Ingmar Bergman vs. The World

Ingmar Bergman was a complex man. He spent a lifetime making emotionally and philosophically complex films. That Bergman was one of the harshest critics of his own films is simply part of his neuroses. You may not be aware, but you should not be surprised, that Bergman was equally harsh on other famous filmmakers in his lifetime. There are some quotes out there from Bergman, regarding other famous arthouse directors, that come across like two divas fighting on a runway. And yet, he also gave effusive praise to other filmmakers. It’s fascinating. Here’s some of what Bergman said about other directors. First, the negatives.

Alfred Hitchcock
“I think he’s a very good technician. And he has something in Psycho, he had some moments. Psycho is one of his most interesting pictures because he had to make the picture very fast, with very primitive means. He had little money, and this picture tells very much about him. Not very good things. He is completely infantile, and I would like to know more — no, I don’t want to know — about his behaviour with, or, rather, against women. But this picture is very interesting.”
-From an interview with John Simon, 1971

Jean-Luc Godard
“I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin, féminin, was shot here in Sweden. It was mindnumbingly boring.”
-From an interview with Jan Aghed, 2002

Michelangelo Antonioni
“Antonioni has never properly learnt his craft. He’s an aesthete. If, for example, he needs a certain kind of road for The Red Desert, then he gets the houses repainted on the damned street. That is the attitude of an aesthete. He took great care over a single shot, but didn’t understand that a film is a rhythmic stream of images, a living, moving process; for him, on the contrary, it was such a shot, then another shot, then yet another. So, sure, there are some brilliant bits in his films… I can’t understand why Antonioni is held in such high esteem.”
-From an interview with Jan Aghed, 2002

Orson Welles
“In my eyes he’s an infinitely overrated filmmaker… For me he’s just a hoax. It’s empty. It’s not interesting. It’s dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of — is all the critics’ darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it’s a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie’s got is absolutely unbelievable.”
-From an interview with Jan Aghed, 2002

More on Godard
“In this profession, I always admire people who are going on, who have a sort of idea and, however crazy it is, are putting it through; they are putting people and things together, and they make something. I always admire this. But I can’t see his pictures. I sit for perhaps twenty-five or thirty or fifty minutes and then I have to leave, because his pictures make me so nervous. I have the feeling the whole time that he wants to tell me things, but I don’t understand what it is, and sometimes I have the feeling that he’s bluffing, double-crossing me.”
-From an interview with John Simon, 1971


And now, the friendlier quotes from Bergman.

François Truffaut
“I liked Truffaut a lot, I’ve felt a lot of admiration for his way to address the audience, and his storytelling…. La nuit américaine is adorable, and another film I like to see is L’enfant sauvage, with its fine humanism.”
-From an interview with Jan Aghed, 2002

Andrei Tarkovsky
“That is why Tarkovsky is the greatest of them all. He moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside. Most of my conscious efforts have ended in embarrassing failure.”
-From his book, The Magic Lantern (1988)

Luis Buñuel
“I have never been able to appreciate Buñuel. He discovered at an early stage that it is possible to fabricate ingenious tricks, which he elevated to a special kind of genius, particular to Buñuel, and then he repeated and varied his tricks. He always received applause. Buñuel nearly always made Buñuel films.”
-From his book Images (1990); it’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, but a compliment all the same

 F.W. Murnau
“I suppose I must have a particular weakness for silent films from the second half of the twenties, before the cinema was taken over by sound. At that time, the cinema was in the process of creating its own language. There was Murnau and The Last Laugh, with Jannings, a film told solely in images with a fantastic suppleness; then his Faust, and finally his masterpiece, Sunrise. Three astonishing works that tell us that Murnau, at the same time as Stroheim in Hollywood, was well on the way to creating a magnificently original and distinct language. I have many favourites among the German films of this period.”
-via Bergmanorama 

Federico Fellini
“He is enormously intuitive. He is intuitive; he is creative; he is an enormous force. He is burning inside with such heat. Collapsing. Do you understand what I mean? The heat from his creative mind, it melts him. He suffers from it; he suffers physically from it. One day when he can manage this heat and can set it free, I think he will make pictures you have never seen in your life. He is rich. As every real artist, he will go back to his sources one day. He will find his way back.”
-via Bergmanorama 

Marcel Carné and Julien Duvivier
“Carné and Duvivier were decisive influences in my wanting to become a filmmaker. It was between 1936 and 1939 when seeing Carné’s Quai des brumesHôtel du Nord and Le jour se lève, and Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko and Un carnet de bal had a huge impact on me. I told myself that, if I ever managed to become a director, that was how I wanted to make films, like Carné! Those films affected me enormously.”
-via Bergmanorama 

