18 Oct 2011

Bergman Revisited

In collaboration with Wallflower Press, Face to Face here offers an essay by renowned Bergman scholar Maaret Koskinen. The text is the first contribution of "Ingmar Bergman Revisited", an anthology based on the Ingmar Bergman Foundation arranged symposium in Stockholm in 2005. Purchase the complete anthology at Wallflower Press.

Bergman Revisited

It goes without saying that Ingmar Bergman's donation of his personal archive, now under the auspices of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, is a virtual treasure of materials, and one that transgresses disciplinary boundaries: film, theatre, literature, music, television and radio.

Already in empirical terms, then, such material seems to call out for intermedial approaches, which focus on the multi-faceted relationships between various arts and media, including different forms of historic as well as present-day transgressional traffic between them. Naturally, such transgressional aspects can be found on a number of levels, both with regard to individual works as well as Bergman's entire oeuvre. Here, for instance, you can find a multitude of so-called 'visualisations' or 'theatricalisations' of written texts. A prime example is Bergman's autobiography Laterna magica (The Magic Lantern, 1987), of which the very title announces its close links to the idea of - literally - pictorialising memories. In equal measure, Bergman's work is saturated with examples of the opposite, that is, all kinds of 'literature-lisations' of the (arguably) mainly visual and aural arts of film. One example is his use of the theatrical Kammerspiel-form (which in turn has been transposed from a musical form), as well as his propensity for allegory or representational abstractions, and, not least, heavy reliance on well-crafted dialogue.

Take, for instance, the unpublished story from 1942 found in the archive material, which first was conceived as a literary novella, and a few years later was re-written into a film script (unpublished and not filmed), which in turn was followed by yet another version in the shape of a stage play called Dagen slutar tidigt (The Day Ends Early), this time both published and staged (see Bergman 1948). Or, to take a more well-known example, think of Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage, 1973), which was first written as a script with decidedly literary qualities, then became adapted into a six-part mini-series for television, and later was cut down to half for cinema distribution ? and eventually ended up being (re-)produced for the stage.

In short, it is safe to say that Bergman's practice forms an eminent, if not unique, example of a transgressional aesthetic project, as if made to be studied in the light of interarts or intermedia approaches.

However, besides close readings of empiri, the archive material encourages theoretical reflection on interartiality and intermediality as theoretical concepts and approaches as well. Thus it prompts one to ask, for instance, what issues are involved in the present-day influence of new media (like television and digitalisation) over the traditional arts? What, for instance, if a given manuscript is produced as a television series instead of as a film for the cinema? Consider the fact that the aforementioned Scenes from a Marriage first was produced as a television series, that is, for another medium as well as for quite different conditions of reception than those encountered in a darkened cinema. In addition, this series was consciously conceived and construed as a daytime soap opera (albeit in an ironic, modified fashion). Nonetheless, it was received as yet another masterpiece by Bergman the artist or auteur, that is, in line with those theoretical notions and contexts associated with 'high culture' that Bergman's work is almost exclusively (and sometimes quite erroneously) framed by, not least abroad. Needless to say, this in turn rather efficiently disposed of other relevant approaches such as melodrama or gender perspectives.

It is not by chance, then, that Ingmar Bergman's last film Saraband (2003) also lends itself to an intermedial approach.

One could, for instance, focus entirely on the fact that it was made for television, just as Scenes from a Marriage, with which it shares internal relations, mainly through the characters Johan and Marianne, here played thirty years later by the same actors (Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann). Or one could focus on the fact that Saraband was shot digitally, which supposedly, according to what was reported in the press, was why Bergman refused to send it to the Cannes Film Festival in 2004, since he did not consider the technical standard good enough for a theatrical screening. But the real reason, I suspect, is that he sensed (just as, he told me, was the case with Efter repetitionen (After the Rehearsal) from 1984) that this particular story was not conceived for nor meant for the big screen, but rather for the medium of television and its much more intimate viewing conditions.

