The Life of Ingmar Bergman

by Meshach M.

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born on July 14, 1918 in Uppsala, Sweden.  His father, Erick, was a minister and not very wealthy.  However, his Mother, Karin, came from a wealthy family.  His parents were cousins, which meant that their children were at risk and suffered from genetic defects.  Ingmar was the second child of three.  He had an older brother, Dag, born in 1914, and a younger sister, Margareta, born in 1922.

His mother and father were not close, and in 1925 Karin had an affair with another minister.  However, due to the social pressures of the time and to preserve self-image, she did not divorce Erick.  Instead his parents lived in a discourse that they would never recover from.  Ingmar idolized his mother and hated his father, tensions that would continue for many years.

Ingmar was very imaginative throughout his life, and as a child he would spend the summers with his grandmother where they would read books and tell one another stories.  She made him feel important and promoted his love for the arts.

In 1927, at the age of nine, Ingmar bartered toy soldiers with his brother for his first projector or “Magic Lantern”.  He collected and glued together filmstrips to create his own short films, which he narrated himself.  He was further inspired by the power of film, when, in the 1930’s he was taken to the Filmstaden Rasunda studios, one of the leading Swedish movie theaters at the time.

During his second to last year of schooling, Bergman spent time with a family that supported the Nazis in Germany.  Through their influence he carried an admiration for the strength and influence of Hitler and it was not until thirty-five years later that he recognized his folly.

In 1937 he entered Stockholm University where, counter to his father’s interests, he studied literature and art history.  However, he instead found a passion for the theater.  After working in his school’s theater program, he worked for free as a productions assistant in the Royal Opera House.  In 1940, he quit school and devoted himself entirely to theater.  He staged and directed Shakespeare plays for many years before being discovered and hired by the leading Swedish film company, Svensk Filmindustri where he became a script polisher.

As he began a career in film, he also continued to work in theater.  In April 1944, he was appointed to director of the Halsingborg City Theater, making him the youngest theater director in northern Europe.

In 1946 he directed his first film, Kris or Crisis in English.  The film told the story of a piano teacher who had been raising a foster daughter when the daughter’s birth mother comes.  The film then follows the complications that follow.  Bergman wrote the screenplay for the film as well.

After working at the Gothenburg City Theater from 1946-1952, Bergman was appointed to director of the City Theater at Malmo.  He worked there for six years, over which time he directed eight films and seventeen plays.  From there he would go on to become a very prominent Swedish director and writer.

He would write the scripts for many of his films himself, by pulling situations and characters from his own life, but he never claimed to be a good writer.  His scripts contained few stage directions and no camera arrangements.  According to an interview from 1963, he confessed that there was a time in his life where he tried to make everyone happy with the work he wrote, but by the 1960’s he came to terms that he could not and would not try to please everyone.

In his films he often dealt with questions of existence, the embodiment of God, and many other deep and powerful themes. However, throughout his career he would make a wide variety of films including comedies and works for children.

He would often spend years working on the scripts for his films and would feel awkward costuming the characters.  It was like they were suddenly not just ideas and lines on paper, but real tangible people and he felt uncomfortable deciding what color socks they were going to wear.  This was in contrast to the wants of the costume department who were delayed by Bergman’s inability to make the actors into characters.

Bergman would pay great attention to detail and often spend days looking for the right location.  He would try to base the lighting around the time of day when the scene was supposed to take place.  He would work through many rehearsals with the actors to make sure every step and inflection was planned out making each scene could flow as naturally as possible.  He said once that after a tough scene is finished it is important to fool around for a bit “…but when I say ‘Camera! Action!’ full concentration will be there again.  The rehearsal material should be so ingrained that the heightened concentration provides a boost.”

Ingmar Bergman died July 30, 2007 at the age of 89, but his work will not be forgotten.  He left the world more than seventy films that he wrote or directed and often both.  Even today, filmmakers are still working on projects based on ideas he had.  The film Sixty-Four Minutes with Rebecka on which Bergman is credited as writer, is slated for release in 2018.  People do not truly die until they are forgotten, so may this legendary filmmaker never leave us.

Works Cited

Rothstein, Mervyn. “Ingmar Bergman, Master Filmmaker, Dies at 89” New York Times. July 30, 2007. Web. April 7, 2017.  Also photo credit for this article’s feature illustration.

“Crisis (1946),” IMDb. Web. April 21, 2017.

“Bergman, Ingmar,” International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Web. April 21, 2017.


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