‘The Seventh Seal’: An Enthralling Philosophical Work of Art Made By One of the Truly Greatest

Ingmar Bergman on the set with one of his most iconic cinematic creations, the chess-playing Death in The Seventh Seal (Bengt Ekerot). Production still photographer: Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri

By Sven Mikulec

Ingmar Bergman decided to make something completely different upon witnessing the success of his comedy Smiles of a Summer Night in Cannes, where the film had won the jury’s special reward. “I mustn’t let myself get scared off any more. It’s better to do this than a bad comedy. I don’t give a damn about the money.” It was the success of this particular comedy that enabled him to make The Seventh Seal, since his earlier efforts to make the movie found no support from the studio. Carl Anders Dymling, the head of Svensk Filmindustri, finally agreed to finance the picture but gave Bergman a small budget and only five weeks to shoot it. The film, which developed out of Bergman’s play called ‘Wood Painting’ written for the actors of the Malmo Municipal Theater and first performed as a radio play in 1954, owes its name to the Bible, as it’s a direct quote from the Book of Revelation mentioning “silence in Heaven,” which Bergman used as one of the central themes of the film: the silence of God, a subject most disturbing for The Seventh Seal‘s protagonist. Inspired by his own recollections of visiting old churches as a child petrified by the idea of death, observing church murals and frescoes, Bergman made an intimate, highly personal movie in which he directly dealt with his own fears, insecurities and demons the way no one had done it before: before the eyes of the public, which reacted very positively to the film’s audacity to ask the questions most didn’t dare to utter even among close friends. “The Seventh Seal is one of the few films really close to my heart,” said Bergman years later, for a long time unwilling to even discuss it. “I wrote this film to conjure up my own fear of dying.” An authentic, honest combination of Bergman, the God-trusting child and Bergman, the intelligent, rational skeptic, two poles of the same personality going hand-in-hand in a masterful, uncompromising exhibition of filmmaking vision and craft that would remain a film all foreign movies would be measured against for years to come.

By placing the story in Medieval Sweden and presenting a land utterly devastated by the plague, Bergman successfully avoided the risk of having his film labelled as a blunt cautionary tale heralding the potential vicinity of a nuclear holocaust. But the atmosphere of fear is here, the helplessness of the little people, the rising questions on the futility of human existence, the fragility of life and the eternal question of God’s existence, especially popular in times of trial and trouble. Rarely have there been movies so easily distinguishable by a single image as it’s the case with this film. The iconic scene of Max von Sydow’s weary knight on a desolate beach playing chess with pale-faced Death, played by the director of the original play Bengt Ekerot, is one of the most memorable images in the entire history of film. The much praised visual identity of The Seventh Seal was developed by Bergman in the collaboration with his director of photography Gunnar Fischer, who helped him make all of his early masterpieces. Fischer, who passed away five years ago, is considered one of only a handful of true masters of his craft, and The Seventh Seal serves as an excellent example of what the Swedish cinematographer was capable of. Regarding the visual side of the movie, the name P.A. Lundgren should also be underlined. Bergman’s production designer created a set that corresponded with Bergman’s vision shaped by his early memories, while the images are accompanied by Erik Nordgren’s music. Lundgren produced a faithful medieval setting on the tiny Rasunda Film Studios near Stockholm, where most of the film was shot, with the obvious exception of the famous introductory sequence.

The Seventh Seal is a powerful, insightful, philosophical and beautifully designed film about which there really isn’t much more to be written besides what has already been said before. It definitely stands out as one of the symbols of European filmmaking, as influential as it is enthralling, a work of art available for the study of enjoyment of generations to come.

A monumentally important screenplay(s). Screenwriter must-read: Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay for The Seventh Seal [PDF]. (NOTE: For educational and research purposes only). The DVD/Blu-ray of the film is available from the Criterion Collection and other online retailers. Absolutely our highest recommendation.

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Ingmar Bergman: An Interview by Charles Samuels. Originally published in Encountering Directors (New York: Capricorn Books, 1972), pp. 179-207.

This brings me to The Seventh Seal, which I also find unbalanced between realism and expressionism. Before I begin, are you willing to offer your opinion about The Seventh Seal?
The Seventh Seal was made in thirty-five days. Most of it was shot in the woods right outside the studio. Everything in it was done in an enormous hurry, and I like it because it expresses a sort of craftsmanship. It’s very theatrical and complicated. Some parts of the picture I still like. It is very close to me. When we were making it, each morning brought a new catastrophe because we had to make it cheap and quick. For the beach scenes, we had only three days on location! The actors carried the cameras. We borrowed costumes from the theatre. It was all done in a hurry, but with enormous enthusiasm. We were happy even to be able to produce some images each day. For example, the scene with the flagellants was shot from eight A.M.. to seven P.M. of a single day.