Alternatively, one could ponder the many-faceted relations between the aural and visual arts, through the use and function of music in Saraband. The centrality of music is of course already announced in the title, referring to the fifth suite for solo cello by Bach, which can be regarded as a kind of 'sublimated dance music' if one were to believe Bergman's own notes on the cover sheet of the first handwritten draft of the script. In the film, Bach is very much related to Anna, the woman who has died recently, and whom we never see (except in a photograph), but whose presence seems to be felt by the other characters in the story, in this case her daughter Karin, her husband Henrik, and her elderly father-in-law Johan. Indeed, at times Bach's music seems interchangeable with Anna, representing something of her presence for the people left behind: a sense of belonging, grace, perhaps a redemption of sorts. An obvious comparison, thematically as well as stylistically, is the way Bach's music functions in, for instance, Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963) and Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers, 1973), both in which the dialogue suddenly falls silent, as if giving in to music, and acceding to the deviousness and frailty of (spoken) language as a communicative tool.

Another example of the function of music in Saraband can be found in that strangely aggressive part (scherzo) from Bruckner's ninth symphony, which Johan at one point plays at highest volume, while alone in his room. As a Swedish music critic has noted, this is Bruckner's last symphony and what is more, dedicated to God (Nyström 2003). Now Bergman does not dedicate Saraband - by all accounts, his last work - to God, or any other otherworldly force. However, he does dedicate it to his wife Ingrid, who died in 1995, and thus arguably to the beyond in some kind of metaphysical sense. In fact, this beyond, or the hope and possibility of such a place or existence, is perhaps the most overriding theme in Saraband, to which I will return.

But let me first mention two other forms of intermediality at work in Saraband. Take, for instance the theatre, which is so present in almost anything that Ingmar Bergman has touched upon throughout his long career. It comes as no surprise to find that Bergman wrote Saraband while planning his last production for the stage, Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. This is confirmed by the work diary, which clearly states that Bergman started writing Saraband on 12 June 2001, that is, during the time that he translated, reworked and (some would say) rewrote the play, given the extensive changes and cuts in Ibsen's original text.

Not surprisingly, there are uncanny similarities between Ibsen's play and Saraband. An obvious one is the fact that Johan and Marianne (Johan's former wife, as well as narrator of the story) share a past, since they used to be married, just as Mrs Alving and Pastor Manders in Ghosts share a past. But not only the past but death, too, lies heavily on the characters, as is the case in the play. For, as mentioned, Anna has died, but remains (invisibly) present, and plays an important role in the lives of the other characters: her husband Henrik, who seems to have been reduced to a physical as well as moral ruin in her absence; her daughter Karin, whose young life is about to be smothered in the most horrific way by Henrik, her father; while Johan, this cynical old man, does his best to avoid any kind of insights into others or himself, including his own fear of dying. Another parallel between Ibsen's play and Bergman's film is the theme of euthanasia, as well as that of incest, which are clearly present in both works. In Saraband, there is of course the sexual relationship between father and daughter, while in Ibsen's Ghosts there is the complex relationship between mother and son (one that, incidentally, was strongly emphasised in Bergman?s own stage production of the play in 2002).

Let us, finally, turn to the role of photographs in Saraband. As is well known, photos have been put to various uses in Bergman's films. Just think of Persona (1966), and the famous picture of the Nazis surrounding a group of Jewish women and children, including the Jewish boy with his hands stretched up in the air. Or take the freeze-frame in the form of a photo-montage of Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson (often re-produced on the film poster of Persona), in which their faces form a kind of visual monster, expressing in a condensed fashion the film?s self-reflexive meditation on its very means for existing.

In later years, however, Bergman's use of photographs have turned towards their relation to time and memory. As Linda Haverty Rugg puts it in her contribution to this book, still images in Bergman's work often become types of portals to the past or gateways into other worlds. Take for instance the autobiographical book Laterna magica, where this idea seems to be announced in the very title. On second thought, it is hardly surprising that a film director writing his memoirs would use the metaphor of a photographic machine, for what is writing an autobiography if not - literally - writing the images of memory?

