How much of the visual composition would you attribute to cinematographer Sven Nykvist?
The cameraman is ultimately responsible for the picture. You can see this very well in the documentary by Bergman’s friend Stig Björkman. Bergman often looks through the camera and wants to know what the image looks like, but the final composition, the light, the focus, that of course comes from Sven Nykvist, or – in the earlier films – from Gunnar Fischer. With this type of close collaboration, you are often only as good as the team you’re in and you see the result in the films themselves.
If I understand correctly, Stig Björkman’s documentaries are less snapshots and more the result of a long process of accompaniment.
Björkman observed Bergman’s work as a companion over a long period of time. He documented the preparation and the filming of Beröringen (The Touch) and shot long interview sequences with Bergman, which can be seen in Ingmar Bergman (Stig Björkman, 1970-72). In 2009 and 2010 he made Bilder från lekstugan (Images from the Playground) and ...men filmen är min älskarinnad (... but Film is My Mistress). These two compilations are based on the extensive “behind the scenes” footage that Bergman and his team captured over many years with 9.5mm and 16mm cameras during shoots. Due to the extraordinary proximity, these recordings were made amidst a very free environment and are often suggestive of home movies – very different to today’s “making of” productions, which are normally under the control of the production company. Bergman even sometimes used this material to advertise his films – we’ll be showing some examples of this in the Retrospective. With the support of the World Cinema Foundation the material could be restored, making Björkman’s compilation films available to a broad audience for the first time.
There is little doubt of Ingmar Bergman’s positioning in European cinema. Do you see tendencies that point beyond this horizon?
I believe that he is, in fact, a very European filmmaker, especially in the way that certain theatrical, literary and artistic motifs mark his films. But he is a European filmmaker who, not without reason, was nominated for the Oscar several times and won it twice. Nevertheless, he always kept a certain distance between himself and American cinema. He probed the US market through his American agent, but he was never guaranteed artistic freedom – an absolute precondition for his work - in any of the projects that were offered to him.
Creative centre, economical working methods
With regard to American cinema, economics come to mind. On the one hand, Bergman was able to do what he wanted as an auteur relatively early on. On the other hand, he never had an especially large production budget for any of his films. Does the secret of his cinema perhaps lie in sparseness, with regards to both style and finances?
Bergman made his first films for Svensk Filmindustri and more than 30 of his roughly 40 cinema productions were produced or co-produced by them. The artistic consultant for his first two works there, Hets (script and assistant director) and Kris (Crisis) was Victor Sjöström. The great silent movie director influenced and supported Bergman and even acted in two of his later films: in Till glädje (To Joy) and in Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries). The cooperation with Svensk Filmindustri didn’t always run smoothly and especially in the early years, several different production companies backed Bergman’s films. Fundamentally, however, Bergman was always THE creative centre of films for his entire career and that is naturally a privileged position that not many filmmakers experience. This question is perhaps more important than that of production budgets. Anyhow, Bergman’s working style was surely very economical, because he never wanted to add anything to what he did. His camera movements are the camera movements that he wanted to do, and they were never supposed to spice up the subject. He didn’t have to shoot an endless number of takes or shoot the same scene from many different angles. None of that interested him. He was always very close to the core of his story and wanted to show it.
From the late 1970s, Bergman was co-producer of his own films with his company Cinematograph. With Cinematograph he produced his only two documentaries: Fårö-dokument (1969) and Fårö-dokument 1979. Both of these films about the residents of the Fårö Islands are a loving homage and at the same time a critical look to life on an isolated island that was Bergman’s chosen home for many years. Ingmar Bergman as a documentary maker was a real discovery for us.
What did the young film critics and later Nouvelle Vague directors mean with their description of Bergman as “The classic of the Modern”?
When the Nouvelle Vague began, Bergman had already brought home his first awards, at all three big festivals in Cannes, Venice and Berlin, where he received the Golden Bear as his first really big prize for Wild Strawberries. When these young film enthusiasts prepared to tear from its foundations the ‘quality cinema’ of the era – the sedate, conventional and endlessly serious films -, Bergman had already completed this revolution for himself within in a very different context. For this reason, he could also continue in the same way, relatively unchallenged by the upheaval, and didn’t have to change his way of making films. Through his films he won great respect, especially amongst these rebels who loved and admired his work.
Looking back, one can say, without hesitation, that Bergman belongs to the great artists of the 20th Century, that he is, in this sense, a ‘classic of the Modern’.