Are you satisfied with that scene?
I like it, but of course, I had no time to reshoot anything or even to produce enough shots for the sequence.

It does seem to be awfully stagy.
Of course it is.

You wanted that? These religious people are also putting on a show?
That was not my intention. I only wanted it done quickly.

Was the script written quickly, too?
No. It started as a small one-act play. This picture is enormously theatrical, but I don’t care. It was such a fantastic time. We never slept. We only rehearsed and shot. When Raval is dying in the forest, he asks for water, for pity, and he cries, “I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.” When we shot that moment, suddenly the sun came out!

A miracle.
[Laughter.] A miracle.

You had fun making it, but it’s troubling for the spectator. For example, why does all-powerful death have to resort to such low trickery?
The whole film is based on medieval pictures in a Swedish church. If you go there, you will see death playing chess, sawing a tree, making jokes with human souls. It’s like a Mexican peasant game that takes death as a joke. Only suddenly does he become terrible.

Let me get at the problem another way. It does seem that the sensibility of the medieval artist is totally different from the sensibility behind this film.
That’s not true. Say anything you want against The Seventh Seal. My fear of death—this infantile fixation of mine—was, at that moment, overwhelming. I felt myself in contact with death day and night, and my fear was tremendous. When I finished the picture, my fear went away. I have the feeling simply of having painted a canvas in an enormous hurry—with enormous pretension but without any arrogance. I said, “Here is a painting; take it, please.”

And internationally, people did.

So you were vindicated.
Thirty-five days! —Ingmar Bergman: An Interview by Charles Samuels

Archive audio from 1988 of actor Max von Sydow talking to film historian Peter Cowie about his work with Ingmar Bergman. Narration written and presented by Taryn Joffe. In which, Max von Sydow discusses his work on The Seventh Seal. Including a role change from one of the actors to the role that would introduce him to the world. In addition to a discussion on his work in The Magician, Sydow talks about Bergman’s infamous conflicts with religion.



The year is 1961 and Ingmar Bergman is making a movie. While planted on the scene as apprentice to Bergman, Vilgot Sjöman (director, I Am Curious–Yellow, 1967), suggests to Swedish Television that they take the opportunity to record with the acclaimed director. In August, Sjöman and the television crew begin to capture what would become a comprehensive five-part documentary on the making of Winter Light, offering views of script development, set construction and lighting, rehearsals and editing, as well as intimate conversations with Bergman and members of his cast and crew. Footage from the film’s Swedish premiere delivers immediate audience reactions and the critics’ reviews the following day. Originally recorded on 16mm film, the television series Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie has subsequently been included in a bonus disc of the Criterion Collection‘s box set of A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman. Brian Burke of DVD Verdict called it the “best documentary I’ve ever seen on the filmmaking process,” adding Bergman appears “candid, relaxed, and animated.”

The film documents Bergman’s creative process before, during, and after the filming of Winter Light, and is divided into five episodes. For English subtitles, click CC.



Includes an interview with Bergman about writing the screenplay; discusses casting, choice of locations, lighting, costumes, etc. Interviews with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, costume designer Max Goldstein, prop master K.A. Bergman, and actor Gunnar Björnstrand.

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Shows Bergman’s directing style as Gunnar Björnstrand and Ingrid Thulin are guided through a key scene in the film (in an essay included with the disc, Sjöman reveals that this episode is an “arranged rehearsal,” made several days after the real shooting for the scene had been done).

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An on-set interview of Bergman by Sjöman about his directing philosophy, strengths and weaknesses.

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Goes step-by-step through the editing of one scene from the raw footage through the final edit. It also covers the sound mixing.

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Shows the planning of the film’s release, both in Sweden and internationally; interviews audience members and critics about their reaction to the film.

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Here’s the documentary in its entirety.

A candid conversation with Sweden’s one-man new wave of cinematic sorcery. Originally published in Playboy, 1964.

