Movies

Ingmar Bergman, RIP

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The Swedish filmmaker and dramatist Ingmar Bergman, whose influence stretches from the art houses to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey and Last House on the Left, has died at age 89. His talent was formidable: His output includes such near-flawless films as Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, The Shame, and The Passion of Anna, to name just a few, and even his occasional misfires—The Touch, say, which may feature the most wooden performance of Elliot Gould's career—always seemed to have something in them to admire. He stopped making movies for theatrical release two decades ago, but continued to write and direct plays and telefilms until the end of his life, as well as writing scripts for other filmmakers.

Obligatory libertarian content: Most of Bergman's films were subsidized by the Swedish government, but his relationship with the local authorities wasn't always harmonious:

In 1976, during a rehearsal at the Royal Dramatic Theater, police came to take Bergman away for interrogation about tax evasion. The director, who had left all finances to be handled by a lawyer, was questioned for hours while his home was searched. When released, he was forbidden to leave the country.

The case caused an enormous uproar in the media and Bergman had a mental breakdown that sent him to hospital for over a month. He later was absolved of all accusations and in the end only had to pay some extra taxes.

In his autobiography he admitted to guilt in only one aspect: "I signed papers that I didn't read, even less understood."

The experience made him go into voluntary exile in Germany, to the embarrassment of the Swedish authorities. After nine years, he returned to Stockholm, his longtime base.

Since we were just discussing movie musicals, I'll wrap this up by recommending the man's version of The Magic Flute. It's the only Bergman movie I've seen that feels jolly.

NEXT: Isaac Singletary Update

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  1. Also note that talk show host Tom Snyder passed on today at age 71

  2. can you say “art house crap”?

  3. Woody Allen worships Bergman – today must be a tough day for Woody.

  4. Jesse,

    Does The Virgin Spring hold up alongside Last House on the Left and The Night Train Murders ?

    ( I mean in a horror/terror sense)

    I thank the Film Board of Canada for every David Cronenberg movie they fund.

  5. Cinematography Laszlo Kovacs died as well.
    DADDIO – you’re idiocy doesn’t even deserve well-meaning contempt.

  6. “your” that is.

  7. Good riddance, sez I.

  8. This sucks…Ingmar Bergman was an awesome director. I’ve never seen a movie of his that I didn’t like. He directed one of my absolute favorite movies, Fanny and Alexander. That movie is so amazingly good. I recommend it to everyone. He also had quite an ear for selecting great accompanying music soundtracks for his films, much like Stanley Kubrick. It’s very sad that he is gone; he is truly one of the few greatest directors.

  9. smacky: Yes F & A is really amazing. I love the way the whole mood just abruptly changes from whimsy, humor, joy, Baroque and color to dark, somber, cold, religious. The stepfather is one of the most loathsome characters in film.

  10. Yes P, good riddance. Bergman was worse than Hitler. I can understand why you would take such satisfaction in the death of such a horrible evil man.

  11. From the New York Times article, a quote from Ingmar Bergman about Fanny and Alexander:

    “Making ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was such a joy that I thought that feeling will never come back,” he told Ms. Kakutani. “I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn’t understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with ‘Fanny and Alexander’ was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.”

    “Fanny and Alexander” won four Oscars, including the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1984.

  12. My faves: F&A, Virgin Spring, 7th Seal, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Through a Glass Darkly. Still getting through his catalog. Just saw Smiles of a Summer Night for the first time not that long ago – also great. After watching a lot of his stuff it’s nice to curl up with DC Cab and some Russ Meyer.

  13. shockcorridor, I highly recommend you check out Passion of Anna next. It’s a great date movie!

  14. SIV: You could make the case that Bergman was an unrecognized horror director, thanks to movies like The Virgin Spring, Hour of the Wolf, even Persona and The Passion of Anna. I don’t know how the slasher flick fans would react to him — and I say that as someone who likes Last House on the Left — but The Virgin Spring is certainly an effective revenge movie as well as a compelling work of art.

  15. One man’s “mind-numbing, pretentious, self-congratulatory twaddle” could be another man’s “genius,” I suppose.

  16. I just recently bought the deluxe Criterion edition of Fanny and Alexander on eBay, complete with the 5-hour made-for-TV version of the film. I’m kind of angry, though, because the box was kind of beat up when I received it, and it was supposed to be new…I might be leaving the seller some negative feedback.