If nothing else, the title of the book serves to remind us of the fact that writing always establishes a complex relationship to images. Or to put it another way, that images and language are intimately connected - just as 'real', physical images are intimatelyconnected to inner, mental ones. If this is the case, the same can be said about the related issue of forgetting. In short, every memory revisited through writing may result in yet another layer of re-writing, so to remember is, paradoxically, also a way of forgetting. Or, to put it in yet another way: if for some writers (the writing of) fiction is constantly invaded by memories, with time memories can in turn become increasingly fictionalised (see Forslid 2000). This, it seems, is quite often the case with Ingmar Bergman's entire work, and one that is put to effective use in Laterna magica: here memory images at times seem to blur into (still or moving) cinematic images, while descriptions of films and the images of cinema bear striking resemblance to memory images from life proper.

I will return to memory and the internal 'memory-shots' in Saraband shortly, but let me do so by way of citing one of Bergman's diaries, in which he looks back on Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata, 1978). Why bring in this film? Quite simply, because it is hard not to - just as hard as it is to avoid regarding Saraband in the light of traditional and naïvely 'uncorrupted', pre-structural auteur theory as well. For even if it is a fact that Bergman's work is certainly one of the most authorially overdetermined ever (and thus only can benefit from having some of its most basic tenets questioned and complicated through, for instance, intermedial issues), it is equally undeniable that Bergman, as writer for and director of film, has enjoyed a virtually unique creative freedom throughout his long career. In such a case, and when confronted with the wealth of materials such as those in the Bergman archive, it remains oddly intriguing to insist on looking for the usual matters at hand (patterns, similarities and so on), if for no other reason that, as John Caughie has noted, the viewer's (pre-)knowledge of a certain director is part of the experience of watching a film: recognition and expectation give the spectator a specific relation to the text, and, potentially, to the figure of the author? (1999: 129). This figure indeed looms large in Saraband, especially when regarded in conjunction with various unpublished, archive material, such as diaries and various versions of the script.

Indeed, there are striking similarities between Autumn Sonata and Saraband. Firstly, there is the prominent role of classical music. Secondly, there are the characters: strong parents; weak or mediocre children; in the case of Autumn Sonata a neurotic relationship between the mother, a world-famous pianist (Ingrid Bergman) and her daughter (Liv Ullmann), who, as everyone who has seen the painful piano-playing sequence of the film knows, will never be able to interpret Chopin as well as her mother. It is hard not to compare their relationship to the tortured goings-on between father and son in Saraband, and Johan's relentless contempt for his son Henrik's mediocrity, both as an individual and as a musician. (In this film, the conflict between the generations is also mirrored in the incestuous relationship between Henrik and his daughter Karin, both of them musicians.) Finally, there are in Autumn Sonata and Saraband those repressed daughters, who in both even seem to arrive in doubles. For in Autumn Sonata there is not only a middle-aged daughter caught in a power struggle with an overbearing parent, but also a younger sister who is (literally) disabled, hidden away on the upper floor of her older sister's house. In Saraband, in turn, Karin's predicament is mirrored in the fate of Johan and Marianne's middle-aged daughter, who is locked away in a mental asylum.

But besides such striking thematic similarities, there are passages in Bergman's diaries which are of great interest for our discussion of the role of photographs in his films. For, a couple of years after having worked on Autumn Sonata, Bergman wrote the following in a diary:

"I often think of Ingrid Bergman. I would like to write something for her that would not be too demanding, and I see a summer porch in rain. She is alone, waiting for her children and grandchildren. It is afternoon. The whole film is set on a veranda. The film will last only as long as the rain. Nature is showing her fairest face; everything is enveloped in this soft unceasing rain - She sees her reflection in the windowpanes - and can catch a glimpse of herself as a young woman - The porch in the summer - everything is enveloped in a soft chiaroscuro. In this piece there are no hard edges; everything must be as soft as the rain. A neighbour's child comes and asks for the other children. She has brought wild strawberries, and she is given a treat." (1990: 366-7)