There’ve been reports that you feel what you’ve called “the great fear” whenever you leave Sweden. Is that why you’ve never made a film outside the country?
Not really; all that has very little to do with making movies. After all, actors and studios are basically the same all over the world. What worries me about making a film in another country is the loss of artistic control I might run into. When I make a film, I must control it from the beginning until it opens in the movie houses. I grew up in Sweden, I have my roots here, and I’m never frustrated professionally here—at least not by producers. I’ve been working with virtually the same people for nearly twenty years; they’ve watched me grow up. The technical demands of moviemaking are enslaving; but here, everything runs smoothly in human terms: the cameraman, the operator, the head electrician. We all know and understand one another; I hardly need tell them what to do. This is ideal and it makes the creative task–always a difficult one—easier. The idea of making a film for an American company is very tempting, for obvious reasons. But it’s not one’s first Hollywood film that’s so difficult–it’s the second. Work in another country, with more modern equipment but with my same crew, with the same relationship to my producers, with the same control over the film as I have here? I don’t think that’s very likely.

You’re said to be no less indisposed to come into contact with outsiders even on your own sets in Stockholm, from which all visitors are barred. Why?
Do you know what moviemaking is? Eight hours of hard work each day to get three minutes of film. And during those eight hours there are maybe only ten or twelve minutes, if you’re lucky, of real creation. And maybe they don’t come. Then you have to gear yourself for another eight hours and pray you’re going to get your good ten minutes this time. Everything and everyone on a movie set must be attuned to finding those minutes of real creativity. You’ve got to keep the actors and yourself in a kind of enchanted circle. An outside presence, even a completely friendly one, is basically alien to the intimate process going on in front of him. Any time there’s an outsider on the set, we run the risk that part of the actors’ absorption, or the technicians’, or mine, is going to be impinged upon. It takes very little to destroy the delicate mood of total immersion in our work. We can’t risk losing those vital minutes of real creation. The few times I’ve made exceptions I’ve always regretted it.

You’ve been criticized not only for barring and even ejecting intruders from your sets, but for outbursts of rage in which, reportedly, you’ve ripped phones off walls and thrown chairs through glass control booths. Is there any truth to these accounts?
Yes, there is—or rather, was. When I was younger, much younger, like so many young men I was unsure of myself. But I was very ambitious. And when you’re unsure, when you’re insecure and need to assert yourself, or think you do, you become aggressive in trying to get your own way. Well, that’s what happened to me—in a provincial theatre where I was a new director. I couldn’t behave that way now and hope to keep the respect of my actors and my technicians. When I know the importance of every minute in a working day, when I realize the supreme necessity of establishing a mood of calm and security on the set, do you think I could, or would have any right to, indulge myself that way? A director on a movie set is a little like the captain of a ship; he must be respected in order to be obeyed. I haven’t behaved that way at work since I was maybe twenty-five or twenty-six.

Yet these stories of temper tantrums continue to circulate in print.
Of course they do. Such stunts as ripping out telephones and hurling chairs around make the sort of copy that journalists love to give their editors and their readers. It’s more colourful to read about a violent temper than about someone instilling confidence in his actors by talking quietly to them. It’s to be expected that people will go on writing—and reading—this sort of nonsense about a man year after year. Do you begin to understand why I don’t like to talk to the press? You know, people also say I don’t like to see journalists, that I refuse to talk to them anymore. For once they are right. When I am nice to reporters, when I give them my time and I talk to them sincerely, they go off and print a lot of old gossip, or their editors throw it in, because they think those old stories are more entertaining than the truth. Take that cover story done on me a few years ago by one of those American magazines of yours.

Time magazine?
Yes, that’s it. My wife read it to me when it came out here. The man they described sounds like someone I’d like to meet—perhaps a little difficult, not such a nice person, yet still an interesting fellow. But I didn’t find myself in it. He was nobody I know.

It’s been reported that you’ve had no less difficulty recognizing some of your own films when you read what the critics have to say about their merit and meaning. Is this true?
I’ve given up reading what’s written either about me or about my films. It’s pointless to get annoyed. Most film critics know very little about how a film is made, have very little general film knowledge or culture. But we are beginning to get a new generation of film critics who are sincere and knowledgeable about the cinema. Like some of the young French critics—them I read. I don’t always agree with what they have to say about my films, but at least they’re sincere. Sincerity I like, even when it’s unfavourable to me.

Well, your films have been unfavourably reviewed for, among other reasons, the private meanings and obscurity of many of their episodes and much of their symbolism. Do you think these accusations may have some validity?
Possibly, but I hope not because I think that making a film comprehensible to the audience is the most important duty of any moviemaker. It’s also the most difficult. Private films are relatively easy to make; but I don’t feel a director should make easy films. He should try to lead his audience a little further in each succeeding film. It’s good for the public to work a little. But the director should never forget who it is he’s making his film for. In any case, it’s not as important that a person who sees one of my films understands it here, in the head, as it is that he understands it here, in the heart. This is what matters.

