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Artists pay tribute to Bergman

Ingmar Bergman, 1918 - 2007

WEB EXCLUSIVE -- UPDATED 8/2/07: Roger Ebert has received these e-mail observations about the death of Ingmar Bergman:


Studs Terkel, author: Ingmar Bergman had an audience of one aside from himself. The one he always sang about was you. Or me. His was one symphony with slight variations -- from childhood to old age. (My favorite is obviously "Wild Strawberries," aging with considerable awkwardness, and I hope some slight honor.) The two warriors have always been life and death, who had deep respect for one another. There is no death unless there is life; otherwise you never die because you have never lived."

Paul Cox, director:

A note in the paper. Ingmar Berman has died. The man who shaped and nourished my deeper thoughts, feeling and hopes. The artist who illuminated my dreams. Ingmar Bergman, the magician! Master of the most powerful tool of self expression ever given to man. May his legacy NOT rest in peace. May his 'chess game with death' remain a symbol of hope. May his vision of our dark misconceptions of what it means to be human enlighten our troubled planet for all generations to come.

Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, director: Irreparable loss. No one around to take his place...ever. Hopefully he will take care of the future of cinema from the top! Saint Ingmar! Un Abrazo Fuerte!

Paul Schrader, director: Ingmar Bergman, more than any other director, showed that it was possible for a film director to be an introspective and serious artist in the commercial cinema. Bergman paved the road; the rest of us just road down it.

Richard Linklater, director: For an artist who contemplated what he called "the great mystery" probably more than any other, it's almost comforting to know he's now experienced it... or not experienced it, as he seemed to think quite possible.

Gregory Nava, director: When I was a young man in the late sixties - in high school -- I was first introduced to the films of Ingmar Bergman. It was at a funky art theater in La Jolla, called “The Unicorn” where one could drink espresso and read books to the sounds of Baroque music before going into the theater to see “foreign” movies. Quite an adventure for a Catholic school boy.

The films of Bergman struck me like a lightning bolt - I had never seen anything like them before, even the titles were like some kind of existential poetry -- “The Seventh Seal” -- “Wild Strawberries” -- “The Silence” (1963). Here were films that were not afraid to talk about the big questions - “Who are we?” “Where do we come from?” “Where are we going?” And I drank them up, like a thirsty man finding a crystal spring in the desert. My mind and my soul desperately needed what these films had to say. This was not the escapist fare of Hollywood, or the pat spirituality of Biblical epic films where God spoke in hallowed tones from a burning bush. With Bergman, God was a spider that lived in the upstairs closet! A shocking and necessary jolt to my Catholic sensibilities.

Yes, these films changed me forever -- they cemented my dream to become a filmmaker because if film could do this -- then surely it was the greatest art form of our time. I will never forget the first time I saw the horses standing in the surf against a setting sun, and death with his black cape raised approaching the world weary knight.

He was a giant in a time of giants -- Kurosawa, Fellini -- giants like we don't have anymore. You don't realize how unique and important he really was until there is another generation and another and there are no Bergmans. No giants. Now he's gone.

David Mamet, playwright and director: When I was young the World Theatre, in Chicago, staged an all-day Ingmar Bergman Festival. I went at ten o'clock in the morning, and stayed all day. When I left the theater it was still light, but my soul was dark, and I did not sleep for years afterwards.

Guy Maddin, director: A very sad day. I subconsciously thought that guy would live for ever. Even though he's dead now he must still be perceptibly animated somehow by his unkillable Swedish lust and dread. Someone from the CBC left a message for me today asking for a comment on the death of -- then static came and it sounded like she said "Burton" and I thought maybe Richard Burton had died, again, or Canadian game show icon Pierre Burton had died, again, and then I realized they were asking me about Tim Burton, which they weren't of course. So I was especially surprised by this change-up when it turned out to be Bergman. Or was it Shelley Berman? Woe!

Haskell Wexler, cinematographer: I never had the honor of meeting Ingmar Bergman: I was good friends with Sven Nykvist who told me stories about Bergman. They sat in a big old church from very early in the morning until as black as the night gets. They noted where the light moved thru the stain glass windows. Bergman planned where he would stage the scenes for a picture they were about to do. This had the practical advantage of minimizing light and generator costs. Sven said sitting alone with Ingmar in the church had a profound effect on him. I asked him if it made him more religious. He said he didn’t think so but it did give him some kind of spiritual connection to Ingmar which helped him deal with the times Bergman became very mean. On “Days Of Heaven” we had long beautiful mystic hours because of the northern latitudes. We called it Bergman light because of that long extended Swedish latitude and the many hours of Mystic Light.

David Gordon Green, director: Bergman was one of the greatest psychological poets ever. Plumbed the subconscious and put it up on screen like a dream. A true master of sound as well. Plus all those good-lookin' Swedish babes. He was a lion, truly fearless and totally in control, totally committed.

Paul Theroux, author: Bergman. As a high school student, I was bewitched for the first time by nudity, mystery, magic, and the somber tones of remote country which was an indication to me that Medford Massachusetts was not the world.

Sally Potter, director: Bergman understood the relationship between metaphysics and psychology and found a way of expressing the relationship between the two through his intense imagery. His background in theatre meant that performance was always at the centre of his work. He wanted to go deep into the human psyche and explore the dark and light of the soul. His long term collaboration with Sven Nykvist enabled this dynamic to manifest as extreme use of daylight and deep shadow on film. Living and working on the island of Faro also protected him. He was able to be an island in a sense, never let go of his integrity. He was a rock in the wild sea of commercial cinema; with his film "Persona," which he said saved his life, he explored what it might mean to lose the possibility of speech and descend into nothingness. His portrait of the merging identity of nurse and patient was also a comment on the artists' life. Who is the healer and who are the healed? He always wanted to get behind the façade, the appearance of things, down to the essential struggle to survive: for a filmmaker this meant needing to remember the nature of illusion, including the vanities and illusions of the film world itself. A kind of moral Puritanism, a product of his Lutheran upbringing, went hand in hand with an open observation of the body, its fragility and beauty. The emotional vulnerability which he experienced personally was mostly was expressed through his female characters, each of whom was also a portrait of human complexity. (More at .)

David Bordwell, film critic, historian and teacher: Historically, Bergman fulfilled several missions. His work remind people of the greatness of the Swedish film tradition. He convinced intellectuals of the 1950s and 1960s that cinema could pose complex problems of morality and theology. More than Fellini or even Antonioni, Bergman gave cinema a cultural cachet.

Just as important, the work spoke to everyone. In a prolific but fluctuating career, Bergman made such a variety of films that there was something for everyone to enjoy. My own favorites were, at first, the early films like "Summer Interlude" and "Monika" (in America, "Monika: Story of a Bad Girl," which supplied an immediate reason to see it). I was impressed, as everyone else was, with "The Naked Night,", "The Seventh Seal," and "The Virgin Spring," but I found myself admiring them rather coldly.

For me, the overwhelming work was "Persona.". I was around twenty when it was released in the US, and it gripped me from first to last. It was utterly of its moment, responding to the innovations of Godard and others; it reminded us of Bergman's roots in Strindberg and Expressionism; but it was also utterly original. Nobody had seen anything quite like "Persona" before, and even today it retains tremendous force. Who would dare something like it now?

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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