Nowadays, most of us who still religiously attend screenings of films by the most respected European directors of the twentieth century have circled the wagons: even if we far prefer, say, Fellini to Truffaut, we’ll more than likely still turn up for the Truffaut, even if only out of cinephilic solidarity. But in the fifties, sixties, and seventies — or so I’ve read, anyway — discussions of such filmmakers’ relative merits could turn into serious intellectual shoving matches, and even many of the luminaries themselves would evaluate their colleagues’ work candidly. At the Ingmar Bergman fan site Bergmanorama, you can read what the maker of The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, and Persona had to say about the makers of movies like L’Avventura, Breathless, Vertigo, The Exterminating Angel, The 400 Blows, and Stalker.
Regarding Jean Luc Godard: “I’ve never been able to appreciate any of his films, nor even understand them… I find his films affected, intellectual, self-obsessed and, as cinema, without interest and frankly dull… I’ve always thought that he made films for critics.”
Michelangelo Antonioni, thought Bergman, had “never properly learnt his craft. He’s an aesthete. If, for example, he needs a certain kind of road for The Red Desert, then he gets the houses repainted on the damned street. That is the attitude of an aesthete. He took great care over a single shot, but didn’t understand that a film is a rhythmic stream of images, a living, moving process; for him, on the contrary, it was such a shot, then another shot, then yet another. So, sure, there are some brilliant bits in his films… [but] I can’t understand why Antonioni is held in such high esteem.”
Alfred Hitchcock struck him as “a very good technician. And he has something in Psycho, he had some moments. Psycho is one of his most interesting pictures because he had to make the picture very fast, with very primitive means. He had little money, and this picture tells very much about him. Not very good things. He is completely infantile, and I would like to know more — no, I don’t want to know — about his behaviour with, or, rather, against women. But this picture is very interesting.”
You’ll find more quotes on F.W. Murnau, teller of image-based tales with “fantastic suppleness”; Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier, “decisive influences in my wanting to become a filmmaker”; Federico Fellini, the sheer heat from whose creative mind “melts him”; François Truffaut, with his fascinating “way of relating with an audience”; and Andrei Tarkovsky, “the greatest of them all,” at Bergmanorama. His comments on Luis Buñuel offer especially important advice for creators in any medium, of any age. He quotes a critic who wrote that “with Autumn Sonata Bergman does Bergman” and admits the truth in it, but he adds that, at some point, “Tarkovsky began to make Tarkovsky films and that Fellini began to make Fellini films.” Buñuel, alas, “nearly always made Buñuel films.” The lesson: if you must do a pastiche, don’t do a pastiche of your own style — or, as I once heard the writer Geoff Dyer (himself a great fan of midcentury European cinema) call it, “self-karaoke.”
Stanley Kubrick to Ingmar Bergman: “You Are the Greatest Filmmaker at Work Today” (1960)
Ingmar Bergman’s Soap Commercials Wash Away the Existential Despair
Dick Cavett’s Wide-Ranging TV Interview with Ingmar Bergman and Lead Actress Bibi Andersson (1971)
How Woody Allen Discovered Ingmar Bergman, and How You Can Too
Tarkovsky Films Now Free Online
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 Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
Wonderful and thank you.
Didn’t Bergman also believe “Citizen Kane” was a terrible film?
Yes, I believe he felt more than anything that it was extremely boring, and that he didn’t understand why critics fawned over it as much they did (and still do). I don’t believe he had much respect for Welles as a director; he most certainly didn’t for him as an actor.
Bergman always hammered away how selfish,weak,tragic and disgusting people are.Citizen Kane is a bore.The man was honest.
Great director. One of the best. I disagree, though, with his comments about Godard. On the contrary, I think there is something terribly personal with his films and doesn’t give a s**t about what others make of his movies. Godard is a rebel and his interviews as well stand testimony to that.
The best indication of an artist’s continuing vitality is simply what of his work remains visible and is still talked about. The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday.
We remember the late Michelangelo Antonioni for his mysteriously vacant pockets of time, Andrei Tarkovsky for his elaborately choreographed long takes and Orson Welles for his canted angles and staccato editing. And we remember all three for their deep, multifaceted investments in the modern world — the same world Mr. Bergman seemed perpetually in retreat from.
Mr. Bergman simply used film (and later, video) to translate shadow-plays staged in his mind — relatively private psychodramas about his own relationships with his cast members, and metaphysical speculations that at best condensed the thoughts of a few philosophers rather than expanded them. Riddled with wounds inflicted by Mr. Bergman’s strict Lutheran upbringing and diverse spiritual doubts, these films are at times too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world, limiting the relevance that his champions often claim for them.
Above all, his movies aren’t so much filmic expressions as expressions on film.
Joe, that is YOU conforming to the opinions of the masses. It is foolish to consider that what is being taught in film schools is automatically correct. Our world is still just as sad and just as evil on the whole, and mass conformism and acceptance of the norms and the “popular” as a metric for what is good is something is that definitely feeds the mass ignorance and in turns explains the continual difficulty of producing art films. Now I’m not trying to say what is being taught isn’t relevant, but rather that ‘what isn’t being taught is unimportant’ is by no means a logical argument for your conclusions.
I personally have not found anything of importance in Hitchcock’s films by comparison. The only thing an artist can do is project the truth of their own problems and lives, and you criticizing Bergman for making films about his personal relationships (true or not) doesn’t hold any merit whatsoever. Hitchcock himself said how he made films about his fears so he wouldn’t fear them anymore and that does sound personal on paper, but somehow the portrayals always seemed half-assed and a little-too straight forward, which made me feel that his real thoughts were traded off for keeping the american audiences happy, or perhaps his thinking was really just “infantile”. He called Bunuel his favourite director and yet his own constant efforts superficially touching the human psyche make me feel as if lots of oppurtunities were lost. I do believe he came close to saying something in Psycho and Vertigo though. But these particular observations about Hitchcock are just my opinion and cannot be taken as absolute truths ofc.
Similarly Bergman’s movies “not being so much filmic expressions as expressions on film” is your opinion and there’s nothing I have to say about that, except that my opinion differs from yours :)
Joe posted a segment of Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article ‘Scenes from an overrated career’. He probably didn’t even read your reply—sorry!
You are quoting jonathan rosenbaum here, without naming him.
Agree with it though, bergman is the most overrated of all the european masters. He said similar shit about bresson
Joe most definitely did read that reply, because you are him.