Bergman the Hack


Obviously, I’m sorry to see that Ingmar Bergman has died. But, beyond some half-praise for his visuals, I can’t think of much good to say about his movies. Bergman and, more importantly, the critics who adored him, did more than any other director to harm the reputation of foreign-made films here in the United States.

Heavily subsidized by the Swedish state for many of his films, most of what he did was boring, slow moving, and utterly unaware of the nature of the medium. Parts of the Seventh Seal would have worked very well on stage but become preposterous, slow, pretentious on film. Even in his last film, the much acclaimed Fanny and Alexander, he goes way over the top more than once.

He rarely got good performances out of his casts either. Only one actor who frequently worked with Bergman (Max von Syndow) had a substantial Hollywood career. What remains in most of his movies hearkens back to his original career as a puppeteer: over-the-top stage acting, nice visuals, and not much in the way of writing. It’s not very surprising that he spent the last 25 years of his life directing only on stage. His style was ill-suited to the camera. I tend to think that many in Hollywood liked him because his films so evoke high-brow legitimate theater that many big time actors idealize.

The acclaim that critics and the Hollywood elite showered on Bergman resulted in many people going to see his films and then, I think, deciding that foreign films in general just weren’t the bother. Insofar as he influenced much better filmakers–Krzysztof Kieslowski, Woody Allen, and Robert Altman to name three–I guess the world is poorer without Bergman around. And, while I haven’t seen any of his plays, I’m willing to believe that he was a great stage director. But as for his films, well, I strongly suspect they’ll be forgotten within my lifetime.