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Overview for Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman


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Also Known As: Buntel Eriksson,Ernst Ingmar Bergman Died: July 30, 2007
Born: July 14, 1918 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Sweden Profession: Writer ... director screenwriter playwright actor producer


As one of the most accomplished and influential directors of all time, Ingmar Bergman charted an unparalleled career in film and television, while also staging numerous theatrical productions throughout the decades. Bergman's artistry concentrated on spiritual and psychological conflicts that were complemented by a distinctly intense and intimate visual style. As he matured as an artist, however, Bergman shifted from an allegorical to a more personal cinema, often revisiting and elaborating on recurring images, subjects and techniques. He spent the first part of his career struggling to find his voice before hitting the mark with "Summer with Monika" (1955), and earned international acclaim for "The Seventh Seal" (1957) and "Wild Strawberries" (1957), both of which delved deeply into religious motifs. Bergman went on to direct a number of stunning works during the 1960s, including The Virgin Spring" (1960), "Through a Glass Darkly" (1961) and "Persona" (1966). Already acknowledged as one of the masters of cinema, Bergman was at the height of his powers in the following decade with masterpieces like in "Cries and Whispers" (1973), only to suffer humiliation and a nervous breakdown following a wrongful arrest for tax evasion 1976, which he felt greatly damaged his career. Still, Bergman went on to further greatness and retired from feature filmmaking after the autobiographical "Fanny and Alexander" (1982), though he continued to be active in television and the theater for the next 20 years until his death in 2007, which marked the end of a remarkable career as a true auteur.

Born on July 14, 1918 in Uppsala, Sweden, Bergman was raised in a devout Lutheran home by his father, Erik, a minister and later chaplain to the King of Sweden who had strict parenting techniques, and his mother, Karin, a homemaker. He became enamored with the theater at a young age after seeing his first stage production, and built a puppet playhouse complete with revolving stage and elaborate lighting system. Bergman attended Palgrem's School before studying history and literature at the University of Stockholm, though he did not complete his degree due to his directing student and amateur theater groups. In fact, he made his amateur stage directing debut with a production of "Outward Bound" (1938), while the following year he was hired as a production assistant at the Stockholm Opera. In 1940, he broke with his strict parents and left school to pursue his artistic ambitions. He was given the opportunity to direct one of his own scripts, "Caspar's Death" (1942), for the stage, which led to the beginnings of his film career working in the script department of Svensk Filmindustri.

Bergman made his screenwriting debut with director Alf Sjoberg's tragic melodrama "Torment" (1944), while that same year he was hired on as the director of the Helsingborg Town Theatre. Two years later, he was granted his first opportunity to direct with "Kris" ("Crisis") (1946), an adaptation of a play by Dane Leck Fischer that laid the foundation for his later stylings while helping to launch his directing career. That same year, he made his radio debut as a writer and director with an adaptation of "Requiem" (1946) and proceeded to make a number of pictures that could be classified as his apprenticeship films, where he visibly struggled to master the medium, honing his craft, developing his trademarks and introducing themes of morality, loneliness and faith that he would explore in greater detail in later masterpieces. After such noteworthy early efforts as "Music in Darkness" (1948), "Port of Call" (1948) and "Summer Interlude" (1951), Bergman directed his first truly great film "Summer with Monika" (1955), a heartbreaking tale of adolescent love thwarted by the realities of adult life.

With "Smiles of a Summer Night" (1955), Bergman entered into a period of international recognition which saw him experimenting and solidifying his technical prowess. "Smiles of a Summer Night" was an ironic comedy that examines sexual frustration, lost loves and debasement that broke through internationally after its debut at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival. Two year later, he won his greatest acclaim with "The Seventh Seal" (1957), a medieval allegory in which disillusioned knight (Max von Sydow) plays chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) during a time Europe is being ravaged by the plague. Drawn from the pages of the Book of Revelation, the film plays upon the theme of the "silence of God," as referenced by one of the book's passages, and commenced a series of movies where Bergman dealt with the problems of religious faith. A winner of the Grand Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival, "The Seventh Seal" was a spellbinding classic that featured a silhouetted long shot of Death leading a group of peasants across the horizon - one of the most famous images in modern cinema.

Bergman followed up with the journey narrative "Wild Strawberries" (1957), considered one of his masterworks. Following the events of a day in the life of an aging professor (Victor Sjostrom), Bergman's film was a model of fluidity, with flashbacks and dream sequences that created a penetrating investigation of life and death, emphasizing the relationships between desire, loss and guilt contrasted with compassion and restitution. Bergman's intent was to make "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries" as a kind of thematic companion piece, stating that he wanted to explore how an individual may find peace and clarity of soul through careful consideration of the past and the present. Bergman further explored religion symbolically in "The Magician" (1958) and overtly in "The Virgin Spring" (1960), the latter earning him an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. The former starred Max Von Sydow as a Christ-like occultist who appears to die and is resurrected. The latter set in the Middle Ages, depicts the rape and murder of a virginal maiden and the avenging of the crime by her father. God speaks to the farmer through a miraculous spring of water that spouts when the dead girl's body is moved.

