged crime had no legal basis. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the humiliation and was hospitalised in a state of deep depression.
Despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, Bergman vowed never to work in Sweden again. He went into self-imposed exile in Munich, Germany. His next film, The Serpent's Egg (1977) was a German-U.S. production. This was followed by a British-Norwegian co-production, Höstsonaten/Autumn Sonata (1978) starring Ingrid Bergman, and Aus dem Leben der Marionetten/From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) which was a British-German co-production.
In 1977 he received the Swedish Academy of Letters Great Gold Medal, and in the following year, the Swedish Film Institute established a prize for excellence in filmmaking in his name. He temporarily returned to his homeland to direct Fanny och Alexander/Fanny and Alexander (1982), in which the fortunes and misfortunes of a wealthy theatrical family in turn-of-the-century Sweden are portrayed through the eyes of a young boy. The film earned an Academy Award for best foreign film. In 1991 Bergman received the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale prize for theatre/film.
Bergman also directed a number of television films, notably the critically acclaimed Saraband (2003), directed by Bergman when he was 84 years old. It featured the main characters from Scenes from a Marriage, and the film received a theatrical release. In addition, he wrote several novels, including 'Söndagsbarn' (1993; Sunday’s Children) and 'Enskilda samtal' (1996; Private Confessions), that were made into films. His memoir, 'Laterna magica' (The Magic Lantern), was published in 1987.
French postcard fort the French DVD release by Dark Star / Carlotta. Photo: AV Svenska Film Industr. Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann in Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman, 1973).
The original trailer in high definition of Höstsonaten/Autumn Sonata (1978), starring Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, and Lena Nyman. Source: HD Retro Trailers.
Creating an abstract drama of human relationships
In 2007, Ingmar Bergman died peacefully in his sleep on the island of Fårö. He was 89. Bergman had been married five times: to choreographer and dancer Else Fisher (1943-1945), to choreographer and film director Ellen Lundström (1945-1950), to journalist Gun Grut (1951-1959), to concert pianist Käbi Laretei (1959-1969), and to Ingrid von Rosen (1971-1995). The first four marriages ended in divorce, while the last ended when his wife Ingrid died of stomach cancer in 1995, aged 65. Aside from his marriages, Bergman had romantic relationships with actresses Harriet Andersson (1952-1955), Bibi Andersson (1955-1959), and Liv Ullmann (1965-1970). He had nine children.
After Ingmar Bergman died, a large archive of notes was donated to the Swedish Film Institute. Bergman established a worldwide reputation for writing and directing films that, in an unmistakably individual style, examine the issues of morality by exploring human relationships, with others and with God. His work and the worldwide vogue it enjoyed in the late 1950s and early 1960s introduced many people for the first time to the idea of the total filmmaker, the writer-director who throughout a sizable body of work used the medium of film to express his own ideas and perceptions, with as much ease and conviction as artists in earlier generations used the novel or the symphony or the fresco.
The immense international popularity of his films tended to ensure that Bergman’s picture of Sweden and the Swedish temperament was the first and often the only impression received by the outside world. When other Swedish films seem to present much the same image, it is usually because the influence of Bergman on his Swedish colleagues was so pervasive rather than because his highly personal vision should be taken as an objectively true portrait of his country.
Jason Ankeny at AllMovie: "Ingmar Bergman radically altered the nature and meaning of the motion-picture form, transfiguring a medium long devoted to spectacle into an art capable of profoundly personal meditations into the myriad struggles facing the psyche and the soul."
John Russell Taylor: "Bergman’s anguished appraisal of the human situation lost nothing of its intensity through the years. Rather, he progressively stripped away the distracting decorations in his films to create an abstract drama of human relationships, with others and perhaps with God (if God exists). He dealt with the human attempt to define one’s own personality by the removal of masks to see if there is a face underneath. The images of the creator as an actor and the creator as a magician recur throughout Bergman’s work. He himself embodied elements of both the thinker and the actor, the preacher and the charlatan. In Bergman, they all fused to create an artist of great force and individuality whose work is always unmistakably his own."
The original trailer in high definition of Fanny och Alexander/Fanny and Alexander (1982), starring Bertil Guve, Pernilla Allwin, and Kristina Adolphson. Source: HD Retro Trailers.
Sources: John Russell Taylor (Britannica), Jason Ankeny (AllMovie), Wikipedia, and IMDb.