The terrain of Bergman films is different from his contemporaries'.
Through a glass darkly by Adams and Dales | Blurb Books UK
It matches the bleak beaches of the rocky island he lives on. He has found a way to show the soul's landscape. He said he viewed the soul as a membrane, a red membrane, and showed it as such in ''Cries and Whispers. See ''Persona. All this, ladies and gentlemen, and he also works cheaply. He's fast; the films cost very little, and his tiny band of regulars can slap together a major work of art in half the time and for a tenth the price of what most take to mount some glitzy waste of celluloid.
Plus he writes the scripts himself. What else could you ask for? Meaning, profundity, style, images, visual beauty, tension, storytelling flair, speed, economy, fecundity, innovation, an actor's director nonpareil. That's what I meant by the best, pound for pound. Perhaps other directors excel him in single areas, but nobody is as complete an artist in films. It's a lot about stomach problems. But it's interesting. It's random, anecdotal. It's not chronological, as one's life story should be. There is no building saga of how he began and gradually worked himself up to dominate the Swedish stage and screen.
The story skips around, back and forth, apparently depending on the author's spontaneity. It includes odd tales and sad feelings. An odd tale: as a young boy being locked inside a mortuary and becoming fascinated by the naked corpse of a young woman. A sad feeling: ''My wife and I live near each other. One of us thinks and the other answers, or the other way round. I have no means of describing our affinity. One problem is insoluble. One day the blow will fall and separate us.
No friendly god will turn us into a tree to shade the farm.
His films, for instance. Well, maybe he doesn't leave them out exactly but there's much less than you'd expect, considering he's made over There's also not much about his wives in this book. He's had plenty. And lots of children too, though they're hardly mentioned. That includes Liv Ullmann, who lived with him for years and was the mother of one of his children and a great star in his pictures. But there's not much about any of the actors and actresses in his films. So what is there? Well, many gripping revelations, but they're mostly about his childhood.
And about his theater work. Interestingly he draws a picture of every single scene before he stages it. And there is a moving account of how he directed Anders Ek, an actor in several films, who had developed leukemia and was using his own fear of approaching death to portray a Strindberg character. Bergman loves the theater. It's his real family. In fact, the warm, lovable family in ''Fanny and Alexander'' didn't exist for real - they were meant to symbolize the theater.
This isn't in the book. I happen to know it. He writes too of his maladies: ''I suffered from several indefinable illnesses and could never really decide whether I wanted to live at all. His breakdown is in there too, over the income tax scandal. It's mesmerizing to read about it. In , Bergman was crudely snatched from a rehearsal and taken to police headquarters over money owed the Government because of his mishandling of income tax payments. It was not unlike the type of thing that occurs so frequently where one hires an accountant, presumes he will handle everything brilliantly and aboveboard and finds later one has trustingly signed papers without understanding them or even reading them.
The fact that he was innocent of willful dishonesty and a national treasure did not prevent the authorities from dealing with him harshly and boorishly. The result was a nervous breakdown, hospitalization and self-imposed exile to Germany with profound feelings of rage and humiliation. Finally, the picture one gets is of a highly emotional soul, not easily adaptable to life in this cold, cruel world, yet very professional and productive and, of course, a genius in the dramatic arts.
In the translation by Joan Tate, Bergman writes quite well and one is often caught up and moved by his descriptions. I lapped up every page, but I'm no test because I have a great interest in this particular artist. It was hard for me to believe he has already turned In his book he recalls when at 10 he was given a magic lantern, which projected shadows on the wall. It stimulated a love affair with movies that is touching in its depth of feeling. Now that he is world-renowned and retired from cinema, he writes the following: ''My chair is comfortable, the room cosy, it grows dark and the first trembling picture is outlined on the white wall.
It is quiet, the projector humming faintly in the well-insulated projection room. The shadows move, turning their faces towards me, urging me to pay attention to their destinies. Sixty years have gone by but the excitement is still the same. I told Sven Nykvist [ the cinematographer ] I wanted to live on the island [ Faro ] for the rest of my life and that I would build a house just where the.
Sven suggested I should try a few kilometres farther south. That is where my house stands today. It was built between and My ties with Faro have several origins. The first was intuitive. This is your landscape, Bergman.
It corresponds to your innermost imaginings of forms, proportions, colours, horizons, sounds, silences, lights and reflections. Security is here. Don't ask why. Explanations are clumsy rationalizations with hindsight. Other reasons: I must find a counterweight to the theatre. If I were to rant and rave on the shore, a gull, at most, would take off.
On the stage, such an exhibition would be disastrous. Sentimental reasons: I would retreat from the world, read the books I hadn't read, meditate, cleanse my soul.
After a month or two I was hopelessly involved in the islanders' problems, something which resulted in the ''Faro Document. With monumental lack of judgement, I built the house with the idea of a mutual existence on the island. I forgot to ask Liv what she thought. I managed to find out later from her book ''Changing. She stayed a few years. We fought our demons as best we could. Then she got the part of Kristina in ''The Emigrants. When she left, we knew. From ''The Magic Lantern. Please upgrade your browser. See next articles. View page in TimesMachine.