Bergman gradually moved to a more intimate chamber style of filmmaking as the 1960s progressed, beginning with a trilogy that intensely examined psychological and spiritual themes: "Through a Glass Darkly" (1961), in which love proves to be a virtue and is an example of God's presence; the film earned him a consecutive Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Meanwhile, "Winter Light" (1962), depicted a pastor's disconnection to both his faith and those around him, and "The Silence" (1963), which depicted a world without love and therefore without God. Over the next decade, Bergman moved to a deeper probing of the human psyche and a closer examination of male-female relationships. "Persona" (1966) was the first of his great films that examined how individuals play roles in their lives. By using actors or artists at the core of the story, he demonstrated his belief that there is a harrowing separateness between people, even in the most private relationships. With "Hour of the Wolf" (1968), Bergman showed a painter (von Sydow) gradually descending into madness despite or because of those around him, while "Shame" (1968) depicted the breakdown of a marriage between a musician (von Sydow) and his wife (Liv Ullmann) as war rages around them.

Bergman further explored the same themes on a grander scale in "The Ritual" ("The Rite") (1969), an oft-misinterpreted drama that played upon the theme of what society deems as being obscene. Meanwhile, the 1970s saw Bergman at the height of his powers, beginning with "The Passion of Anna" (1970) and culminating in "Cries and Whispers" (1973), a Gothic period piece revolving around three sisters, one of whom is dying. Bergman's masterwork earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. He returned to exploring the relations between the sexes in the superb six-part TV drama "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973), which was later edited for theatrical release, a well-acted film depicting in a straightforward manner the disintegration of a seemingly perfect marriage. An anomaly for the period was his excellent rendering of Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute" (1975), which he followed with "Face to Face" (1976), another television drama reshaped for theatrical release that followed the psychological disintegration of a therapist who is driven to attempt suicide.

Just when he was in the midst of a high level of creativity, Bergman ran into serious personal trouble that nearly derailed his career permanently. On Jan. 30, 1976, while rehearsing "Dance of Death" for the Royal Dramatic Theatre, Bergman was arrested on charges of tax evasion that stemmed from a six-year-old transaction involving 500,000 Swedish kronor used to pay his actors. Humiliated to the point of depression, Bergman suffered a nervous breakdown that necessitated a stay in hospital. Though the charges were soon dropped, the director nonetheless vowed never to film in Sweden again. He shuttered his production company, suspended film projects and moved to Munich, Germany, despite pleas from public officials asking him to stay. Though he resumed work almost immediately, Bergman still felt that he lost a great deal of creative energy from the ordeal. He helmed his first English-language film, the flawed melodrama "The Serpent's Egg" (1977), before returning to surer ground with "The Autumn Sonata" (1978), a chamber piece about a woman (Ullmann) and her neglectful pianist mother (Ingrid Bergman), and a gem-like character study of an artist who could not love.

In 1982, Bergman announced his intention to retire and his last feature - which was actually intended for Swedish TV - was the autobiographical "Fanny and Alexander," perhaps the director's most personal film. Infused with memories of his own childhood, the film depicted two children suffering the loss of their father and forced to contend with their cold and distant new stepfather. Once again he found himself in Oscar contention with nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Though technically retired from features, Bergman remained busy directing for the stage and the small screen. He helmed a number of projects for Swedish television like "After the Rehearsal" (1983) and "The Blessed Ones" (1986), before publishing his memoirs The Magic Lantern (1987). After winning an OBIE Award for directing an adaptation of "Hamlet" (1989), he staged a Royal Dramatic Theatre production of "Miss Julie" (1991) starring Lena Olin, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He next wrote the screenplay for the autobiographical drama "Sunday's Children" (1992), directed by his son, Daniel, whom he fathered with fourth wife, pianist Kabi Laretei.

Bergman began to slow down later in the decade, focusing much of his attention on writing while ultimately retiring from the theater in 1995. He wrote the teleplay for "The Last Scream" (1994) and scripted the feature "In the Presence of a Clown" (1998), which was shown at that year's Cannes Film Festival. He went on to pen the script for "Faithless" (2001), which was directed by longtime Bergman actress, Liv Ullmann, and directed his last television work, "Saraband" (2003), before retiring from filmmaking altogether. Bergman spent his retirement living in relative quiet, though a hip surgery in 2006 presented a number of health problems. He later died of natural causes in his sleep on Aug. 18, 2007, the same day that another pioneering filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni, also passed. Bergman was 89 years old and left behind a legacy that influenced many great directors throughout the world, including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Stanley Kubrick, Ang Lee, Pedro Almodovar and Steven Spielberg.

By Shawn Dwyer

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