How Woody Allen Discovered Ingmar Bergman, and How You Can Too

An Ing­mar Bergman ret­ro­spec­tive begins next month here in Los Ange­les, and as I mark my cal­en­dar, I reflect on what turned me on to his films in the first place. Who can approach Bergman now with­out first run­ning a cul­tur­al gaunt­let of know­ing ref­er­ences, gush­ing appre­ci­a­tions, and con­trar­i­an broad­sides? What young cinephile could resist the temp­ta­tion to inflate an opin­ion about The Sev­enth Seal, or Wild Straw­ber­ries, or Per­sona after see­ing them for the first time — or indeed, before? We could all ben­e­fit from some­one to show us the way into the “Swedish mas­ter’s” loaded, time-con­sum­ing fil­mog­ra­phy, and as this BBC inter­view by film crit­ic Mark Ker­mode reveals (watch Part 1 above, and Part 2 here), Woody Allen could well be it.

Allen holds a sur­pris­ing­ly plau­si­ble claim to the title of Bergman’s num­ber-one fan, or at least his most promi­nent one. How to square his ded­i­ca­tion to these solemn Swedish med­i­ta­tions on mor­tal­i­ty, emo­tion­al iso­la­tion, and the impos­si­bil­i­ty of faith with his cre­ation of beloved light come­dies like Bananas, Sleep­er, and Annie Hall? But watch Allen’s fil­mog­ra­phy in full, espe­cial­ly pic­tures like Love and Death, Crimes and Mis­de­meanors, and Shad­ows and Fog, and the answer comes into view. Mor­tal­i­ty, emo­tion­al iso­la­tion, the impos­si­bil­i­ty of faith — Bergman’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tions are Allen’s, but Allen grap­ples with the unan­swer­able ques­tions by mak­ing jokes about them. What Allen describes as a “the­mat­ic con­nec­tion” to Bergman ulti­mate­ly becomes a much more com­pli­cat­ed entan­gle­ment: his hir­ing of Bergman’s cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Sven Nykvist to shoot Anoth­er Woman, Crimes and Mis­de­meanors, and Celebri­ty, for instance, sug­gests some­thing beyond sim­ple influ­ence.

In con­ver­sa­tion with Ker­mode, Allen remem­bers join­ing the van­guard of New York Bergman enthu­si­asm after see­ing Sum­mer with Moni­ka and The Naked Night, films that, to his mind, dis­played an obvi­ous­ly high­er lev­el of craft than any­thing else play­ing in town. The days when dis­cov­er­ing Bergman real­ly meant dis­cov­er­ing Bergman have long passed, but it will nev­er be too late to feel the same excite­ment Allen did about Bergman’s abil­i­ty to express inter­nal con­flicts — “inner states of anx­i­ety,” Allen calls them — so rich­ly and dra­mat­i­cal­ly on film. The Woody Allen-approved points of entry for the Bergman novice: The Sev­enth Seal, Wild Straw­ber­ries, and Cries and Whis­pers “for sure.” And maybe The Magi­cian. H/T @opedr

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ing­mar Bergman Vis­its Dick Cavett, 1971

Ing­mar Bergman’s Soap Com­mer­cials Wash Away the Exis­ten­tial Despair

Meetin’ WA: Jean-Luc Godard Meets Woody Allen

Also don’t miss Hubert Drey­fus’ course on Exis­ten­tial­ism & Film (iTunes) in our col­lec­tion of 400 Free Cours­es Online.

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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