Newsletter Sign Up Continue reading the main story Please verify you're not a robot by clicking the box. Invalid email address. For him, the art form closest to cinema was neither drama nor literature, but music. What do music and film have in common? What role does Bergman appoint music in his films?
How does music affect the very act of creation? Musical references are rarely listed in the credits, with occasional mentions of the composer. The first step of this work has therefore been to identify the musical pieces, listed here on the left. Bergman's passion for music manifests itself very early on in his work. Music in Darkness , from , tells the story of a young pianist left blind in a shooting accident. To Joy tells the misfortunate tale of an ambitious violinist. Summer Interlude recounts the life of a ballerina at the Stockholm Opera.
Excerpts from Beethoven, Mozart and Mendelssohn appear in these films. Original compositions were more commonly featured during this time. The situation shifts with Through a Glass Darkly. In this film, the saraband from Bach's Cello Suite No. Nothing remains, except for Bach.
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From this point on, Bergman's usage of classical music becomes increasingly more important, through to his final film, Saraband, in This brief timeline enables us to classify the various uses of musical pieces in Bergman's works, uses which appear to increase over time towards more and more musicality. Music can serve either to intensify or signify an emotional moment. On the other hand sadness is brought to the forefront in Music in Darkness, when Bengt, the young blind man, plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and a Nocturne by Chopin.
He plays in the dark both literally and figuratively , giving resonance to the titles of the chosen musical pieces. This use of musical referencing remains very conventional. Furthermore, Bergman seems to parody himself a few years later in Smiles of a Summer Night, when Henrik, dejected by his emotional misfortunes, rushes to his keyboard to pound out passionately short and very well appropriated excerpts from Chopin Impromptu , Liszt Dream of Love and Schumann Soaring. Music is also a means of conjuring up the past, often in a rather nostalgic manner.
Music also plays a role in Wild Strawberries, when Isaac dreams that his cousin marries another man, for whom she plays a Bach Prelude. This episode is paired with the seventh movement of Britten's Cello Suite No. When it resounds, music both accompanies and strengthens the narrative dimension.
The number of films which start and finish with the same musical piece is striking: Prison a Bach cantata , To Joy Beethoven's Symphony No. By using the same music at both the start and finish of a film, perhaps Bergman is hoping to use an inclusive structure to enclose the film in its own temporality, to come full circle, to put the closing bracket on the thought he began at the opening credits. By isolating the film, music turns it into an object in itself, with its own individual intelligence. In To Joy , the music determines the very dynamic of the narrative, instilling it with meaning — for example, the orchestra in which Stig plays is rehearsing Beethoven's Symphony No.
The film is a long flashback during which he recalls the years they spent together. At the end of the film, he returns to play in the orchestra, and seems to overcome his grief when the choir sings Ode to Joy. Not one that results in laughter or proclaims, 'I'm happy'. I'm talking about an immense overwhelming joy, beyond pain and infinite grief.
An incomprehensible joy! Marie plays the role of Odette in Swan Lake, and is liberated by love, just as Odette was. The film starts at the dress rehearsal of the ballet and ends on the opening night. Throughout the film, the young woman revisits her past and rediscovers her interest in life. Music can also be used as a structure within the film itself, in order to highlight the most important moments.
Each and every musical placement also delimits a different section of the film, and structures it in three parts of equal duration. The leitmotif plays the role of a temporal landmark in the narrative flow, a landmark that is more adaptable and unpredictable than the one provided by objective time from a watch or a clock , but nonetheless equally effective.
Bergman sometimes even uses the same musical piece in various films. These three films, shot with the same actors Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow , were often considered a trilogy of despair. The reappearance of the Partita strengthens this assumption. Conversely, the leitmotif can have a playful dimension. In The Devil's Eye, three different sonatas by Scarlatti appear around 10 times. Each one seems to represent a character: the famous Sonata in E-Major introduces us to Don Juan's world; the delicate pastorale accompanies the scenes with Britt-Marie; the Sonata in D-Major , full of pizzazz, resounds with each trick played by the demon watching over Don Juan.
To keep up appearances, Frederik hums an air that happens to be the same one Don Giovanni tries to seduce a young bride with in Mozart's opera. But it is in All These Women where Bergman draws the most outright parody. The aria of Bach's Orchestral Suite No. The filmmaker deconstructs and manipulates the musical score, treating it like a jigsaw puzzle. He also plays with musical registers. Momentarily distracted, the critic knocks down a statue of the Master.
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The aria is thereby immediately followed by a spirited ragtime, placing a comic contrast against the dampened atmosphere of such an intimate concert. As in Music in Darkness, musical citations in Summer Interlude are intertwined with an original film score, which highlight certain passages, such as the discovery of Henrik's diary, the return to the island, or the memory of the accident.