This film with Ingrid Bergman was never realised. However, this particular scene on the porch did find its way into into the director's work, namely in Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander, 1982/1983), the television mini-series (later distributed as a feature film, cut down to almost half its original length), which Bergman in fact was in the midst of writing as he jotted down these words. The scene in question is the one in which Helena Ekdahl, Alexander's grandmother, is waiting in the indoor porch of her summer house for the rest of the family to return from a boat excursion, while a soft summer rain is falling outside the big picture windows. And clearly, the most important elements in the imagined film in Bergman?s notes can be found in this scene: the elderly woman, the summer porch, the soft rain, even a child who brings wild strawberries. Also, just like the woman in the imagined film catches a glimpse of herself as young, Helena as well thinks of the past, and suddenly finds herself engaged in a conversation with her recently deceased son Oscar (Alexander's father), seeing him, just as clearly as the viewer sees him, sitting opposite her. 'Your wrist was so terribly thin,- she exclaims, while holding the grown-up man's hand in hers. 'See, that's just it,' she continues. 'One is old, and is a child, at one and the same time', obviously talking just as much about herself as her son's apparition.

In other words, children and childhood, the images of the past and the images of memory, all come together on this porch. Thus it should come as no surprise that Helena at one point ends up at a big table, with piles of family photographs spread out in front of her, which she is trying to organise into her bulging family album. It is precisely here, at Helena's table full of pictures, that the many similarities between Bergman's last film for theatrical screening and his last film for television become apparent. After all, Saraband begins, as well as ends, in a room very similar to the indoor porch in Fanny and Alexander. Here we find Liv Ullmann (as Marianne) seated at a big table with hundreds of photographs spread out in front of her, puzzling - just like Helena - over the riddle that is life, time and memories. And although her porch is entirely void of Helena's flowers, it is still suffused with a soft, summery, yellow light. Also, the fact that she directs her gaze in the direction of the viewer, as if to an intimate confidante, is reminiscent of Helena?s conversation with her dead son: in both cases, boundaries of all kinds - those between imagined worlds and the exterior world - do indeed blur.

In any case, there is definitely something about summery porches in Bergman's work that seems overdetermined, layered with meaning; here place, memory and identity seem to merge. Also, should one wish to continue in this (auteurist) vein, one could go even as far back as Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) from 1957, the film in which Isak Borg, the old professor (played by silent-film director Victor Sjöström) embarks on his sentimental journey though the summery landscape of Sweden, as well as the inner landscape of his reveries and reminiscences. Then, halfway, he decides to visit the old summerhouse where he spent his summers as a youngster, and where he is now whisked away to his very first daytime revery of the past. Interestingly this transition occurs as he is watching the house, and suddenly finds himself standing in the darkness of a kind of foyer, very much reminiscent of a porch, while peering into a brightly-lit room in which a scene from the past plays itself out. It is worth noting that this is where Borg remains, outside, in the dark, as he is never seen to enter into or be part of his own visions (for instance as a young man). He is indeed an outsider,and has cut himself off from personal relationships. As the teacher tells him in one of the film's nightmare scenes: 'A surgical masterpiece, Dr Borg. Everything has been removed. Nothing hurts, nothing bleeds or quivers.'

Something to that effect could be said as well about Johan in Saraband almost fifty years later. For just like Borg, he is a misanthropic and rather cruel old man, and just like his predecessor, Johan?s relationship with his son is emotionally troubled. Also (at the risk of being repetitive), it is hard to refrain from pointing out exactly where Marianne finds Johan, as she meets him for the first time in several decades: on a porch, in this case a summer veranda outside a house, very similar to the one in Wild Strawberries. Nota bene, it is an outside porch, as opposed to the inside porches associated with Helena in Fanny and Alexander and Marianne in Saraband. One can, as so often before, note the degree to which Bergman's fictional universe is (conventionally) gendered: women seem to have a privileged access to the inside (of things and themselves), while men tend to remain on the outside.