Whatever the nature of their understanding, a great many international critics concur in ranking you foremost among the world’s film makers. How do you feel about this approbation?
Success abroad has made my work much easier in Sweden. I don’t have to fight so much on matters really external to actual creative work. Thanks to success, I’ve earned the right to be left to my work. But, of course, success is so transitory; it’s such a flimsy thing to be à la mode. Take Paris–a few years ago I was their favourite director. Then came Antonioni. Who’s the new one? Who knows? But you know, when these young men of the nouvelle vague first started making films, I was envious of them, envious of their having seen all the films at the cinémathèque [film library], of their knowing all the techniques of moviemaking. Not anymore. On the technical side, I have become very sound. I have acquired confidence in myself. Now I can see other directors’ work and no longer feel jealous or afraid. I know I don’t have to.

Have their films influenced or instructed you in the development of your own moviemaking style and skills?
I’ve had to learn everything about movies by myself. For the theatre I studied with a wonderful old man in Göteborg, where I spent four years. He was a hard, difficult man, but he knew the theatre, and I learned from him. For the movies, however, there was no one. Before the War I was a schoolboy, then during the War we got to see no foreign films at all, and by the time it was over I was working hard to support a wife and three children. But fortunately I am by nature an autodidact, one who can teach himself–though it’s an uncomfortable thing to be at times. Self-taught people sometimes cling too much to the technical side, the sure side, and place technical perfection too high. I think what is important, most important, is having something to say.

Do you feel that America’s New Wave directors have something to say?
Yes, I do. I have seen just a few examples of their work—only The Connection, Shadows and Pull My Daisy; I should like very much to see more. But from what I’ve seen, I like the American New Wave much more than the French. They are so much more enthusiastic, idealistic, in a way—cruder, technically less perfect and less knowing than the French film makers, but I think they have something to say, and that is good. That is important. I like them.

Have you enjoyed the Russian films you’ve seen?
Very much. I think something very good will be coming from them soon. I don’t know why, but I feel it. Did you see Childhood of Ivan? There are extraordinary things in it. Some of it’s very bad, of course, but there is real talent and power.

How do you feel about the Italian directors?
Fellini is wonderful. He is everything I’m not. I should like to be him. He is so baroque. His work is so generous, so warm, so easy, so unneurotic. I liked La Dolce Vita very much, particularly the scene with the father. That was good. And the end, with the giant fish. Visconti—I liked his first film, La Terra Trema; his best, I think. I liked Antonioni’s La Notte a great deal, too.

Would you classify these among the best films you’ve ever seen?
No, right now I think I have three favourite contemporary films: The Lady with the Dog, Rashomon and Umberto D. Oh, yes, and a fourth: Mr. Hulot’s Holiday. I love that one.

Let’s return to the subject of your own work, if we may. Where did you get the idea for your latest and most controversial film, The Silence?
From a very big, fat old man. That’s right. Four years ago, when I was visiting a friend in a hospital here, I noticed from his window a very old man, enormously fat and paralyzed, sitting in a chair under a tree in the park. As I watched, four jolly, good-natured nurses came marching out, lifted him up, chair and all, and carried him back into the hospital. The image of him being carried away like a dummy stayed in my mind, although I didn’t really know exactly why. It all grew from that seed, like most of my films have grown—from some small incident, a feeling I’ve had about something, an anecdote someone’s told me, perhaps from a gesture or an expression on an actor’s face. It sets off a very special sort of tension in me, immediately recognizable as such to me. On the deepest level, of course, the ideas for my films come out of the pressures of the spirit; and these pressures vary. But most of my films begin with a specific image or feeling around which my imagination begins slowly to build an elaborate detail. I file each one away in my mind. Often I even write them down in note form. This way I have a whole series of handy files in my head. Of course, several years may go by before I get around to transforming these sensations into anything as concrete as a scenario. But when a project begins to take shape, then I dig into one of my mental files for a scene, into another for a character. Sometimes the character I pull out doesn’t get on at all with the other ones in my script, so I have to send him back to his file and look elsewhere. My films grow like a snowball, very gradually from a single flake of snow. In the end, I often can’t see the original flake that started it all.