On the contrary, in Through a Glass Darkly , music is almost exclusively borrowed from the classical repertoire and confined to specific moments. I was beginning to really enter into the music as a professional does. Through a Glass Darkly was affected by my almost daily association with music.
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The filmmaker seems to take pleasure in filming the performance of a piece of music by its interpreter: the pianist in Music in Darkness; the violinist and orchestra in To Joy; Uncle Erland in Summer Interlude; Cousin Sara in Wild Strawberries; the concert pianists in Hour of the Wolf, Face to Face and Autumn Sonata; the cellist in this film; the aunts in Fanny and Alexander, as well as the bishop and his flute; the pianist in In the Presence of a Clown; Karin and her father, playing Bach at the organ and cello in Saraband.
There are very few other instances of films featuring so many musicians playing on screen. In all these instances music is present on two levels, both on screen and in the narrative. He never distorts them. He only takes the liberty to simplify them when required by the screenplay. This simplification also takes place in Fanny and Alexander, when nothing more than a flute is featured in Bach's Sonata No.
But for the most part, Bergman cites the musical works accurately. Bach's pieces are played on period instruments. In The Silence, musical usages last for exactly three minutes and 16 seconds. During that time, the action is suspended, the dialogue is interrupted, and real noises are erased.
One should not only hear the music, but listen to it — the spectators' faces are shot close up as the overture resounds in The Magic Flute, as are those listening to Mozart's Fantasia in Face to Face or the final Schubert sonata in In the Presence of a Clown. Bergman sometimes comments on the music through his characters. During the period heralded in with Through a Glass Darkly, music acquires a new dimension. It no longer strives to meld within the film in order to increase the drama, nor to build up the structure. Music is there for its own sake, detaching itself from the film and offers itself as an object to be listened to.
Its presence is neither contextual nor structural, but rather metaphorical. However, what does the metaphor stand for?
Why does the film suddenly give way to it? What is the meaning of this listening that Bergman invites us to? The Silence, dominated by hatred and misunderstanding, allows for a moment of grace when the radio broadcasts the Goldberg Variations. Esther can then exchange a few words with the old groom, who also knows Bach.
One of the best scenes I have ever produced is the brief meeting in the darkness between the waiter and Esther, while Bach can be heard over the radio. It is a sudden moment of communication — so crisp. I n the background, Johan is cuddling in his mother's arms. It is perhaps the first time the two sisters speak kindly to each other. Anna stands up and says that she is going out. After Esther turns off the radio, the nightmare resumes. However, for a brief moment, the music created a link between them. The gift that music bequeaths us is to understand that there is a reality of infinite harmony beyond our earthly exile.
Each word seems to be applicable to The Silence. The break from this established by the Goldberg Variations in the middle of the film appears as a sudden truce in this world of suffering. The performance takes place in the castle to which Johan and his wife have been invited. The audience surrounding them consists of demonic creatures. Here is how Bergman describes this scene: "The demons live the life of the doomed […].
For a moment, their suffering subsides: music offers them a few seconds of peace and solace. In spite of the chaos that surrounds us, we must take care of the good things in life and protect them. I'm thinking of The Magic Flute, when the young prince, in the darkness, wonders if Pamina is still alive , and through which Mozart tells us, transmits to us something about spiritual reality.
The passage cited in the film shows us Tamino at the moment when, lost and disheartened, he questions to the darkness whether Pamina is still alive. His situation echoes that of Johan, the main character in the film, an artist consumed by anxiety Max von Sydow. Hence, the piece by Mozart serves as a parenthesis in the overall structure of the film, a parenthesis shedding light on the narrative, arousing our interest rather than distracting us from it. It serves not as a digression, but rather as an explanation of what the characters are experiencing.
One final example of music serving as a metaphor of communication between people is worthy of mentioning, this time from Cries and Whispers. The first time it accompanies a brief reconciliation between Maria and Karin. The cello turns into a voice, as if translating the inaudible words whispered by the two sisters. By analysing this scene bar by bar on the soundtrack and shot by shot on screen , we understand that the first note is played at the very moment Karin kisses her sister, whom she previously rejected. Then, the first two shots fit the first two bars of the music score to a tee.
Several distant shots shift from Karin to Maria and back in a dazzling choreography — the rhythm here is dictated by the music, as the motion is consistently triggered by the second or third beat of the bar. Bergman seems to connect the filming as much to the music as the music to the filming, so that the editing of this sequence is in itself musical. Here too, music stands as a metaphor of the communication between people, communication which as in The Silence seems to suspend time and challenge death. The image remains unchanged for three bars, and the obsessive ticking of the clock, which has regularly appeared since the opening credits to remind us of the imminence of death, has stopped.
If music is a means of communication, is it not because it allows us to dispose of the spoken language? Many illustrations of this concept can be spotted in his films.