Thus, from Wild Strawberries in the 1950s to Fanny and Alexander in the 1980s to Saraband more than twenty years later: childhood, strawberries and porches; Helena and Marianne with their respective memories, snapshots and unsorted family pictures; and Isak and Johan, two old men who are forced to confront reality, although they both do their best to avoid it. Undeniably, a circle of sorts seems to have come to a close.

However, let me round off these observations on the role of photographs as gateways into the past, or nodal points where boundaries are transgressed, by drawing attention to a curious photograph that is shown towards the end of Saraband. Here Marianne has decided to stay the night at Johan's - her former husband's - house, and in the middle of the night he sneaks into her room, crawling into her bed like a frightened child. The two former spouses talk awhile before saying goodnight, agreeing to meet more often. At this point there is a cut-back to the present, the beginning of the film, with Marianne, now in her role as narrator, again seen seated by the big table with the photographs spread out in front of her. The point of interest in this context is exactly how this transition from the past to the present is executed, namely through a freeze-frame shot of Johan and Marianne in bed, which then is transformed into a black and white photograph of the two, which Marianne now is holding in her hand, while addressing the camera. What is slightly peculiar about this photograph is this: who took it? It can hardly be a snapshot taken by Marianne herself, or even more unlikely, by Johan, given his state of mind - unless, of course, you imagine that this elderly couple suddenly were seized with the (very unlikely) idea of playing around with a camera in bed for one last frolic.

Rather, it seems, it is the director who at this point took one final chance to frolic. Indeed, what this improbable photo in Saraband seems to mirror, albeit in a clouded fashion, is the narrative experiment in, for instance, Persona. For just as the self-reflexive photo-montage of the faces of the actresses in this film contributes to its overall meta-narrative patterns, the black and white photograph in Saraband serves to draw attention to itself, as an image attributable to a third, invisible party - namely, that narrative position usually labelled with the director's name: 'Bergman'. If nothing else, this curious transition from the moving images of the elderly couple in bed, to a still photograph of that same event, adds a particular kind of distanciated humour to this already rather tragi-comic scene.

But who, finally, is Marianne herself? Is she merely a secondary character, someone designed for the purpose of guiding the viewer into the characters' various pasts' Hardly, for after all her name is Marianne, which seems to carry particular weight and meaning in the context of Bergman?s fictional universe. There is, as mentioned, Marianne in Scenes from a Marriage, who, at least if we are to believe the public relations department of Sveriges Television (SVT, the Swedish public service television corporation) is none other than a younger version of Marianne in Saraband. True, both Mariannes are played by Liv Ullmann and since both Johans in Scenes from a Marriage and Saraband are acted by Erland Josephson, it is certainly a good sales argument to raise the expectation of Saraband being a continuation of their story, thirty years later.

However, there are other Mariannes to be reckoned with. There is Marianne in Faithless (2000), scripted by Bergman and directed by Liv Ullmann. Finally, there is one more prominent woman with the same name in Bergman's film oeuvre: Marianne in En lektion i kärlek (A Lesson in Love) from 1954, acted by the formidable Eva Dahlbeck. But these four stories - A Lesson in Love, Scenes from a Marriage, Faithless and Saraband - are not only conceived for different media (film, television and, in the case of Faithless, only scripted by Bergman) but belong to different genres as well: A Lesson in Love is a comedy, designed for public success, by Bergman's own admission (in Björkman et al. 1986: 79), as was Scenes from a Marriage, whereas both Faithless and Saraband are close to being tragedies. Further, there is no less than fifty years between the first and the last production. Given this, how could there be a common thread between all those varying Mariannes? Or, to rephrase it, why would it be of interest in the first place?

