The Magazine

Cinema's Shakespeare

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007.

Sep 3, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 47 • By JOHN SIMON
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What distinguishes Bergman's films fundamentally from those of nearly all other directors is the love of music, and the conscious and unconscious influence of that love on his films. Lesser directors have been influenced by paintings, still lesser ones by (usually inferior) fiction. Bergman, who loved music from Bach to Bartok, and listened to it passionately, often got ideas for his films from it--most conspicuously in Autumn Sonata. But even more important, his films are built on musical principles: on duration and contrasts, on rhythm and harmony--even counterpoint. His soundtracks, always respectfully sparing of music (none of those Hollywood orgies), employed the best from the past and the present, such Swedish contemporaries as Karl-Birger Blomdahl and Daniel Bortz. One of Bergman's wives was the distinguished pianist Käbi Laretei, who further developed his musical tastes and was often heard on his soundtracks or providing background music for his stage productions.

Few other filmmakers made so many movies (50-plus) and none so many masterpieces. And how well he could write or talk about them, though never in excess. It is a great pity that he did not live another year. Come next Bastille Day he would have been 90, and major celebrations and retrospectives will take place worldwide. His reactions to, and comments on, them would have provided him with the perfect exit lines, and us with a great summation.

John Simon writes about theater for Bloomberg News.