Self-analysis of a filmmaker

The Ingmar Bergman Archives. Excerpt from the essay by Ingmar Bergman

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Filmmaking is not only a problem and dilemma, financial troubles, conflicts of responsibility, and anxiety. It is also secret games, memories, and dreams. A face strongly and suddenly lighted, a hand held out in a gesture, an open space in the twilight where several old women are sitting on a bench eating apples from a bag. Or a dialogue, two people who suddenly say something in voices that hint at their inner characters, perhaps as they are turning the other way. I cannot see their faces, and yet I am compelled to listen to them, to wait until they come back the next time and repeat the same words with no apparent meaning in them but containing a hidden tension, a tension that I am still unaware of, but that has a treacherous sweetness. The lighted face, the hand held out in a gesture as if pronouncing a spell, the old women in the square, and the few meaningless words are caught like glittering fish in my net—or, more correctly, it is I who have been caught in it.

Quite soon, long before the idea is fully developed, I let my imagination be subjected to a practical test. As if in a game, I put my incomplete and fragile ideas on the test bench where all the technical means of the film studio are represented. This imaginary practical test is a good tempering bath for the idea.Will it work? Has it any merit to make it stand up to the murderous everyday routine of the film studio, so far removed from the airy fantasy that created it?

Some of my films have developed very quickly into the finished product. Those are my adaptable films: difficult to manage, but nevertheless extremely healthy children that can be told right at the beginning,"You will support the family."

Then there are the other films. They develop more slowly, they may take years, they will not let themselves be solved by a mere technical or formal solution, if they are to be solved at all. They linger in the twilight and if I want to get at them, I have to go into this twilight land and seek out the connections, the persons, and the situations. The turned-away faces speak; strange streets, wonderful views become distinguishable through the windowpane; an eye gleams in the dusk and is transformed into a glittering gem that breaks with a glassy tinkling. The open square in the autumn twilight is a sea, the old women become dark, twisted trees and the apples become children playing at building sand castles on the seashore beaten by breakers.

The tension is there still, partly in the written word, partly in the mind, and partly in the latent ideas that are ready to take wings and soar aloft with their own strength. This strength becomes all the more important when the script is ready, for it has to do the physical job of filmmaking.

To divide a tragedy into 500 tiny scenes and play them bit by bit and then join the shots into a single film, that is our task

What does making a film entail? If I were to put that question to my readers I would get quite different answers, but the most likely would be that making a film is the process where the script is turned into pictures. This is saying a great deal, but it is not enough. For me it is dreadfully exacting work, a broken back, tired eyes, the smell of makeup, sweat, arc lights, eternal tension and waiting, a continuous struggle between choice and necessity, vision and reality, ambition and shiftlessness. Early mornings are followed by sleepless nights, an intense lust for life, a sort of fanaticism completely channeled into work, where I finally become a functioning part of the film, an inhuman cog that has as its weakness the need for food and drink. The strange thing about it is that, while totally absorbed in the work at hand, I often grasp the concept of my next film among the violent working life going on from floor to ceiling throughout the film studio.
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Each copy of The Ingmar Bergman Archives contains an original film strip of Fanny and Alexander that has been played on bergman's own film projector.