The connection may not be that far-fetched after all, since characters named Marianne always seem to surface in a context of intense self-scrutiny, especially in regard to questions of marital life, fidelity and, not least, that potent poison that Bergman, here as well as in his autobiography, has called 'retroactive jealousy'. Thus, in Scenes from a Marriage, Johan one evening, while seated on the edge of the marital double bed, suddenly tells Marianne that he is going to France with a newfound lover. Thirty years later, similar ingredients are found in Faithless, now with overtly autobiographical aspects. It is not by chance that the story revolves around an elderly writer named 'Bergman' (again acted by Erland Josephson), who one day is visited - or rather, is visited in his imagination - by a woman from his past called Marianne. Suddenly, she materialises in his study and starts telling a story of infidelity much reminiscent of the one in Scenes from a Marriage (involving a trip to France, as well as the theme of 'retroactive jealousy'), only this time the chain of events is told from her point of view. And as the story unfolds, it gradually becomes apparent that David, Marianne's lover with whom she runs off, is a younger version of the old man called 'Bergman', guilty of that destructive jealousy that she once, violently, became a victim of. Thus 'Bergman' and David become aspects of one and the same personality, mirroring each other across time.

Differently phrased, Faithless is about an ageing man who is trying to remember painful incidents in the past. But since there are places in the topography of that 'past-ness' where he dares not walk alone, he conjures up a female guide, Marianne. Meanwhile she herself at first seems to have only vague outlines, and indeed at one point asks the writer's guidance in 'creating' herself: she is a character in the process of emerging, and only gradually assumes an outline and a body. As such, Marianne is a remarkably suitable contribution to the kind of epilogue-writing that Bergman has devoted himself to in the latter part of his career, one that spans film, theatre and literature: Marianne is a role who finds a film director but who is also - to paraphrase Pirandello - a character in search of an author.

However, this still leaves Marianne in A Lesson in Love from the 1950s out of the equation. But on closer scrutiny some basic story elements of this film remain the same, for all its comic aspects. The most obvious ones are infidelity and jealousy between husband and wife, as well as a trip abroad. More importantly, however, there are those ever-returning names. For instance, it turns out that Marianne's husband's name in A Lesson in Love is none other than David. In other words, it is the drama of these particular lovers that seems to turn up in Faithless, spectre-like, almost fifty years later.

It comes as no surprise that the tenacity of this dramatic nexus at least in part is due to its strong personal undercurrent. Bergman himself has hinted as much in his autobiography, where he writes about his third wife, Gun Grut, and the ?life changing? trip they took to Paris together, both running away from their respective spouses. In this context he also admits that Grut served as an inspirational source for a number of his female characters in the films of the 1950s. She stood model, he writes, 'for many women in my films: Karin Lobelius in Waiting Women, Agda in Sawdust and Tinsel, Marianne in A Lesson in Love' (1987: 210). This seems to be corroborated by the material in Bergman?s archive as well, since Gun Grut's name tends to resurface in the most unexpected places in the diaries - sometimes, it seems, unexpected even for Bergman himself. Thus, for instance, the following notation: 'Strong and strange dreams', Bergman writes. 'Meeting with Gun in the land of the dead. Violent and unreal feelings. A whole film really. The things you carry around with you!? The note book is annotated 'U.A.' (Utan År/No Year), but evidently (judging from its contents was used and possibly also written while Bergman wrote Faithless at the end of the 1990s.

Equally suggestive is a short note that Bergman jotted down in the diary for Fanny and Alexander. 'While one is writing a film, other films always announce themselves', he notes. 'It is strange, but probably one?'. [I'd like] to raise an honorary memorial over G. I'd like to do this - from her point of view. Narrated in first person.' Perhaps it is here, while Bergman was in the midst of writing the script for Fanny and Alexander, that the story which was to become Faithless germinated - fifteen years before its realisation. After all, Faithless ended up being narrated in first person, as well as from the woman's point of view. Indeed, perhaps Faithless finally became that 'honorary memorial' to this woman, and narrated in a way that, for both private and professional reasons, was not possible back in the 1950s, when it was disguised as a comedy in A Lesson in Love.

