Crowning cinema’s GOAT is a hotly contested, often irrelevant, and always subjective argument. There are many qualifying actors, writers, and directors whose names float around such types of conversations and rankings, but very few individuals can go pound for pound with the body of work from Ingmar Bergman.
Some of cinema’s highest acclaimed auteurs have given audiences feudal Japanese epics, nail-biting thrills across national monuments, and trips through Jupiter and beyond infinite, but no one has taken the dive into the darkest pits of human existence like the Swedish master.
Undeniably, Bergman was one of the 20th century’s highest respected artists and with a filmography that stretched nearly sixty years—with an unprecedented output of masterpieces nearly unparalleled by his contemporaries. From breaking into international acclaim with the erotic Summer with Monika, to the landmark existential works of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, and redefining cinematic form with Persona, Bergman’s work helped bring cinema to maturity. This quote from Martin Scorsese sums up the impact of Bergman’s art:
“It’s impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people. It’s not that Bergman was the first film artist to confront serious themes. It’s that he worked in a symbolic and an emotional language that was serious and accessible. He was young, he was setting an incredible pace, but he was looking at memory, old age, the reality of death, the reality of cruelty, and it was so vivid. So dramatic. Bergman’s connection with the audience was somewhat like Hitchcock’s—direct, immediate.”
His pictures spanned many different genres from romance to crime to comedies and even horror, but what Bergman is most known for is his works that contemplated death and human relationships. His keen perception into the psych of his characters came from his extensive (and simultaneous) work in theatre, cinema, and television that afforded him almost constant interactions with actors. He was married five times and had affairs with quite a few of the women that starred in his work. For better or worse, this tumultuous lifestyle informed his work and his explorations of human behavior. His staunch Lutheran upbringing by his minister father, where he received regular beatings, seeded his religious doubts. These doubts, so honestly portrayed in his pictures, catapulted him into international celebrity during a time when American cinema was in suppressed under the Hays Code and Eisenhower-era ideals.
His influence can be seen in the works of Woody Allen, Ang Lee, David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, and most recently in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Phantom Thread. Tarkovsky even ranked three of Bergman’s pictures in a list of his favorites in a 1972 interview. He is also a favorite among a wide ranging scope of artists such as of Sloane Crosley, Lena Dunham, Flying Lotus, Tracy Letts, and Jonathan Lethem. His influence also reaches to TV shows like The Sopranos and Mad Men as well as being parodied in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Muppets, and Animaniacs.
2018 marks Bergman’s 100th birthday (he passed away in 2007) and celebrations of all kinds are happening in the cinema community. BookPeople staff members, and cinephiles, are excited to join in the celebration by dedicating a space to the cinema giant on our second floor where you can find Taschen’s The Ingmar Bergman Archives as well as interview collections, memoirs, fiction works, and criticisms related to the director.