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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