Bergman 101

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 6, 2007 6:07PM

Who was Ingmar Bergman?

You probably heard the news that he died last week, at age 89, and somewhere you mostly likely read Woody Allen’s pronouncement that he was, “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion-picture camera.” But you shouldn’t feel ashamed if you don’t really know who he is. For example, he was not the father of Ingrid Bergman (although they did make one film together, Autumn Sonata). On the other hand, you might be surprised to learn that the slasher movie Last House on the Left is actually a remake of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring.

The fact is that, these days at least, there don’t seem to be many mainstream, popular filmmakers who are following Bergman’s example and making austere, meticulous dramas about religious doubt or personal responsibility. And more’s the pity. He was a filmmaker concerned, above all, with the emotional lives of people and the ways people interact with each other. As beautiful as they could be, technique and aesthetics in a Bergman movie always played supporting roles.

Thanks to the folks at Chicago Cinema Forum, this weekend we’ll get a chance to take a crash course in Bergman. Between Saturday and Sunday, no less than five Bergman features will screen as well as the Chicago theatrical premiere of the documentary Bergman Complete. That such a comprehensive tribute could be pulled off so quickly is a tribute to the dedication and resourcefulness of the CCF, a group that’s less than a year old and doesn’t even have its own venue. A mini-retrospective of this caliber usually takes months to plan and schedule, but the CCF has pulled it together in less than a week; and they’ve even arranged for film scholars like Robert Keser, Ben Kenigsburg and Jonathan Rosenbaum to introduce the films and lead discussions afterwards.

2007_8bergman.jpg Diving into the works of someone like Bergman can be daunting, but the great thing about the CCF is its low-key, accessible approach to the world of film. Post-film discussions are not only encouraged but built into the viewing experience; and the use of the Chopin Theatre at Ashland/Milwaukee means that there are plenty of places nearby to continue the conversations.

If you only have time to see one of the films we’d like to suggest The Seventh Seal, which contains the quintessential Bergman image of a knight (Max von Sydow) playing chess with death. Set during the Black Plague, it’s grim but surprisingly suspenseful; and its lustrous black & white cinematography will be eyepopping on the big screen. It might actually be more familar to you than you think: Max von Sydow would later play Ming the Merciless, and the movie itself has been parodied by everyone from Monty Python to Bill & Ted and Woody Allen himself.

image via Trampoline Sundays