But finally, what has all this to do with Marianne in Saraband? After all, Bergman's last film is certainly not that 'continuation' of Scenes from a Marriage from thirty years earlier, however much the smart PR-machine set in motion by SVT promoted it as such. Saraband of course is not a story of marriage and infidelity, but rather about the overwhelming presence of the past, as well as the terrible void, in the absence of a dead woman, in the present. In that case, Saraband is perhaps also about the wish or hope that there exists a 'land of the dead', to cite Bergman?s own expression when writing in his diary about 'meeting' Gun Grut. Thus one could ask to what degree Marianne in Saraband, as well, is not merely a woman who pays a friendly visit to her former spouse, but is recruited from out of the past in a more improbable manner? Indeed she can be regarded as a kind of older version not so much of Marianne in Scenes from a Marriage but of Marianne in Faithless. Although in this case she turns up not so much in order to help her former lover (as well as creator) to face painful memories, but rather, it seems, to watch over the ruins among those who are still living, perhaps in order to ease their entrance into that 'land of the dead'. For instance, it is worth noting that Marianne in Saraband no longer seems actively engaged in the drama of the living, but instead serves as a confidante or is simply content with watching and observing - somewhat like a conscience or guardian angel.

If this is the case, we seem to have arrived at the quintessence of Saraband, namely death, perhaps the main character of the story. In this context it is of interest to what degree Bergman experimented with different names for his drama, before naming it Saraband. One is 'Marianne's Journey', and here obviously she is (still) the focal point of the story. However, when the first handwritten draft was finished, the piece had been renamed 'Anna', and now the dead woman seems to have taken centre stage. It was in the final draft, labelled by Bergman himself 'the first unedited version', that the piece was first called Saraband. In this context it is of equal interest to cite from a diary dated summer 1998, with the title 'Analysis of a Situation' in Bergman's handwriting on the front cover, since it seems to bear a close relationship to, and perhaps even form the very beginnings of what was to become, Saraband. Here, one finds a cover sheet with a suggestive title: 'Dialogue with the Dead'. Indeed, Bergman continues, there are many dead to be reckoned with. 'I think', he writes, 'of my paternal grandfather and grandmother, two people I never met - but perhaps I will meet them now and we will speak. As well as mother and grandmother, uncle Ernst, uncle Johan, Siri and Alma, and grandfather. Those near, those far.' In other words, he adds, 'there are many people I will have to talk to'.

However, it is not only the theme of death as a state of mind or locus that concerns Bergman in this diary, but also the thought of the passage itself into an unknown place or form of existence. Thus, for instance, in a note dated 26 June 1998: 'I can suddenly experience myself as already dead.' Bergman then turns and twists this thought, as if testing its artistic validity: how should one represent the idea of gliding over into another state, without having noticed how it happened? This is of course something that Bergman had reason to ponder many times during his long career: the difficult art of showing (on film) such complexities in as simple a way as possible; think, for instance, of Cries and Whispers, where a woman dies but cannot leave the living behind, instead getting caught as if in limbo. It is precisely such creative difficulties that are interesting to follow throughout these diaries. Not least among these is Bergman's advice to his own creative self, which he addresses as if a second self or character, with whom he is constantly engaged in dialogue, as in the case of the following thought: 'There's no time and space, there's freedom. You create the prerequisites for your life without coercion, your dreamed rooms. And there you will meet, sometime there you will meet [the dead].? Or, as he puts it in his diary the same month: 'I have decided to embrace the thought that I will meet Ingrid again - and since I now have turned towards the reality of death, it is only natural that I also turn towards the already dead.'

Another piece of advice to his creative self is the following:

"Let your intuition come to your help in your listening. I say 'listening', since your hearing is always more sensitive and in better tune with your feelings than your seeing, which always registers and analyses and receives far too many impressions, whether you like it or not. Listen and you shall hear. It is your hearing that gives you your images, projections, imaginings. Do so. This is my advice." (Diary dated June 1998 - 1 August 2001)

Thus, 'listening' and 'hearing' is pitted against 'seeing' and 'registering'. Perhaps it is from such rumination of the aural qualities of film (or television) that the role of music in Saraband grew.

