A film projector, given him as a toy when he was a small child, gave him a fascination for the moving image. Yet his first professional work was in the theatre, a medium to which he constantly returned. His first great success was a production of Macbeth in 1940, and soon after he was writing and directing plays at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.
He also began to write screenplays, one of which, Hets (Frenzy), was made into an impressive film in 1944 by Alf Sjöberg. The following year Bergman directed his first feature, Kris (Crisis), and a great career was launched.
As a director, Bergman surrounded himself with a family of artistic collaborators who worked with him on film after film. He wrote the screenplays himself, again and again exploring his favourite themes - the place of the artist in society, the existence of God, the cruelty that takes so many different forms including the mental cruelty in some marital relationships.
Above all, though, he was interested in the predicament of the ordinary, average human being living on Earth in the second half of the 20th century, in a world threatened by nuclear destruction. More than once he returned to the dark days of the Middle Ages to place his concerns for humanity's survival in a wider context. On the subject of the existence of God, it's worth remembering Harriet Andersson's line in Through a Glass Darkly (1961)where she claims to have seen God in the form of a giant spider.
Bergman was demanding, no doubt about that. Demanding of his actors and collaborators and demanding of audiences too. Some found him altogether too serious and more than one parody of his work was produced (De düva, a 1968 parody of The Seventh Seal, is particularly funny).
He explained once that, as an inhibited, shy and timid person he had "a need to influence other people, to touch other people both physically and mentally, to communicate with them. Movies, of course, are a fantastic medium through which to touch other human beings, to reach them, to annoy them, to get them to think. To get them started emotionally. That's the truest, deepest reason why I make films."
David Stratton © 2015
Presented in association with Sydney Film Festival and National Film and Sound Archive of Australia
Essential Bergman - David Stratton Essay
Seasons & Screenings
Introduction to Bergman
Bergman (1918-2007) was born in the university city of Uppsala, Sweden, and the influences of his childhood dominated all of his later work. His father, a Lutheran pastor and chaplain to the Royal Swedish Court, was a formidable and seemingly frightening figure (representations of him crop up in many of the films), but Bergman adored his mother, who ran a meticulous household. He later said his parents were “sealed in iron casks of duty”.