Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Ingmar and Ingrid's Movie Magic

"The idea of working with Ingrid Bergman was an old desire, but that did not initiate the story. The last time I had seen her was at the Cannes Film Festival at the screening of Cries and Whispers (ed note: 1974). She had snuck a letter into my pocket, in which she reminded me of my promise that would make a film together. Once long ago we had planned to adapt Hjalmar Bergman's novel The Boss, Mrs. Ingeborg to film.

"...I wrote the screenplay for Autumn Sonata in a few weeks in order to have something up my sleeve in case The Serpent's Egg flopped with a somersault. My decision was final: I would never again work in Sweden.

"That is the reason I made the strange decision to shoot Autumn Sonanta in Norway. As it turned out, I felt perfectly content to work in the primitive studios on the outskirts of Oslo. Built in 1913 or 1914, the buildings have been left just as they were. Of course, when the wind blew in certain directions, the air traffic passed right overhead, but otherwise it was old fashioned and cozy. Everything we needed was available there, even though the space was dilapidated and had not been kept up. The crew members were friendly but a bit amateurish.

"The actual filming was draining. I did not have what one would call difficulties in my working relationship with Ingrid Bergman. Rather, it was a kind of language barrier, but in a profound sense. Starting on the first day when we all read the script together in the rehearsal studio, I discovered that she had rehearsed her entire part in front of the mirror, complete with intonations and self-conscious gestures. It was clear that she had a different approach to her profession than the rest of us. She was still living in the 1940s.

"I believe that she possessed some sort of inspired system of working, albeit a strange one. In spite of her mechanisms for receiving director's cues not being placed where one expected to find them -- and where they ought to be -- she still must have been somehow receptive to suggestions from two or three of her former directors. After all, she had done excellent work in several American films.

"In Hitchcock's films, for instance, she is always magnificent. She detested the man. I believe that with her he never hesitated to be disrespectful and arrogant, which evidently was precisely the best method to make her listen.

"I discovered early into our rehearsals that to be understanding and to offer a sympathetic ear did not work. In her case I was forced to use tactics that I normally rejected, the first and foremost being aggression.

"Once she told me: 'If you don't tell me how I should do this scene, I'll slap you.' I rather liked that."

From Images: My Life in Film, by Ingmar Bergman.

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