Often recognised as one of the most masterful, prolific and accomplished directors of all time, Ingmar Bergman is an auteur unlike any other in cinema history. He directed over 60 films during his career, writing almost all of them and dealt with themes such as death, illness, betrayal, faith, redemption, insanity and bleakness.
Yet amid all of those supposedly grim themes there was such a humanity to his movies, a sense that vital human emotions were being explored and displayed repeatedly to the tune of such brutal honesty that his movies can be described as disturbing just for what they imply about the human condition, for better or worse.
His name carries such a reputation and recognition with it that anyone who has yet to watch a Bergman film will naturally be skeptical, cautious of whether he can be nearly as amazing as everyone says he is. But in my opinion, he is even better than the praise that proceeds him.
His films are experimental, thriving, haunting, inspirational and surprisingly modern. Travelling through his filmography is not like ploughing into a museum of film history, they are immersive, beautifully crafted utterly relevant and endlessly compelling.
There are so many impeccable masterpieces within his career such as Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Persona, Cries and Whispers, Through a Glass Darkly, Fanny and Alexander and Scenes from a Marriage. But the next best thing to understand why Bergman means so much is to not just look at his films, it is to examine the number of filmmakers whom he has impacted.
Either through style, themes, tone or inspiration these filmmakers share a common influence that permeates their careers. Bergman’s effect on cinema is still keenly felt today due to these filmmakers and will undoubtedly continue to have an impact on generations to come.
1. Woody Allen
“Possibly the greatest artist since the invention of the camera” is what Allen said of Bergman. If one looks closely enough at Allen’s movies it is not hard to tell that he is a huge fan of Bergman’s career as he left dozens of small and subtle visual clues to Bergman, mimicking certain shot and paying homage to the visual style Bergman displayed with several of his films.
The most notable examples are the similarities between Allen’s Interiors and Cries and Whispers with their framing techniques, as well as Love and Death mimicking Persona’s overlapping faces shot. Allen’s one act play, Death Knocks, is even a farcical parody of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and when it came to providing Crimes and Misdemeanours with its emotionally identifiable aesthetic, Allen employed cinematographer Sven Nykvist, a frequent collaborator with Bergman.
Both filmmakers have utilised the same work ethic, with Allen and Bergman essentially making one film per year for their professional careers as directors. Additionally, both filmmakers have displayed variations of the same theme throughout their careers, meaning that while they offer different perspectives and outlooks with each film they are all centred on one broad theme.
For Bergman that could be the human condition, as his films were explorations of mortality, illness, human interaction and psychology. Allen meanwhile has also extensively explored the same theme throughout all of his movies concerning human relationships. F
rom Annie Hall to Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanours and Midnight in Paris, even Sleeper with the emphasis being a lack of relationships, Allen has never failed to find some kind of outlook on the way humans interact with each other and the absurdity of it, like a woman obsessed with life falling for a man obsessed with death.
Then there are the broader similarities such as their extensive use of female leads, writing them as strong, fully rounded and complex individuals. Not only that but they are both experts at exploring the female psyche, from their outlook on death and sisterhood from Cries and Whispers to the intertwined familial story of Hannah and Her Sisters.
When Bergman dies on July 30th 2007, almost every obituary and tribute paid some kind of reference to Woody Allen. It was no secret that Allen was a huge admirer and he even wrote a lengthy article for the New York Times concerning his reaction to the news of Bergman’s death in which he wrote “Bergman, the great cinematic poet of mortality, couldn’t prolong his own inevitable checkmate, and the finest filmmaker of my lifetime was gone”.
2. Francis Ford Coppola
Coppola is often cited as one of the most important filmmakers in the history of American cinema. Like Bergman he was fascinated by the potential for cinema to represent the human condition, he found ways to represent some of its most basic social conventions through the big screen from family to conflict and society.
With Wild Strawberries Bergman is not just reciting the story of an elderly man just as Coppola was not just conveying a tale of spies with The Conversation. Both have greater meanings concerning humanity and society around it as well as being superbly crafted character studies.