In the case of The Silence, the “original flake”—that paralyzed old man—is certainly hard to discern in the explicit scenes of intercourse and masturbation that aroused such heated reactions, pro and con. What made you decide to depict sex so graphically on the screen?
For many years I was timid and conventional in the expression of sex in my films. But the manifestation of sex is very important, and particularly to me, for above all, I don’t want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them. There is much in common between a beautiful summer morning and the sexual act; but I feel I’ve found the cinematic means of expressing only the first, and not the other, as yet. What interests me more, however, is the interior anatomy of love. This strikes me as far more meaningful than the depiction of sexual gratification.

Do you agree with those who say that the American version of The Silence has been emasculated by the excision of almost two minutes of film from the erotic scenes?
I’d rather not comment on that.

All right. But is it possible that this encounter with American censorship regulations will induce you to exercise a certain degree of self-censorship in future films?
No. Never.

How did you persuade actresses Thulin and Lindblom to perform the actual acts depicted in the picture’s controversial scenes?
The exact same way I have gotten them, with all my other actors, to perform in any scene in any of my other films. We simply discuss quietly and easily what they must do. Some people claim I hypnotize my actors—that I use magic to bring the performances out of them that I get. What nonsense! All I do is try to give them the one thing everyone wants, the one thing an actor must have: confidence in himself. That’s all any actor wants, you know. To feel sure enough of himself that he’ll be able to give everything he’s capable of when the director asks for it. So I surround my actors with an aura of confidence and trust. I talk with them, often not about the scene we’re working on at all, but just to make them feel secure and at ease. If that’s magic, then I am a sorcerer. Then, too, working with the same people–technicians and actors–in our own private world for so many years together has facilitated my task of creating the necessary mood of trust.

How do you reconcile this statement with the following declaration, which you made five or six years ago in discussing your film-making methods: “I’d prostitute my talents if it would further my cause, steal if there was no other way out, kill my friends or anyone else if it would help my art”?
Let’s say I was pretty defensive when I said that. When one is unsure of himself, when he’s worried about his position, worried about being a creative artist, he feels the need, as I said before, to express himself very strongly, very assertively, in order to withstand any potential criticism. But once you’ve finally become successful, you feel freed from the imperatives of success. You stop worrying about striving, and can devote yourself to your work. Life becomes so much easier. You like yourself better. I find that I’m beginning to enjoy much that I never did before, to learn that there is much I haven’t seen. I feel a little older—not much, but a little—and I like it.

You know, I used to think that compromise in life, as in art, was unthinkable, that the worst thing a man could do was make compromises. But of course I did make compromises. We all do. We have to. We couldn’t live otherwise. But for a long time I wouldn’t admit to myself—although, of course, at the same time I knew it–that I, too, was a man who compromised. I thought I could be above it all. I have learned that I can’t. I have learned that what matters, really, is being alive. You’re alive; you can’t stand dead or half-dead people, can you? To me, what counts is being able to feel. That’s what Winter Light—the film of mine that people seem to understand least—is trying to say. Now that you’ve been in Stockholm in midwinter for a few days, I think you can begin to understand, a little, what this film is about. What do you make of it?

We’re more interested in learning what you make of it.
Well, it was a difficult film, one of the hardest I’ve made so far. The audience has to work. It’s a progression from Through a Glass Darkly, and it in turn is carried forward to The Silence. The three stand together. My basic concern in making them was to dramatize the all-importance of communication, of the capacity for feeling. They are not concerned—as many critics have theorized—with God or His absence, but with the saving force of love. Most of the people in these three films are dead, completely dead. They don’t know how to love or to feel any emotions. They are lost because they can’t reach anyone outside of themselves. The man in Winter Light, the pastor, is nothing. He’s nearly dead, you understand. He’s almost completely cut off from everyone. The central character is the woman. She doesn’t believe in God, but she has strength; it’s the women who are strong. She can love. She can save with her love. Her problem is that she doesn’t know how to express this love. She’s ugly, clumsy. She smothers him, and he hates her for it and for her ugliness. But she finally learns how to love. Only at the end, when they’re in the empty church for the three o’clock service that has become perfectly meaningless for him, her prayer in a sense is answered: he responds to her love by going on with the service in that empty country church. It’s his own first step toward feeling, toward learning how to love. We’re saved not by God, but by love. That’s the most we can hope for.

How is this theme carried out in the other two films of the trilogy?
Each film, you see, has its moment of contact, of human communication: the line “Father spoke to me,” at the end of Through a Glass Darkly; the pastor conducting the service in the empty church for Marta at the end of Winter Light; the little boy reading Ester’s letter on the train at the end of The Silence. A tiny moment in each film but the crucial one. What matters most of all in life is being able to make that contact with another human. Otherwise you are dead, like so many people today are dead. But if you can take that first step toward communication, toward understanding, toward love, then no matter how difficult the future may be—and have no illusions, even with all the love in the world, living can be hellishly difficult—then you are saved. This is all that really matters, isn’t it?

