Saturday, July 14, 2018

A dishcloth round my soul

‘I look through my diary notes from work on A Dream Play [Strindberg], not very encouraging reading. I was in bad shape, uneasy, dejected, tired, my right hip hurting and aching continually, and mornings were troublesome. My stomach was sabotaging me with cramps and attacks of diarrhoea. Tedium hung like a damp dishcloth round my soul.’ This is from the diary of Ingmar Bergman, Sweden’s greatest film director born a century ago today. Although he left behind ‘extensive diaries’, only a very few have ever been edited or published in Swedish, and none have appeared in English, except for a handful of extracts in Bergman’s autobiography.

Bergman was born on 14 July 2018 in Uppsala, Sweden, into a devout Lutheran household, though he himself later said he lost his faith at the age of eight. And, at the age of nine, he acquired a magic lantern, a possession which inspired an early fascination with theatre. As a teenager, he was sent one summer to Germany where he attended a Nazi rally, seeing Adolf Hitler. In 1937, he started at Stockholm university, studying art and literature, spending most of his time on theatre, and going to see films. Though he never completed his studies, he began to write scripts, and, in 1942, directed his own play, Caspar’s Death, which led to him being offered film script work for Svensk Filmindustri. The following year, he married Else Fisher, with whom he had one child, though they were divorced two years later. Bergman would marry four more times, and have at least eight more children.

In 1944, Svensk Filmindustri released Hets (Frenzy) directed by Alf Sjöberg, then Sweden’s leading film director, with an original screenplay written by Bergman. It was an international success, and led to Bergman being offered the chance to write and direct a film of his own, Kris (Crisis) released in 1946. During the next ten years or so he wrote and directed more than a dozen films, including Fängelse (Prison) and Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika). He achieved international success with Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night) in 1955 which was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Soon after, he directed Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal), also nominated for the Palme d’Or, and Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) which won numerous awards. Many other films followed, some of which he made on the island of Fårö, where he spent much time.

In early 1976, Bergman was arrested by the Swedish authorities for tax invasion. Although the subsequent investigation collapsed and the charges were dropped, Bergman suffered a breakdown, closing his Fårö studio, suspending projects and removing himself to Germany. By the late 1970s, he was returning on visits to Sweden,  resuming his role as a director at Royal Dramatic Theatre, directing for Swedish television, and, in 1982, directing his last film, Fanny and Alexander (which won four Oscars, including best foreign film). Only in 1984, though, did he return permanently to live in Sweden. Retired from film directing, he continued to write scripts for film and television and to direct plays (such as A Dream Play). He died in 2007. Further information is available at Wikipedia, the Swedish Film Database, IMDB, New York Times obituary, and Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Jan Holmberg writing for the Swedish Film Database gives this assessment of Bergman. ‘Basically the same theme with variations permeates all of Bergman’s works: a universe peopled by dysfunctional families, humiliated but vampiric artists and an absent God symbolized by the characters’ overall inability to communicate. His style is austere and unobtrusive, except for his uncompromising close-ups, denuding the human face as at once enticing and mysterious. Bergman’s importance to the art of film cannot be overestimated. His insistence on doing most of his works in his native Swedish, so minor a language, and their nonetheless resounding around the world is unprecedented. He is without a doubt Sweden’s foremost twentieth century artist; perhaps the foremost ever.’

Most of Bergman’s literary output consisted of screenplays for his own films and those of other, but he also wrote plays, short stories, novels, essays, and two autobiographical works (Magic Lantern published in English by Hamish Hamilton in 1988, and Images: My Life in Film published by Arcade Publishing in 1994). According to the Ingmar Bergman Foundation website, his literary remains also include ‘extensive diaries and letters’ the vast majority of which remain unedited and unpublished. As far as I can tell, the only substantial extracts from Bergman’s diaries that have been published came in 2004, with Tre dagböcker (Three diaries), a compilation of the diaries of Ingmar Bergman, his wife Ingrid and their daughter Maria von Rosen covering just the years 1994 and 1995 (starting with Ingrid’s cancer diagnosis). Publication, by the Swedish company Norstedts, received publicity in the English media because of the revelation by Ingmar Bergman that he had had a secret daughter with a Swedish countess in the 1950s - see the BBC or Fox News for example.