A common theory is that in one way or another, every Bergman film is semi-autobiographical (perhaps most prominently in Fanny and Alexander), representing an understanding of the material and a sense of empathy with it.
Coppola has also found huge success through an understanding of his source material. The Godfather’s portrayal of Italian American life was considered so compelling because Coppola himself was one, and held a profound understanding of their experience.
As for making his film socially relevant, Coppola made the characters admirable yet repulsive and having been released in a period of intense cynicism, this portrayal of immigrants struck a chord with the American psyche of dual identities. As opposed to an outsider’s perspective,
The Godfather’s viewpoint came from within and Coppola used this as a response to society’s corruption.
As well as this, both Bergman and Coppola frequently explored the darkest parts of the human soul. Cries and Whispers Bergman touches on aspects of pain and suffering that few other films have, but one of them might arguably be Apocalypse Now, an uncompromising descent into hell and madness.
But despite this endless amount of darkness neither director chose to shy away from the small inkling of hope, this is obvious even in Coppola’s less acclaimed movies such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
3. Todd Haynes
One of the leading artistic visionaries of modern filmmaking, Todd Haynes is known for subverting narrative structure and rarely dealing with the unambiguous. Hi films are just asking to be judges, deciphered and interpreted (anyone want to explain what Safe is about?) much like Bergman.
But the similarities hardly stop there. Haynes’ movies resonate with a transgressive and postmodernist audience more than most, as his films often deal with the issue of identity and sexuality, perhaps most prominently seen in his most recent film Carol.
Putting forward the notion that his films are predominantly about identity and sexuality, the comparisons to Bergman become more and more obvious.
Hayne is known remind the audience of the artificiality of film as a medium such as using Barbie dolls in the place of actors in Superstar, or having multiple actors play the role of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, most of whom look nothing like Dylan, but are there to represent his various personas at different stages of the musicians life.
Bergman utilised very similar methods, with Persona actually breaking apart halfway through, what starts as a structured narrative literally disintegrates (as the film reel itself burns up) into a wave of surrealism, repeated scenes and interpretative imagery.
Both Haynes and Bergman favour formalism over naturalism, often appropriating and reinventing cinematic styles, even when they are sticking to a naturalistic structure both directors will do the utmost to convey some sort of emotional imagery through the aesthetics of their films, from deep crimson representing violence and turmoil to layer of clothing that represent oppression and subjugation.
In the case of both directors their protagonists are customarily social outsiders whose subversive identity, trauma or sexuality pits them at odds with the received norms of their society.
Haynes used an entire section of I’m Not There as a reference to 1960s European arthouse movies, and Bergman has rarely been afraid to break social convention in a similar manner to him.
Despite not characterising himself as a gay filmmaker who makes gay films Haynes’ has become heavily associated with the New Queer Cinema movement and its work to both explore and redefine the contours of homosexual culture in America and beyond.
4. David Fincher
Working with the dark, disturbing and psychological, Fincher’s exploration of the most sadistic and gloomiest areas of the human psyche owes itself heavily to the way in which Bergman examined personality and its fragility. The most glaring parallel comes from Fight Club and Persona, they both examine the concept of split personalities (or at least, that’s one interpretation of Bergman’s movie).
If you stick with that interpretation then both movies undertake an exploration into a character that is unsatisfied with the world around them and in psychological terms are on the verge of collapse and escape into a prolonged interaction with (what may be) their dissociated personalities.
Then you examine the ways in which Bergman and Fincher played with the concept of film with each movie, utilizing subliminal imagery in a single frame, from the split second appearances of Tyler Durden to the crucifixes and spiders and anything else that Bergman added. Also, long before Tyler Durden started tampering with film reels,
Bergman used a remarkably similar technique in Persona to convey …. Whatever it was he wanted. In fact if you were to select a few films that are most open to interpretation, Fight Club and Persona are probably high on that list.
But as for the rest of their work, virtually everything that each director did has been impeccably stylish, unequivocally tenebrous and meticulously technical movies about damaged individuals, maintaining a consistent theme throughout, but occasionally dabbling in more fanciful projects. Their artwork is ridiculously deep and detailed, endlessly fascinating, intensely dark and always challenging.