    I would like to get through Ingmar Bergman’s entire catalogue eventually. I liked Saraband, Bergman’s final production. I also loved Dreams. I think the only other films of his I’ve seen are Persona and Wild Strawberries, and I liked those, too.

  17. “mind-numbing, pretentious, self-congratulatory twaddle”
    Well I’d apply that to Oliver Stone, Darren Aronofsky, and the worst of the worst, Harmony “Gummo” Korine. I don’t necessarily see how believing that about Bergman necessitates a celebratory “good riddance” to a man’s death.

  18. smacky – Check out The 7th Seal. It’s probably his most iconic film, esp. the oft imitated chess with death scene (twister with death in bill and ted comes to mind of course!)

  19. who had left all finances to be handled by a lawyer

    Maybe if he’d read the papers, he would have noticed he was signing above Willie Nelson’s name.

  20. Bergman had some pretty keen insights into human relations, I think. I don’t think his films are empty or pretentious by any standards. His characters are pretty believable, sometimes uncomfortably so. Of course, there is some drama added for… dramatic…effect…, but welcome to cinema.

    shockcorridor,

    Yeah, I really need to see that. I know it’s probably his most well-known film.

  21. I think it’s just as easy to dismiss “art house” cinema with overbearing “keeping it real” flair as it is to pontificate beret-wearing style about its greatness.
    I love over the top artsy stuff especially the “greats” like Fellini and Kurosawa and also love the raunchy horror and T&A comedies of the 80s. Growing up near a 99 cent second run theater that never ID’d the kids – wow being 12 in 1982???!!!!! First Blood, Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D, Porky’s, Zapped, Easy Money, all those greats!

  22. “Sawdust and Tinsel” from 1953 and “The Magician” are my two favorites of his, the latter being one of my all time faves.

  23. I somehow feel compelled to admit that I have never seen a Bergmar film. Although I did see Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey.

    The Touch, say, which may feature the most wooden performance of Elliot Gould’s career

    Before you finalize your judgment, have you ever seen the 1980s horror film The Night Visitor? I did, and I kept thinking, “I cannot believe that an actual actor like Elliot Gould is in this piece of crap.” Apparently, neither could Gould — he delivers every line as if he is embarrassed to be there and can’t wait to pick up his check on the way out. He also conspicuously avoids eye contact with every other member of the cast.

  24. I haven’t seen The Night Visitor, Stevo. It’s possible he’s even worse in that one. But he really is just astonishingly bad in The Touch. After we saw it, some friends and I wondered whether Bergman just didn’t speak English well enough to realize how crappy Gould’s performance was.

  25. One artsy-fartsy director I could never stand was Antonioni. I know that L’Avventura is considered a masterpiece and I thought it was like a handful of sleeping pills put on film. The one thing he ever did I thought was cool was the ending scene in Zabriskie Point when an exploding refrigerator in slow motion ejects its contents to the tune of Careful With that Axe, Eugene.

  26. One wonders how far Bergman would have got without the subsidies and whether we would be talking about him today if he hadn’t had them. Is the notion that government subsidies have a role alongside the market a libertarian heresy of gargantuan proportions or just an inconvenient bit of truth the faithful can overlook?

  27. Edward:
    Good points to ponder, especially given what a brouhaha comes about when the issue of public funding of the arts comes up in the USA. American gothic moralists fetishizing Piss Christ and Mapplethorpe’s ass vs. talentless “performance artists” blubbering like they live in Iran crying censorship because their meal ticket gets yanked and they don’t have the dole to support their latest one-act spoken word piece about how Republicans oppress their genitals. Apparently the situation with film is similar in Japan. Kurosawa fought tooth and nail against the constraints of the one sanctioned studio monolith there.

  28. “Good riddance, sez I”
    What a cultural bellweather that P Brooks is, not to up to his standards of Die Hard 16 no doubt.
    I agree with Woody in Manhattan, Bergam was one of the few genuises we have. Had.

  29. shcokcorridor
    got a knot in your beret I see…btw 2 comments to get one insult off? you suck almost as much as that posuer Bergman…

  30. One wonders how far Bergman would have got without the subsidies and whether we would be talking about him today if he hadn’t had them. Is the notion that government subsidies have a role alongside the market a libertarian heresy of gargantuan proportions or just an inconvenient bit of truth the faithful can overlook?

