Stanley Kubrick to Ingmar Bergman: “You Are the Greatest Filmmaker at Work Today” (1960)

If you saw our post on Stanley Kubrick’s ten favorite films in 1963, you may remember that Ingmar Bergman ranked high on his list, specifically with 1957′s Wild Strawberries. Three years earlier, Kubrick had mailed the Swedish filmmaker a fan letter praising his “vision of life,” “creation of mood and atmosphere,” “avoidance of the obvious,” and “truthfulness and completeness of characterization.” Could a screening of Wild Strawberries, a film which stands as evidence of all those qualities, have moved the 31-year-old Kubrick to write to Bergman such words of appreciation about his “unearthly and brilliant” work? The dream sequence above, made haunting in a way only Bergman could do it, showcases just one of the many facets of that picture’s mood, atmosphere, and unearthliness.

Alongside Victor Sjöström as the bad-dreaming professor Isak Borg, Wild Strawberries stars Ingrid Thulin as his contemptuous daughter-in-law Marianne. Kubrick singles Thulin out as one of the Bergman regulars who “live vividly in my memory,” though she may also have attained her place in that creatively hyperactive mind on the strength of her gender boundary-crossing performance in 1958′s The Magician, viewable just above. Read all that Kubrick wrote to Bergman below, or visit the original post featuring it at Letters of Note. You’ll notice that Kubrick also name-checks Max von Sydow, as any serious Bergman enthusiast should: not only did the man appear in both Wild Strawberries and The Magician, but by 1960 he’d also starred as a vengeful father in Bergman’s The Virgin Spring and, of course, as the Crusades-weary knight Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal, which would become a signature film for both actor and director. Whether those particular performances captured Kubrick’s imagination I don’t know, but I feel sure of one thing: play chess with Death, and you rightfully earn the admiration of the next big auteur.

February 9, 1960

Dear Mr. Bergman,

You have most certainly received enough acclaim and success throughout the world to make this note quite unnecessary. But for whatever it’s worth, I should like to add my praise and gratitude as a fellow director for the unearthly and brilliant contribution you have made to the world by your films (I have never been in Sweden and have therefore never had the pleasure of seeing your theater work). Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today. Beyond that, allow me to say you are unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfullness and completeness of characterization. To this one must also add everything else that goes into the making of a film. I believe you are blessed with wonderfull actors. Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin live vividly in my memory, and there are many others in your acting company whose names escape me. I wish you and all of them the very best of luck, and I shall look forward with eagerness to each of your films.

Best Regards,

(Signed, ‘Stanley Kubrick’)

Stanley Kubrick

via Letters of Note

Related Content:

Stanley Kubrick’s List of Top 10 Films (The First and Only List He Ever Created)

Rare 1960s Audio: Stanley Kubrick’s Big Interview with The New Yorker

Stanley Kubrick’s Very First Films: Three Short Documentaries

Ingmar Bergman’s Soap Commercials Wash Away the Existential Despair

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.



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  1. rainadustbowlstory says . . . | October 1, 2013 / 7:44 am

    That Steven Colbert makes frequent visual reference to the chess scene is just another proof of the quality of writing on that show….

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