Akira Kurosawa
“[The Virgin Spring] is touristic, a lousy imitation of Kurosawa. At that time my admiration for the Japanese cinema was at its height. I was almost a samurai myself!”
-From Bergman on Bergman 

 What I find fascinating about all of this is that I find myself agreeing with Bergman more often than not. Until researching this article, I had no clue that he held Duvivier and Carné in such high esteem. And yet, the films he cites from the two French directors are some of my favorite French films. As heavy as Tarkovsky can be to watch sometimes, the two films I’ve seen from him are jaw-dropping. Buñuel definitely made Buñuel films- it’s why I like him as much as I do. The reason I love Truffaut is that he loves people- his humanism- and that he never ever sacrificed story, even as he was revolutionizing film technique. And on the flip side, there’s Godard. Bergman mentions that he constantly feels Godard is trying to tell his audience something. As much as I applaud Godard’s boldness and innovation, he completely beats the audience over the head with it.

I can’t tell which came first- my similar opinions to Bergman on these filmmakers, or that my love of Bergman shaped my cinematic views in such a way that I’d find the same positives and negatives that he did. Leave it to Bergman to be so frank and honest about his peers.


Filed under Ingmar Bergman, Movies

29 responses to “Ingmar Bergman vs. The World

  1. I love this. I just love it. I recently read Images so I remember the Bunuel one, but many of these were new to me. I thought he was a fan of Antonioni… he said in an interview he really liked La Notte and Blowup.

    I honestly profess to loving everything about Godard’s films, even the times when his tricks haven’t worked. I think Les Carabiniers is an underrated film, for starters. And 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her is one of my favourite French New Wave movies.

    It makes me enormously happy to see the praise for Tarkovsky. I love the guy. Seen every film of his and loved them all. Actually I just published a post regarding Andrei Rublev after a recent rewatch pushed it into my top 20 films of all time.

    Also, and most importantly, the banner at the top of this post is the best thing I have ever seen in my entire lifetime.

    • There’s a little bit more out there about Bergman v. Antonioni. The two hated each other. I had no clue until Bergman died, and then Antonioni died a few days later. The press all pointed out how much it would’ve bugged Bergman that he had to share his death with Antonioni or something. If you google it, you can find a lot of the other Bergman quotes.

      Re: Godard, I liked Les Caribiniers a lot, and I love the fact that he used actual letters home from soldiers for the intertitles. I’ve seen 10 of his films or so (still need to do a few major films), and he’s worn on me. I’ll never undersell his influence and innovation, and I thought the guy was amazing when he was new to me. But the more Godard I see, the less enamored I am.

      The Bergman/Tarkovsky thing makes perfect sense. I imagine Tarkovsky is what Bergman wanted to be (as if there was anything wrong with what Bergman was).

      Heh… glad you liked the banner. It was a fun gimmick.

  2. Great post, John. I know very little about these people so it was informative too. Loved the banner. Could you tell me how you wrote the words? Was it just a font?

    • Thanks! I tried to mimic the Scott Pilgrim font (i.e. “vs. the World”). The closest match I could find is a font called Superfly. I typed it out in white, duplicated the layer in black (with a thick stroke around it), merged the layers, and then skewed it for the tilt. It’s far from perfect, but I figured it was good enough for the gimmick.

  3. Wow, talk about catty. I love it.

  4. Great post! I remember in an Interview of Bergman with Olivier Assayas (Filmmaker and film critic) for Les Cahiers du Cinema in the 2000’s. Bergman felt a little pretentious in his comments and I remember that he talked about Hitchcock being a pretentious fat man. As much as I love Bergman and Hitchcock I think that both directors were very similar artists and masters in their own territories.

    • I thought his Hitchcock comments were the most accurate (of the ones that I found for this article). Hitchcock was a master technician, but he was pretty misogynistic towards his female characters. I can see how and why Bergman would take issue with that, since Bergman’s notorious for doing so well with his female characters. I love ’em both (Hitch and Bergman).

      • There’s a whole theory on Hitch’s potential misogynistic approach. Some Film historians, Patrick McGilligan for example, supposed that Hitch was a hidden homosexual without having been involved with men. Many of his films of the 1950’s had original stories of male homosexual characters. Later camouflaged to pass under the radar of censorship and be more succesful commercially. Rope, for instance should have starred Montgomery Clift and Cary Grant the first one was knowned as gay while there are strong rumours that Grant was at least bi-sexual. They backed up when they discovered that the two killers were supposed to be a couple and their professor a gay bachelor and a former lover of one of the younger men. In Psycho, Perkins was also gay and even died of AIDS if I remember correctly… His character also gets highly violent with women…
        Antoher theory is that Hitch was impotent and had almost no sex life. This frustration might have fueled his misogynist approach in his films.
        He also was a voyeur and liked to watch. Just look how he puts the viewer into the action as the criminal. He always dreamt of directing films with lots of sexual content or subcontent.
        On the set he was the teller of dirty jokes to the young actresses to see if they would be inconfortable with sex.