    Naturally, we’ll never know for sure if Bergman would have gone far enough without state subsidies for us to know and appreciate him as we do. But even assuming he wouldn’t have, just as I drive on publicly supported roads and visit publicly supported parks, I’ll take whatever ill-gotten gifts state support of the arts has given. That doesn’t take away from the ill-gottenness of the gift as it’s simply unfair to make people pay for things they don’t want (for whatever reason), especially things for which the private sector is perfectly well suited and which are hardly necessary for a society’s survival and maintenance. Furthermore, for every state supported Ingmar Bergman, how many taxpayer supported artists are wastes of that taxpayer money, and how many artists don’t get far at all because of either crippling tax burdens or because of being squeezed out by less deserving state sanctioned artists? Acknowledged, there are readily available counter-arguments to each of these points, and we could go back and forth on them forever if we so desire. Point is, libertarians needn’t “overlook” the “role” of state support of the arts in order to appreciate an artist who benefited from such support.

  31. edward,

    When art is subsidized the money is confiscated frompeople who want to use it for other things. It might be their beer money, or it might be the money they’d use to go to school, or start a business, or build a new house.

    Thus, Berman’s cool films came at a cost of something even cooler, what people wanted even more than a Bergman film but weren’t permitted to buy.

  32. Daddio – go buy a dick..

  33. At least Ingmar Bergman made movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting.

    But, seriously folks, sad news. I love Through a Glass Darkly and Hour of the Wolf.

  34. and while we’re criticizing the trivial, Daddio, the word is “poseur” not “posuer,” you useless douche.

  35. Tarran

    What people–presumably only Swedes in this context–weren’t able to buy with the money that went to Bergman in subsidies–would be impossible to calculate. Then there’s all the money that was made by theaters that sold his films. Successful economies (ours, for example) are mixed economies with both private enterprise and government making contributions. Why would any sensible person want to experiment with a radical departure from this successful formula? The communists tried it by nationalizing everything, and it was a disaster. Who can say with certainty that privatizing everything wouldn’t also be a disaster?

  36. Edward,

    I ate a banana for breakfast the other day. It was a good day.

  37. It was a good day.

    I fucked around and shot a triple-double.

  38. Gee, Edward, while we’re at it, why don’t we subsidize the one true church? After all, the arts and transportation are just about our wordly well-being. Religion’s about our immortal souls.

    Don’t know what the one true church is, you say? What makes you think anyone knows what films are good for someone else any better?

  39. Isaac

    Subsidies seem to work well for some things, but it doesn’t follow that we have to subsidize everything. Was anybody demonstrably harmed by the subsidies that went to Bergman?

  40. Regarding his funding, Bergman was by definition a parasite, albeit a talented one. You could mitigate that somewhat by saying he gave back something in return, making his work less parasitic and more symbiotic. But that only works if a lot of Swedes benefited from his efforts. And who among us can complain if Sweden as a whole cheerfully funded his work? No skin off my ass.

  41. The Magician, Seventh Seal (a great wildlife film), and Smiles (which was later made into Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music”) all my faves. F&A also transporting.

  42. What people–presumably only Swedes in this context–weren’t able to buy with the money that went to Bergman in subsidies–would be impossible to calculate.

    But what is certain is that the things they couldn’t buy with the money that went to Bergman were things that they wanted. And for all those who wouldn’t have given their money to Bergman voluntarily in lieu of being taxed to do so, they were things they would have preferred spending their money on rather than giving it to Bergman. This requires no complicated calculation or speculation.

    If you think freedom and capitalism do not have the track record that state socialism had before 1917, you read history differently than I do.

  43. Talk about coming in Threes:

    Bill Walsh dies at 75; led 49ers to three Super Bowl titles

    http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2954719

  44. Shockcorridor
    oh my God a typo…having a little hissy are we?..you didn’t seem to mind that I misspelled your online name (didn’t see that one did you, ufm…don’t need another dick or a douche, I’ve got you…babe

  45. The Swedish voters are the ones who voted for the political system that chose to subsidize a national cinema and Ingmar Bergman. They will have to live with this terrible legacy of coerced deprivation of freedom and property for the rest of their lives, and periodic rebroadcasts of Fanny and Alexander and Scenes of a Marriage will be a constant reminder of their dark crimes against the unwilling minority. The films of Ingmar Bergman are like blood on their freckled arms, tanned faces and flaxen hair, and they alone will be held accountable when their grandchildren ask: “why? why did pursue such an atrocious regime of redistribution and cultural tyranny?”

