Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007

"No one escapes me." Death arrives in The Seventh Seal.

The New York Times has just reported the death of Ingmar Bergman on his beloved island of Faro, off the coast of Sweden (a landscape familiar to lovers of Persona and several other Bergman films). I was a Bergman acolyte even in my teens; in fact, I still remember seeing The Seventh Seal on PBS at age 13 (I began to cry as the Knight made his confession to Death, as my mother stared at me with incomprehension).

Once I could drive, my best friend and I would routinely travel down to an old repertory house in my hometown of Houston, Texas (the River Oaks, if any Houstonians are reading along) to catch The Virgin Spring, The Magician, Sawdust and Tinsel, Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, Shame - and of course the comedies, as luminous as his dramas are dark - Smiles of a Summer Night, The Magic Flute, and much of Fanny and Alexander - all either brilliant or out-and-out masterworks. Imagine, two sixteen-year-olds sitting down to a Bergman double feature! Well, we loved him - I still love him. My great regret is that I never traveled to BAM (or what the hell, why not to Sweden?) to see his stage work - because truth be told, while he was indeed one of the greatest of film directors, his film work was informed and sustained by the theatre (a situation which many film critics prefer to ignore, but which was true of Welles and several other great directors). Indeed, Bergman's stage (and television) work finally took over his creative life.

Of course, in the end, Bergman lives on - if only in my Netflix rotation! Just a few weeks ago I caught his last film, Saraband, which recalled many of his former themes and had some of his old intensity. Watching it was rather like inhabiting the lives of its characters, who grapple with an old relationship that is redolent of passion, philosophy, and, of course, the awareness that everything is slipping away, that death is imminent. Bergman, however - at left, directing Bengt Ekerot in his iconic role as Death in Seal (or are they just playing chess?) - seemed, as he aged, to transcend his own notorious obsession. “When I was young, I was extremely scared of dying,” he told an interviewer a few years ago. “But now I think it a very, very wise arrangement. It’s like a light that is extinguished. Not very much to make a fuss about.”

P.S. -

This "all about Ingmar" quiz from the Guardian is fun. Bragging rights - I scored 9 out of 10 correctly (I only missed his favorite sport).

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