5. Ang Lee
Few directors can transcend international lines as well as Bergman did, but out of all the filmmakers working today Ang Lee could be the one who has come closest. His films are all about characters uncovering their hidden and repressed emotions or desires (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain) and are endlessly humane.
Bergman’s films held similar themes, from a married couple gradually discovering they no longer love each other (Scenes from a Marriage) from a man coming to terms with who he really is through an existential crisis (Winter Light).
To say that both filmmakers craft emotionally charged movies is an understatement. In fact they are emotions that go beyond language and nationality to reach all corners of life and have an almost universal appeal to them.
Lee’s earliest films such as Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet examined the relationship and conflict between tradition and modernism, eastern and western. They all express the same humanistic values, a consistent and repeated theme executed with a new perspective and new views on them.
But at the same time, Bergman and Lee share a quality that few directors have, not only are they consistent with their themes, they are varied within their styles. From their restrained direction on films like Sense and Sensibility and The Virgin Spring to the more stylised ways in which they have wielded a camera from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Seventh Seal.
6. Steven Soderbergh
6. Steven Soderbergh
Having been dubbed as “the poster boy of the Sundance generation”, Soderbergh has always remained innovative and ground breaking with his directorial work. Like Bergman he not only varies the style and themes of his movies, but will delve into completely different genres of moviemaking itself from high profile studio films, independent features and multiple movies of an experimental nature.
His breakout film, Sex, Lie and Videotapes was a competitive and energised study of voyeurism, subjectivity, sexuality and objectivity in a world where the instruments of photographic representation thrive. It helped bring about the rise of independent cinema and garnered the worldwide attention to the American indie scene, which is intriguing as Bergman did the same for Scandinavian cinema in the 1950s.
Soderbergh uses his camera to describe the space, the location of his movies as well as the character’s state-of-mind, seemingly with the most subtle and effortless of manoeuvres. Traffic, Che and Scizopolis both draw influence from Bergman’s work through their use of nonlinear structure and morally ambiguous construction.
One of the films that best demonstrates Bergman’s influence on Soderbergh is one of his most underrated and divisive movies, The Girlfriend Experience. It is a film of human needs and desires, one that is strikingly crafted and utterly relentless with its specific focus on these subjects. The director himself has cited Bergman’s Cries and Whispers as a major influence on the project.
7. Martin Scorsese
“I guess I’d put it like this: if you were alive in the ’50s and the ’60s and of a certain age, a teenager on your way to becoming an adult, and you wanted to make films, I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman. You would have had to make a conscious effort, and even then, the influence would have snuck through.” That is what Scorsese said of Bergman and as one examine Scorsese’s movies in comparison to his it’s difficult to deny.
Scorsese undeniably ranks near the top of the greatest American filmmakers (or just filmmakers, period) but that relies on his own personal connection with the material he is directing. Bergman’s films were soaked within a sense of humanity because he cared about the subject, used aspects of his own life in the story to emphasise that personal connection with it.
As well as the aspects of his childhood reflected in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman essentially adapted his own existential crisis for the screen with Winter Light. One of Ingmar’s most intimate and autobiographical films, it deals harshly with personal elements of the director’s life and worldview.
Scorsese has undergone a similar process in terms of the films he directs. Scorsese’s body of work addresses such themes as Sicilian-American identity, Roman Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption, concepts that the director is personally familiar with and automatically resonates with.
But like Bergman it’s not just a case of creating a film that only appeals to the director, he translates those films and makes them accessible to millions. Guilt stands as maybe his most prominent theme and Catholicism role in dealing with it, appearing in Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Who’s that Knocking on My Door and The Departed.
But there are also the notions of redemption, crime and conflict as well as the repeated and subtle use of father figures. It is yet another example of a filmmaker using his talents to convey a common theme, not just making whatever story they want to, they take time to consider how their abilities as a director could attribute to the project and how it resonates with them.