  46. Dadio…name…address…leave it…show up…your ass turned into cabbage…you sniveling little pussy-ass piece of turd on a stick. replace the excuse for a dick you left in an altar boy’s ass with one that works.

  47. Funny how self-professed libertarians scream like crazy about subsidies to movie directors but remain conspiciously silent about the biggest governmental subsidy of all, that of to the military sector.

    If “taxation is theft”, there’s a heck of a lot more of my tax money going to over-priced pieces of military equipment and idiotic adventures like the whole Iraq FUBAR than what’s going to “public art” poseurs, thank you very much.

  48. Yeah, it sure is funny how libertarians never complain about overspending on the military, or about the war in Iraq.

    Welcome to H&R, “grumpy realist”! I assume this is your first visit, obviously. Just FYI, you may want to pick a different handle, because someone else who has been here awhile is already known by that name.

  49. “What a cultural bellweather that P Brooks is, not to up to his standards of Die Hard 16 no doubt.”

    The first twenty minutes of You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man knocks the slats out of any/every movie Bergman was ever associated with.

  50. Funny how self-professed libertarians scream like crazy about subsidies to movie directors

    The only person here who’s screaming like crazy about that is Edward, and he’s no libertarian; he just likes to bait us.

    On another subject, it’s interesting that the Bergman-bashers on this thread don’t seem to have any specific criticisms of his work. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think they’ve even mentioned any of his films by name. It may be fun to mock the pseudo-intellectual who praises a movie without understanding it, but he’s no worse than the anti-intellectual who dismisses a movie without trying to understand it.

  51. I was screaming about subsidies?? I thought I was defending them. Geez, where’s the baiting in that?

  52. Yes, you were defending them. But before you started going on about them, no one else was discussing the subject. And while the people who have weighed in since you have made the standard libertarian arguments against subsidies of any kind, few if any have faulted Bergman himself for working within the film production system that had emerged in his own country. You’re the one who seems to think there’s a choice between libertarianism and Bergman movies.

  53. I’m curious (yellow:), Jesse, but does any one here actually know how extensive Swedish subsidies to the cinema are or were (especially in Bergman’s heyday)?

    Or do people like Edward or grumpy realist think that just because Sweden is a “socialist” paradise (even though it’s actually a capitalist country with a mixed economy and an extensive welfare state – but it’s only purists like me who make that distinction) it subsidizes everything in sight?

    Furthermore do they doubt Bergman’s talent so much that they do not believe that he would not have thrived without subsidies?

  54. For the record, I have seen several of Bergman’s films, which have all oozed into a single amorphous grey blob of regret. The single unifying recollection I have is that of unmitigated tedium, and my desperate wish to be somewhere else. I have no recollection of plot or tale, no character development, no conflict, no revelation. Merely carefully crafted tableaux in murky black and white; close-ups of wistful faces, rough-hewn interiors and waterfowl.

    I would trade you the Director’s Cut Collection (with Detailed Explicative Narration by the Great Impresario) of Ingmar Bergman’s Entire Fabulous Portfolio for three minutes of The Fatal Glass of Beer.

  55. Shock, Shaock, Shock
    Like I’m in actual physical danger from someone who elevates Bergman to the artistic hieghts…I’m more in danger from a troop of girl scouts (who no doubt have more talent in their little fingers…well you get the idea) I quess only a no talent sweedish hack could enlist such devotion in an ameboid like you. btw… ufm = you fucking moron

  56. Jesse

    Claiming that there is a choice between libertarianism and Bergman’s films would be absurd. Bergman’s films actually exist in the real world. Libertarianism is merely a political philosophy/ideology whose program has never been fully implemented anywhere. The only sense in which one could choose libertarianism over a Bergman film would be to read a book or listen to a lecture about libertarianism instead of watching the film. Whether subsidies are always bad, as libertarians claim, seems like a reasonable discussion in this context. I guess not.

  57. Addendum: In any case, didn’t you raise the question of subsidies in the post?

    “Obligatory libertarian content: Most of Bergman’s films were subsidized by the Swedish government, but his relationship with the local authorities wasn’t always harmonious.”

  58. Anyway, I must second fyodor’s recommendation of The Magician – amazing film.

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