Many reviewers felt that this same message–that of salvation from solitude through love–was also the theme of your best-known and most commercially successful film, Wild Strawberries—in which the old physician, as one critic wrote, “after a life of emotional detachment, learns the lesson of compassion, and is redeemed by this change of heart.” Are they right?
But he doesn’t change. He can’t. That’s just it. I don’t believe that people can change, not really, not fundamentally. Do you? They may have a moment of illumination, they may see themselves, have awareness of what they are, but that is the most they can hope for. In Winter Light, the woman, the strong one—she can see. She has her moment of awareness, but it won’t change their lives. They will have a terrible life. I wouldn’t make a film about what happens to them next for anything in the world. They’ll have to get along without me.

Speaking of the character of Marta in Winter Light, you’ve been widely praised for your sympathetic depiction of, and insight into, the feminine protagonists in your films. How is it—
You’re going to ask how it is I understand women so well. Women used to interest me as subjects because they were so ridiculously treated and shown in movies. I simply showed them as they actually are—or at least closer to what they are than the silly representations of them in the movies of the Thirties and Forties. Any reasonably realistic treatment looked great by comparison with what was being done. In the past few years, however, I have begun to realize that women are essentially the same as men, that they both have the same problems. I don’t think of there being women’s problems or women’s stories any more than I do of there being men’s problems or men’s stories. They are all human problems. It’s people who interest me now.

Will your next film be in any way a continuation of the theme elaborated in your recent trilogy?
No, my new film, and my last for a while, is a comedy, an erotic comedy, a ghost story—and my first film in colour.

What’s it called?
All the Women. They may like it in America; the theme song is Yes, We Have No Bananas. It amuses me, anyway. I’ve already told one Swedish writer that I’m hoping it will start the Bergman Ballyhoo Era. It’s not long since I finished the final cutting. You know, I don’t at all mind editing or cutting my films. I don’t have any of this love-hate feeling that some directors have toward cutting their own work. David Lean told me once that he can’t bear the task of cutting, that it literally makes him sick. I don’t feel that way at all. I’m completely unneurotic in that respect.

You said a moment ago that this will be your last film “for a while.” How long is a while?
Two years, probably. I want to immerse myself in my work as director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre here. Theatre fascinates me for several reasons: for one thing, it’s so much less demanding on you than making films. You’re less at the mercy of equipment and the demand for so many minutes of footage every day. You aren’t nearly so alone. It’s between you and the actors, and later on, the audience. It’s wonderful—the sudden meeting of the actor’s expression and the audience’s response. It’s all so direct and alive. A film, once completed, is inalterable; in the theatre you can get a different response from every performance. There’s constant change, always the chance to improve. I don’t think I could live without it. —A candid conversation with Sweden’s one-man new wave of cinematic sorcery



This is just absolutely brilliant and by far the best interview with Ingmar Bergman we’ve ever come across.

Stanley Kubrick wrote the following gushing letter of praise in 1960 to the man he considered to be “the greatest film-maker at work today,” and who he later cited as a major influence on his work: Ingmar Bergman. Bear in mind also that Kubrick was only 31 years of age at the time and yet to produce the masterpieces he is now widely remembered for; Bergman was ten years his senior. Altogether a wonderful snapshot. —Shaun Usher, Letters of Note


February 9, 1960

Dear Mr. Bergman,

You have most certainly received enough acclaim and success throughout the world to make this note quite unnecessary. But for whatever it’s worth, I should like to add my praise and gratitude as a fellow director for the unearthly and brilliant contribution you have made to the world by your films (I have never been in Sweden and have therefore never had the pleasure of seeing your theater work). Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today. Beyond that, allow me to say you are unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfullness and completeness of characterization. To this one must also add everything else that goes into the making of a film. I believe you are blessed with wonderfull actors. Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin live vividly in my memory, and there are many others in your acting company whose names escape me. I wish you and all of them the very best of luck, and I shall look forward with eagerness to each of your films.

Best Regards, Stanley Kubrick

Bobbie Wygant interviews Ingmar Bergman on violence, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Persona.

Here are several photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. Photographed by Louis Huch © AB Svensk Filmindustri. Intended for editorial use only. All material for educational and noncommercial purposes only.

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