Ingmar Bergman Evaluates His Fellow Filmmakers — The “Affected” Godard, “Infantile” Hitchcock & Sublime Tarkovsky

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 SealWild Straw­ber­ries, and Per­sona had to say about the mak­ers of movies like L’Avven­tu­raBreath­lessVer­ti­goThe Exter­mi­nat­ing AngelThe 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.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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 Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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Comments (11)
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  • Won­der­ful and thank you.

  • Jordan Anderson says:

    Did­n’t Bergman also believe “Cit­i­zen Kane” was a ter­ri­ble film?

  • Angus G McNevin says:

    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.

  • harish khan says:


  • Joe Star says:

    Bergman always ham­mered away how selfish,weak,tragic and dis­gust­ing peo­ple are.Citizen Kane is a bore.The man was hon­est.

  • Seb says:

    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.

  • Joe says:

    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.

  • Samarth says:

    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 :)

  • Me says:

    Joe post­ed a seg­ment of Jonathan Rosen­baum’s arti­cle ‘Scenes from an over­rat­ed career’. He prob­a­bly did­n’t even read your reply—sorry!

  • joydeep bose says:

    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

  • Phillip Wand says:

    Joe most def­i­nite­ly did read that reply, because you are him.

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