Apparently, the Swedish public complained about historical inaccuracies in The Seventh Seal. While that’s patently silly, it got under Ingmar Bergman’s skin, so for his next historical film — an adaptation of a medieval ballad and Rashomon — he asked screenwriter and novelist Ulla Isaksson to help out. The two of them certainly had different views of what the film should be, but that didn’t stop them from making a fascinating piece of art.
After spending something like 12 hours on variations of the same material we finally finish the Fanny and Alexander boxset with The Making of Fanny and Alexander a behind the scenes film of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander directed by Bergman himself. While we've peaked behind the Swede's curtain before with Sjoman's peak at Winter Light's creation in Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, this one seems more true to life, with a Bergman who knows what he wants but is still willing to trust his collaborators (sometimes) all while acting as a filmmaking grandfather in so many ways.
Technically released first, but planned second, the theatrical cut of Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander removes over 2 hours of material that, while perhaps non-essential, helps make the longer cut the better version. Three hours and eight minutes is still pretty h*ckin' long for a theatrical film, though it turns out there was a Swedish theatrical release of the full 312 minute "television cut" as one movie in 1983. I think that's probably a bad idea, too. Consume it as the four television episodes over the course of a few nights and you have a much more manageable and enjoyable experience.
This is part two of our discussion of Fanny and Alexander, following last week's discussion of Fanny and Alexander: the television cut.
Many of Ingmar Bergman's films could be called comedies in the existential cosmic absurdism sense, but Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) is a romantic comedy sex romp with shades of Oscar Wilde. It was Bergman's big break. He'd been making films for over a decade with nothing landing with an audience. He was at his wits end, even thought he was dying, and desperately needed a win. Which he definitely got here.
Scenes from a Marriage started life as a 6-part miniseries on Swedish television one episode per week from April 11 to May 16, 1973, and it is best experienced in that pacing: watch an episode then let each scene sink in before you move on. Six weeks may be too much time, but six nights may be just as good. Plumbing the depths of a relationship so perfectly its no surprise that an international release was sought, but director Ingmar Bergman found trouble convincing foreign television broadcasters to carry a subtitled mini-series. So Bergman edited it all down into a single 167 minute film that is not nearly as impactful. Still great. But not as great.
In 1963 a fresh-faced Vilgot Sjoman asked Ingmar Bergman if he could watch his process, then Sveriges Television asked Sjoman if they could tag along. Of course Bergman only half said yes. The documentary is mostly true to life, and fascinating in that regard, though it's also a bit fake, with some sequences not exactly showing what they claim and at least one interview wholly reshot after Bergman didn't like the results. Well, not as bad as Nanook.
We finish of the Three Films by Ingmar Bergman boxset next week with a documentary by Vilgot Sjoman, but the three titular films come to an end and a head this episode as we talk The Silence from 1963. While we praised Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light for being the most straightforward Bergman films we've experienced, the third is a bit more obtuse unless the titular Silence of God is the fact that religion just isn't mentioned anymore. But it takes place at a hotel, so Adam gets to share some hotel stories!
The Communicants -- the actual translation of the Swedish title for Winter Light -- are what we call people who are taking the Communion, and perhaps the solid statement, calling everyone in this film Communicants, is as much a lesson as anything in the film. Of course the other definition -- someone imparting information -- brings its own interpretations. Winter Light -- the always dim but never dying sun -- well, that's a third meaning to keep on our plate. Bergman's 1962 followup and ideological sequel to Through a Glass Darkly acts as a rebuttal to the finally of that film. But at the same time even as rites and actions are confessed to be metaphysically useless, they're still psychologically important, maybe? As people who have sailed those seas and landed on seperate shores Pat and I have a lot to say this week. It starts with 10 minutes about Communion itself, though, because BERGMAN.
1961, and specifically the film Through a Glass Darkly, marked a number of changes for Ingmar Bergman: it's the first time he starts to shoot on the island of Fårö, his first time working with the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and, perhaps most strikingly, a brief flirtation with making philosophically straightforward film. This film and the next -- Winter Light which we'll talk about next week as we continue through the boxset Three Films by Ingmar Bergman -- are possibly the most easy to understand of Bergman's whole catalog, among the few where the filmmaker himself is doing most of the work for interpretation. This does not make them less depressing, but it does make it a good starting point for introducing yourself to the films of Ingmar Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman had a busy 1957, releasing The Seventh Seal in February and then running along to make a television film and Wild Strawberries. Inspired but his Bergman's own memories of childhood -- and with a name meaning "an underrated place" -- Wild Strawberries is the story of a grumpy old man who takes a trip back in time as he travels to his hometown to be honored by his Alma Mater, though his actual mater isn't quite that alma. But hey, he learns an important lesson.
After the delightful non sequitur of last week's outing, Criterion throws us back into things with an emotional Bergman that Pat just can't connect with. The surprisingly vivid - for a Bergman film - Cries and Whispers (1972) won a well-deserved Oscar for it's cinematography while playing with themes of faith and redemption and femininity that Ingmar liked so much.
It may have been unfair last week for us to complain about the first film Criterion released from a female director not even passing the Bechdel Test. I'm sorry that we spent a lot of time talking about Liliana Cavini's The Night Porter in terms of her being a woman not doing what we thought she should have done. Perhaps we treated the film as if Criterion was trying to say something about female auteurs by presenting its first one 59 films into the series and by choosing Cavini first. After Armageddon we should have learned that whatever Criterion may be trying to say with certain releases, it's best not to delve too deeply into it as it's more than likely nonsense anyway.
This week we're talking about Ingmar Bergman's 1978 Autumn Sonata, a movie that not only passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, but is also really emotionally draining. But in a good way? We also avoid reading too much into Criterion's release order again, since the release after The Night Porter has a strong principally-female cast unlike anything we've seen in the Collection so far. Criterion's spine numbers are challenging us to compare the two films, and that's really unfair, because anyone put up against an Ingmar Bergman masterpiece will fail. We try to avoid that, and instead focus on the heart-wrenching character study on it's own amazing merits instead of on the merit of being infinitely better than the movie we'd just previously watched.
I feel like I need to apologize for this one. I don't like to do that -- it makes it feel like I somehow don't believe in our work -- but this episode has some issues I'd like to lay out.
Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal is an amazing and complex classic, incredibly heavy and heady. Pat and I recorded this at the height of last August, the heat doing nothing to assuage our fatigue, and none of it helped by my being a bit sick. All in all, we actually do pretty well, but neither of us are firing on all cylinders and it shows. I hope you enjoy listening to it anyway. I know I did.