Ingmar Bergman, modern cinema’s most masterful screenwriter and director, died peacefully in his sleep on July 30. He was 89.
Although widely unknown to younger film-viewing generations, Bergman’s films were hailed by peers and critics alike as some of the most artful and genius work to have ever been recorded on film. His repertoire of over 50 films in many ways set the standard for future filmmakers, and created a substantial legacy to which many younger writer/directors aspire.
Bergman was known for his emotionally-charged films that probed into the darker, often-unnoticed territories of the human soul; they portrayed explicit pain and suffering, and examined the fragility of both life and faith. He scripted dialogue with a precision almost as painful-and just as real-as the death, sadness and bitter self-discovery he often depicted.
Each of Bergman’s films were conveyed through a series of unique cinematic techniques such as long, drawn out close-ups of faces–with particular attention to eyes and lips–and explorative shots of animate objects, like ticking clocks, statuettes and other portentous notions.
Throughout his career, he embraced the artistic and emotive power of film, once saying, “no form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.”
Bergman was, by all intents and purposes, a grassroots filmmaker. Even after striking considerable fame with the release of Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal, he kept his films stylistically modest; film budget and production costs were never his top priorities. He stuck to a staple cast of varied and immensely talented actors, including Gunnar Bjornstrand, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson and Liv Ullman-known particularly for her classic, delicate beauty.
Famed New York filmmaker Woody Allen–himself a pioneer of modern dramatic cinema–personally holds Bergman to the highest esteem, once pegging him as "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera."
Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on July 14, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, to a strict religious family, Bergman spent much of his youth mentally and emotionally distancing himself from his Lutheran minister father’s ideals and sermons. His battle with faith and the existence of God would later serve as a major theme throughout his artistic career.
He first discovered the intense power of film when his brother received an early slide projector–a "magic lantern" as Bergman later dubbed it–as a Christmas gift. After some failed attempts to acquire the object for himself, Bergman finally traded his brother one hundred tin soldiers for the projector, and thus changed his life forever.
After breaking with his parents at 19, Bergman set out to the Swedish capital of Stockholm in 1942 to work for Svensk Filmindustri-the top Swedish production company at the time-as a scriptwriter. Bergman was soon granted prime directorial privileges after the film featuring his first original screenplay, Torment, won the Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 1946.
With the release of Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955, he began on a streak of important films that would cement him as one of the most serious and emotionally powerful filmmakers of his time. Among his most popular and studied subsequent films include Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1968), Cries and Whispers (1972) and Scenes From a Marriage (1973).
In addition to his film direction, Bergman was also known for his successful and equally moving stage plays. He had been involved in Swedish theatre from the mid-40s up until several years before his death. From 1963-66, he was the executive director of Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre, where he had hired nearly all of Sweden’s contemporary professional actors at one time or another.
Bergman spent the later half of his life on the mystically bleak islet of Faro, in Gotland, Sweden, a small block of land that served as the setting for many of his films. Although notoriously dreary and largely uninhibited, Faro was depicted as a place as magical as it was mysterious; it featured a landscape consisting of ominously cascading rock cliffs, gorgeous oceanfront scenery, and dense, lush forestry.
It was on Faro where Bergman found the subtle beauty that ultimately permeated his work. He had formally retired from film directing in 1982, after the semi-autobiographical Fanny and Alexander won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film that year. Although he had continued writing and directing some stage productions throughout the 80s and 90s, he announced in 2004 that he would never again leave Faro.
Bergman is survived by nine children from five different wives-including one with the iconic Ullman.
He was considered by many to have been one of the last living great directors of the 20th century, among the likes of the Italian director Federico Fellini, Japan’s Akira Kurosawa, Frenchman Francois Truffaut and others.