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Film Legend Ingmar Bergman Dies at 89

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Film Legend Ingmar Bergman Dies at 89

Remembrances

Film Legend Ingmar Bergman Dies at 89

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman has died at the age of 89. He was the director of some of the greatest films ever made, among them, the "Seventh Seal," "Wild Strawberries," "The Virgin Spring," and "Scenes from a Marriage." Bergman directed his first film in 1945. Though he officially retired from filmmaking in 1984, he continued making movies for television, working in theater, and writing.

Howie Movshovitz of Colorado Public Radio has this appreciation.

HOWIE MOVSHOVITZ: At the beginning of Bergman's 1957 film, "The Seventh Seal," the figure of deaths stands on a rocky beach and presents himself to a knight just returned from the Crusades. Death is entirely cloaked and hooded in black in stark contrast to his dilly white face.

(Soundbite of movie "The Seventh Seal")

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MOVSHOVITZ: This image is still one of the most haunting pictures ever put on a movie screen. Ingmar Bergman took on the biggest subjects: life, death, the existence and the silence of God.

Film historian and critic Peter Cowie is also Bergman's biographer.

Mr. PETER COWIE (Film Historian, Biographer): I feel that Imar Bergman was probably the nearest equivalent to a Shakespeare or a Rembrandt that the cinema has produced, because he uniquely was able to produce tragedies, comedies, historical works and chamber works, which really delved deep into the human condition and he really was able to get below the surface of the human mask.

MOVSHOVITZ: Cowie adds that like many great artists, Bergman also had a unifying theme in his work: humanity's need for metaphysical belief.

Mr. COWIE: It started as orthodox Lutheranism in some of the films. But over the years, that changed to a much wider nagging concern about man's place in the universe. Why we're here, and if we're here, why aren't we better behaved with each other?

MOVSHOVITZ: Bergman often used events and images from his life and his difficult childhood led him to look at how families malfunction. In a rare television interview with Dick Cavett in 1971, Bergman described a beautiful early childhood of making puppets and living in his imagination.

Mr. INGMAR BERGMAN (Filmmaker): And suddenly, I didn't know if I dreamt scenes or if they existed. I don't understand what that meant.

Mr. DICK CAVETT (Host, "The Dick Cavett Show"): Yes, whether they are real or…

Mr. BERGMAN: So sometimes, life is - could be very strange and very, very hard and very cruel. And suddenly, you know, the parents came to me and said, in a very strange way, why did you do that? Or I didn't know why, or you have been lying. That was the most difficult thing. I didn't know I had been lying because I mixed things.

MOVSHOVITZ: One of the most beautiful examples of mixing dreams and reality comes in Bergman's "Wild Strawberries," a film from 1957 that many consider his best.

After a hard day of memories and self-evaluation, an aging doctor dreams of seeing his parents across a pond. The scene ends with a close-up of the doctor played by the venerable Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjostrom. The outdoor light was perfect, but Sjostrom was angry about working overtime. Bergman was sure the shot would be a catastrophe, but it turned out to be his favorite close-up.

Mr. BERGMAN: We didn't rehearse. We didn't try it, you know. We didn't press it out. It was not created under pressure. It just came suddenly. And that is, that face suddenly, has so very much about experience, about tenderness, about an old man's sadness for lives going away.

MOVSHOVITZ: Devoted viewers agree that for the past six decades, the films of Ingmar Bergman have defined the possibilities of the art of film.

For NPR News, I'm Howie Movshovitz.

BLOCK: Our remembrance of Ingmar Bergman continues at npr.org. You can view clips from his film and a photo gallery on his life and work. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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