Farewell Bergman

Originally posted on July 30, 2007

“These lines indicate that Bergman is beginning to formulate what will be recognized later as the overriding philosophy of his middle period: that there are brief instances in life that are of such exquisite beauty that they compensate for all the misery and unhappiness.”

— Peter Cowie, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography

I heard the news of Ingmar Bergman’s passing this morning and couldn’t help but cry. His films have changed my life and instilled in me a love for international cinema. I saw my first Bergman film at LACMA in 2000. My friend who took me warned me that PERSONA was a little cerebral but he thought I would enjoy the film. If only he knew that I would completely fall in love with the director at first viewing. I was fascinated by the movie and I wanted to see more of his work.

The next month, the New Bev played a double feature of PERSONA and THE HOUR OF THE WOLF. I caught the second showing of WOLF and it scared the hell out of me. It was the most frightening movie I had ever seen and my friend, Colin and I were so shaken by it- that we had to get coffee and relax before we drove home. Soon after, I started to borrow DVDs from the friend who first introduced me to Bergman. After seeing WILD STRAWBERRIES and THE SEVENTH SEAL, I decided that I wanted to see all of the movies that Bergman directed. I made a list of his filmography and planned to see each film in chronological order so I could see how his style developed and themes that he explored.

Luckily, Rocket Video on La Brea had an entire section of his films and every other Friday for a year, I would get take out after work and rent two Bergman films. One of his first films, SUMMER INTERLUDE still remains my favorite. It’s a beautiful film of hope and love but it also contains the dark introspective themes shown in all of his movies. A ballerina is forced to look into a mirror and confront her inner demons and by doing this, she overcomes the fears that are keeping her from finding true love and happiness again.

What makes Bergman films extraordinary is his complex characters. They express emotions and feelings in ways that we often are too scared or inhibited to do. They speak to siblings, family, wives, husbands, clergy and strangers with unflinching raw emotion and often times, brutal honesty. These characters also question their life, religion, love and own mortality. They shock us, frighten us, touch us and move us. I’ve never had a director so consistently challenge me or open up his soul to his audience so easily.

Bergman even got me to pick up a pen again. I hadn’t written a short story since high school and his films inspired me to write two stories in my late twenties. The first was a novella named “Melatonin” about a broken soul named Simon who felt connected to Bergman but not to anyone else. The story opened at the New Beverly as he watched PERSONA for the last time. He wished he could communicate like a Bergman character and recalled how the heroine in PORT OF CALL scrawled the word “ensam” meaning alone with lipstick on her bedroom mirror. My second story was published and was titled, “Life in a Glass House.” I had several nods to Bergman in this tragic story including naming the town the protagonist lived in after Bergman’s residence, the island of Faro and naming a candy bar that was in a pivotal scene a “Malmo Bar” after the city theatre Bergman managed and directed in the 1950s.

I’ve managed to see 41 films Bergman has directed to date. There are still a few that I am searching for but I’m not looking too hard because I like to know there are still a few films out there that I’ll experience for the first time. I did get the opportunity to see a first run Bergman film in my lifetime when I saw an advanced screening of SARABAND in 2005. I had the honor of being the first to clap when the credits rolled and having Bergman fans around me join me in their mutual admiration.

Ingmar Bergman changed the landscape of filmmaking as we know it. We should all be grateful for the magic lantern that he received at age 9 in exchange for his toy soldiers. With it, he created his own world and later in his life, invited us in. And what a brilliant and remarkable world it was. Ingmar Bergman will be missed, but always remembered.

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