Bergman archive reveals a vision grounded in torment

He may be regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, but Ingmar Bergman had a pretty dim view of his own talents as a young man. He was, he says, a “useless” actor. His writing was simply “too flowery”.

“Somewhere in the depths of my foolish soul I nurture one conceited notion: “One day, perhaps—one day—something shining will be prised out of all this wretchedness,” reads one excerpt from a black oilcloth notebook dated 1938.

The insights into this notoriously private man were revealed yesterday when the Swedish stage and screen director’s personal archive was shown to a select few for the first time. It will shortly be made available on a much wider scale.

The 85-year-old has lived on the remote Baltic island of Faro, 160 kilometres south-west of Stockholm, since 1966.

The director who became famous in the 1950s for such films as Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, seldom gives interviews and rarely appears in public.

However, he caused surprise last year by donating his entire personal archive to the Swedish Film Institute in Stockholm.

Described as a treasure trove of cinematic memorabilia, its 45 packing cases were stuffed with manuscripts, notebooks, plot summaries, sketches and photographs, which experts claim shed fresh light on his films and his character.

Much of the material, which includes previously unseen short films he made about the making of some of his greatest works, has been annotated and edited by Bergman himself.

It was objects from that archive - soon to be part of a Europe-wide travelling exhibition called Before Ingmar Became Bergman - which were given their first public airing in Stockholm yesterday.

Maaret Koskinen, a lecturer at the SFI, with whom Bergman entrusted the archive after she wrote a thesis on him, said she was shell-shocked to be phoned by the famous director. “He said ‘Well, if you’ve got a lorry, just pick up this shit’. There were 45 crates.”

The exhibition covers the years 1938 to 1955 and it is Bergman’s repeatedly self-deprecating nature which shines through.

Koskinen said that Bergman had told her he thought his own writing “too flowery”. Nor does he seem to rate his own acting abilities. An early photo of him in a clown’s costume is accompanied by the quote: “I was a useless actor.”

Aina Bellis, a spokesperson for the Bergman Foundation, said: “We’ve tried to create an emotional environment here in which you can make your own interpretations.

“The exhibition shows his thoughts, the outlines of themes and the creation of characters over time, all reflecting life and love - the basis for his creations.”

The exhibition will be given a wider airing in the months to come when it is expected to accompany retrospectives in Helsinki, Paris, Rome and Turin. It will also be made available on the internet from next year.

Bergman gained international fame in 1955 with Smiles of a Summer Night, which inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music, though he had been directing films since 1946.

It was the medieval allegory The Seventh Seal which ultimately made his international reputation, and his last major film Fanny and Alexander which won an Oscar in 1983.

As well as a distinguished career in the theatre, in Sweden and abroad, Bergman made several films for television, and in 1988 published an autobiography, The Magic Lantern. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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