Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher
November 15, 2007
His latest book, Ingmar Bergman, Cinematic Philosopher, came about quite accidentally, Irving Singer recounts. Singer was writing a book about several filmmakers, and discovered, when starting on the Bergman chapter, that the filmmaker had directed dozens of movies. Singer set out to explore this oeuvre – no easy task, since only the most recognizable titles are to be found at Netflix or the public library.
Thus began Singer’s ardent exploration of Bergman, and his appreciation of Bergman’s genius. “He created a new art form by combining his talents as a man of the theater, cinema and TV,” says Singer. In this lecture, he discusses how Bergman used philosophical ideas “in an extended sense” -- not by including philosophical discussions in his films, but through his masterful use of cinematic technique to examine the particularities of human experience.
Singer describes how Bergman wove aspects of his own life’s story into his films, in intense and vivid ways. A son of a harsh Lutheran priest, Bergman was nearly paralyzed by his fear of death. Singer recounts how Bergman worked through a series of movies with religious significance (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Seventh Seal), and was finally “cured of his fear of death.” He also became an atheist, but may have returned to some kind of religious faith at his life’s end.
Singer quotes Bergman denying that his “movies are full of symbols.” Rather, Bergman used close-ups of faces and hands (relying on a repertory company of 18 actor-friends), and created bleak landscapes and silences, to convey feelings like fear, isolation and oppression, in contrast to the comedic and optimistic elements in many of his films. Singer reads a selection from his book that deals with the film, From the Life of the Marionettes, which is “the most consummate expression of Bergman’s pessimistic vision.” Singer draws analogies to Hitchcock’s Psycho, but believes Bergman goes much farther, examining political evil, and how contemporary capitalist society “dehumanizes, and turns people into emotional illiterates.”