Tre dagböcker has not been translated into English, but further details can be found at the Ingmar Bergman Foundation website, which also provides this translated quote from the foreword: ‘A few words on the editing of the diaries. They were written in the moment, and were never intended to be read by anyone author than their authors. Hardly anything has been changed or corrected. Almost everything has been presented exactly as it was written. Nor have we abridged the sections that contain a plodding monotony. They stand in contrast to the upsetting drama that has affected us.
Some may wonder why we have chosen to make such rough and unpolished documents public. The answer is that it has been a part of the grieving process. We have not attempted to hide or excuse our own shortcomings or our helplessness. This is no literary work, but a document. Not a book, but a testimony.’

Otherwise the only published trace of Bergman’s diaries I can find in English are in The Magic Lantern (as translated by Joan Tate) - this can be freely read online at Internet Archive. It was republished in 2007 by University of Chicago Press which described the book thus: ‘More grand mosaic than linear account, Bergman’s vignettes trace his life from a rural Swedish childhood through his work in theater to Hollywood’s golden age, and a tumultuous romantic history that includes five wives and more than a few mistresses. Throughout, Bergman recounts his life in a series of deeply personal flashbacks that document some of the most important moments in twentieth-century filmmaking as well as the private obsessions of the man behind them. Ambitious in scope yet sensitively wrought, The Magic Lantern is a window to the mind of one of our era’s great geniuses.’

Here are the only mentions by Bergman in The Magic Lantern of his diaries/note books (the page numbers refer to the pdf form at Internet Archive, not the published book).

Page 23
‘I look through my diary notes from work on A Dream Play [Strindberg play], not very encouraging reading. I was in bad shape, uneasy, dejected, tired, my right hip hurting and aching continually, and mornings were troublesome. My stomach was sabotaging me with cramps and attacks of diarrhoea. Tedium hung like a damp dishcloth round my soul.’

Page 24
‘On Friday 14 March we had the First run-through [of A Dream Play], letting it all go through without interruptions or re-runs. In my diary I wrote: “Frustrating run-through. Sitting there glaring. Totally outside. Totally unmoved. Well, time enough.” (The premiere had been planned for 17 April, seventy-nine years to the day-after the world premiere.)’

Page 46
‘For a month or so, we had been visited by two quiet, courteous gentlemen from the Tax Authority, who had been given a space in our temporarily empty office and were busy going through our accounts. They had also expressed a wish to be allowed to examine my Swiss firm, Personafilm, so we immediately sent for all the books and placed them at the gentlemen’s disposal.

No one had the time to bother about these quiet individuals in the empty room. According to my diary notes, I see that a voluminous memorandum from the Tax Authority landed with us on Thursday 22 January. I did not read it but sent it on to my lawyer.’

Page 47
‘In my notes on 22 January, I seem to be less worried about the memorandum from the Tax Authority than about a painful eczema that had broken out on the third finger of my left hand.

Ingrid and I had been married for five years. We lived in a newly built apartment house at Karlaplan 10 where Strindberg’s House had once stood.

We led a quiet bourgeois life, meeting friends, going to concerts and the theatre, seeing a number of films and working with gusto.

This is a brief background to what happened on 30 January and subsequently. There are no notes in my diary for the months that follow. I returned to writing them, intermittently, about a year later. So what follows will be what I remember in momentary images, sharply in focus, but blurred at the edges. . .’

Page 107
‘The summer was hot. Neither my wife, Ka’bi, nor I felt like hunting for a holiday house, so we stayed in Djursholm, paralyzed by the heavy thundery heat and our own despondency. I noted in my intermittent diary: “Life has precisely the value one puts on it,” undoubtedly a banal way of putting things but, to me, such insight was so breathlessly new I could not implement it.’

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