However, this advice to the creative self is often quite amusing, in particular when this 'other', at times aptly named 'Bergman', is chided and addressed in acid tones. One example is the following eruption of impatience, when sentimentality threatens to enter the proceedings: 'Calm down, you will get nowhere with such an ear-deafening emotional hullabaloo. Let me tell you, Ingmar Bergman: what will surprise you is that you will not be the least bit surprised!' (Diary dated June 1998 - 1 August 2001).
In short, in creating his last work, Bergman seems to have continued vampirising himself, but in this case not only his personal biography but professional history as well, including that biographical legend called 'Ingmar Bergman' - which, ironically, he himself has been the best propagator of.

By way of conclusion, let me return to the scene towards the end of Saraband where Johan crawls into Marianne's bed, afraid and naked like a forlorn child. Interestingly, the last scene in Bergman's stage production of Ibsen's Ghosts was infused with a similar idea. For here the mother, Mrs Alving, helps her son to die, and in doing so in a strange way seems to give birth to him all over again: the actor who plays the son is seen entirely naked on the stage, while snuggling up in his mother's lap.

Could it be pure chance that a similar image can be found in Gycklarnas afton (The Naked Night/Sawdust and Tinsel) from 1953? For at the end of the film Frost, the circus clown, tells a friend of a dream about his wife Alma that he had the night before. In the dream, he says, she asked him:

"Wouldn't you like to rest a little? Yes, I said. Then I'll make you as small as a foetus, she said, so that you can creep into my belly and you'll be able to sleep really well. I did as she said and snuggled down into her belly, and there I slept so nicely, so sweetly, rocked to sleep like in a cradle. And so I got smaller and smaller, and in the end I was just a little grain of corn - and then I was gone."

To me, it is precisely this that forms the core of Saraband, as well: it is about gradual disappearance, but it is also about the hope for re-birth, after death. But in that case, no longer in the image of becoming entangled by the big and frightening black cape of personified Death, as in Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal, 1957), but rather in the image of gradually disappearing into the soft embrace of a woman.

As Ingmar Bergman himself has put it in the diary for Saraband: 'I stand at a border - And I turn, listening and perhaps also seeing, toward a reality I find increasingly self-evident.'

 

Bergman, I. (1948) Moraliteter. Tre Pjäser [Moralities. Three Plays]. Stockholm: Bonniers.
Bergman, I. (1987) Laterna magica. Stockholm: Norstedts.
Bergman, 1. (1990) Images. My Life in Film, trans. M. Ruuth. New York: Arcade.
Björkman S., T. Manns and J. Sima (1986 [1973]) Bergman on Bergman: Interviews with Ingmar Bergman, trans. P. B. Austin. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Caughie, J. (1999) Theories of Authorship. London: Routledge.
Forslid, T. (2000) Fadern, sonen och berättaren. Minne och narrativitet hos Sven Delblanc [The Father, the Son and the Narrator. Memory and Narrativity in Sven Delblanc]. Nora: Nya Doxa.
Nyström, M. (2003) 'Musiken spelar störst roll i Bergmans filmer' ['Music plays the most prominent role in Bergman's Films']. Dagens Nyheter, 30 November, Culture Section.

Unpublished notebooks and manuscripts in the archive of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation:
'Arbetsbok U.Å.' [Work book/diary/No Year]. Dated inside 1994-95.
'Trolösa. Partitur för en film' [Faithless. Musical score for film]. Manuscript dated 14 May 1997.
'Anna/Mariannes resa/Sarabande [sic]/Analys av en situation' [Anna/Marianne?s Journey/Sarabande
[sic]/Analysis of a situation]. Diary dated June 1998?1 August 2001.
'Anna. Scener för valfritt medium av Ingmar Bergman. Första versionen'. [Anna. Scenes for any medium by Ingmar Bergman. First version]. Manuscript, undated.
'Anna. Scener för valfritt medium av Ingmar Bergman'. [Anna. Scenes for any medium by Ingmar Bergman]. Typed script, dated 18 September 2001.
'Sarabande [sic]. Åtta verkliga scener av Ingmar Bergman. Första oredigerade versionen'. [Sarabande [sic]. Eight Real Scenes by Ingmar Bergman. First Unedited Version]. Undated.

Sources

  • Ingmar Bergman Archives.