        • That’s great stuff, Michael. Thanks for sharing. I’d noticed a few of those themes. It’s pretty funny how apparent the homosexual themes are in Rope and Strangers on a Train. And you nailed it about his voyeurism. Rear Window and Vertigo- two of his most prominent films- deal with that theme.

          There’s also his mommy issues, which I think show up a lot in his films. But I feel sort of weird psychoanalyzing a guy I’ve never met.

  5. Phil

    Very interesting post. I’m very surprised about the hate towards Welles. Maybe it’s the European vs. American film style? If he thinks Hitchcock and Welles films are empty, I wonder what he would say about blockbusters these days…

    • I’m with you on the Welles thing. With so many of the other critiques, I can understand where he’s coming from (even if I disagree). But the Welles one doesn’t make sense to me.

      My understanding was that he liked Hitchcock’s work, but thought that he was a misogynist.

      In the 2002 interview where a lot of these came from, he cited Magnolia, American Beauty, and Traffic as films that he holds in high esteem. For directors, he mentioned Spielberg, Scorsese, Coppola, and Soderbergh. That last one- Soderbergh- is the one that surprises me. I think he spoke highly of Lukas Moodysson as well.

  6. goregirl

    Your banners are freaking delightful. I love Bergman’s films. Many of the DVD’s I borrowed from the library have included interviews with Bergman and the man strikes me as part diva and part frightened cat. I don’t agree with much of his critique of his peers, nor do I agree with most of his critique of his own work. I wonder what Bergman would think of my friend’s analysis of his body of work: “Watching a Bergman film is like watching paint dry. It is somewhat interesting to see how the paint changes color as it dries, the problem is staying awake through the process”. Clearly my friend is not a fan. We often have heated arguments about film! In any case, I think it best not to criticize the work of your peers. It would be like me citing another blog for having badly written reviews. It just ain’t cool man.

    • “Frightened cat” is an interesting take, because I’ve read some comments speculating that a lot of what Bergman said about his peers was a reaction to their success- that he didn’t want to be seen as losing touch in relation to these other filmmakers.

      A lot of what he said was poor form… but I admire the honesty. He could’ve danced around it, but he didn’t. Sugarcoating it some would’ve been a good idea.

      I’ve never quite understood the idea that his films are boring. To each their own and all that- if someone finds it boring, that’s their opinion. But there’s some serious weighty drama in his movies.

  7. Alex Withrow

    Oh this is just bliss. I posted about all those negative ones several months ago, and man… Bergman was a harsh mofo, huh? Although I tend to agree, on some level, with most everything he said.

    Many of the positive quotes were new to me, and they are very nice to read. Great compilation of quotes from who I consider to be the best person to ever direct a film. And EXCELLENT introductory graphic. Made me laugh my ass off.

    • That’s what I keep coming back to. What he said was harsh, but I can’t disagree with most of what he said (the Welles comments are the only ones I take umbrage with). He was really old at the time of the 2nd interview, too, meaning he had probably stopped caring about pussyfooting around everyone’s ego.

  8. You definitely didn’t want to be on the wrong side of him huh? He was very cutting.

  9. Haha wow, these are brilliant. Had no idea Bergman was so critical of some of these guys.

    Love the banner, too.

    • Can you imagine spending 3 hours picking his brain on what his likes and dislikes are? Or really, ANY highly-regarded filmmaker. It’d be awesome to hear what Carl Dreyer thought of Billy Wilder, or Welles’ thoughts on Truffaut.

  10. Interesting post,I do agree on the comments of Hitch,Truffaut and Antonioni . I do not why even though I watched Blow-Up and L’Aventuura. I found his works terrible. BTW do he have any comments on David Lean? Just curious

  11. It really did make my day to read his quotes about Godard. I’ve only seen 2 of his films, but I hated them each with a passion. Bergman, on the other hand, is one of my favorite directors. I really need to finish the book “Images: My Life in Film.”

    • I love that book. It gives so much insight into his mad genius.

      Which two Godard films did you see?

      • Weekend and Contempt. I started Breathless, but only got a few minutes in before I had to stop watching and go do something. I should start it back up again, though, because I was actually interested in what was going on. Not so much for those other two turd bombs.

        • That’s funny. Contempt was going to be the one I’d recommend. Bande a Part and Breathless are his most accessible. Those might be great places to go from there.

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