8. David Lynch
By this point in his career David Lynch’s films have virtually made a habit out of disturbing, challenging or mystifying audiences. Bergman was often described as having a similar effect on audiences with his movies and both filmmakers are notorious for rarely ever approaching a subject in a single dimension. There are layers and layers of hidden subtext behind their films and if you’ll struggle to find directors whose films meanings are so consistently interpreted and debated over.
Lynch says that his work is more similar in many respects to those of European film makers than American ones, believing that most films that “get down and thrill your soul” were by European directors. Some critics have noted strong similarities between Lynch’s Mullholland Drive and Bergman’s The Hour of The Wolf.
Like Bergman Lynch has always relied on the subconscious to provide an emotional drive, his films are filled to the brim with motifs, recurrent characters, compositions, surreal imagery and innovative techniques that you could view his career starts to resemble a jigsaw puzzle of idea, waiting to be deciphered and discussed.
Lynch was an apt pupil of Bergman’s school of thought, leading him to develop a similar style applying multiple aspects of drama, comedy, and horror in his body of work. They can be described as thought provoking or soul stirring, which is not necessarily words one would use to describe films of such stark brutality. But as you look over the work of Bergman and Lynch, you may struggle to find a better way of describing their bodies of work.
9. Paul Schrader
Bergman was a director who deal with outsiders, people who were disconnected from the rest of society but wanted desperately to understand it. Paul Schrader’s career as a director has plenty of subtle nods to Bergman, but nowhere are the similarities more obvious than his script for the 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver.
Travis Bickle is a damaged human being, there is no simpler way of saying it. Bergman dealt with damaged people frequently in his films from the mental breakdowns of Persona to the physical and emotional turmoil endured by pretty much everyone in Cries and Whispers.
Not only that, but these protagonists are usually on a self-destructive path, seeking to harm themselves and those around them, for Travis Bickle, this destruction arises from his attempts to connect with the world around him, an act he cannot do because he has lost the ability to do so.
This is another trait of a Bergman character, one that has lost part of their humanity, rejecting to feel pain, empathy, memory. The aloneness that permeates Taxi Driver is one of the most haunting in cinema history, creating a portrait of an alienated man unable to establish normal relationships, becoming a loner and wanderer.
There are also so many undercurrents that you can sense without quite realising how, is it the subtlety of which they are added, the dot being connected within my own interpretation or just a figment of my imagination? I don’t know for sure, and I doubt I ever will but by the end of the film I know who Travis Bickle is, I have viewed his life in the most intimate way possible and the same can be aid for Bergman. I don’t know how exactly, but it just resonates perfectly.
10. Noah Baumbach
Baumbach is another filmmaker who has made it no secret that he is a huge admirer of Ingmar Bergman. But once again the similarities between them lie in more than just fandom and respect, they share a similar style and tone that may be hard to spot at first but becomes wonderfully apparent the more accustomed you become with each respective filmmaker.
For starters they both have a somewhat elusive approach to comedy and tragedy. They both often blend the two together sometimes making it difficult to distinguish between them, the whole nation of Death himself performing menial tasks like sawing a tree in The Seventh Seal would seem hilarious were it not underpinned by such a sense of impending doom.
Specifically, when you examine most of Bergman’s films they have such a sense of tension to them, yet they are edited and cut like light-hearted comedies. Baumbach uses a similar method in Frances Ha,on the one hand the film is just a light-hearted misadventure, but there is an underlying tension within the film, a tautness that haunts every minute of it.
Bergman famously incorporated autobiography into fiction films, the most celebrated example being Fanny and Alexander, in which aspects of his childhood were used for fiction. The same can be said about Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, retelling the story of how he coped with his parents divorce as a young boy.
Author Bio: Author Bio: Joshua Price considers himself more of a fan that happens to write near insane ramblings on movies and directors like Scorsese, Spielberg, Bergman, Kubrick and Lumet rather than an actual critic and other insane ramblings can be found criticalfilmsuk.blogspot.co.uk.
03 MARCH 2016 FEATURES, FILM LISTS BY JOSHUA PRICE
03 MARCH 2016 FEATURES, FILM LISTS BY JOSHUA PRICE