Published August 7, 2007
Trial and Error, Stockholm – Ingmar Bergman died July 30, 2007, 89 years old (on the same day that director Michelangelo Antonioni passed away). I’d like to mention his influence on the image of Sweden, and the Swedish view on Bergman.
INGMAR BERGMAN AND THE IMAGE OF SWEDEN: Bergman’s way of portraying his country in his films had a massive impact in the 1950s and 1960s. Around the world the people of Sweden was regarded as brooding, depressed and consumed by guilt. And Sweden itself was, according to the American Associated Press: ”the claustrophobic gloom of unending winter nights, its glowing summer evenings”.
Then, in the 1970s, Bergman involuntary changed the international view on Sweden again. It was in 1976 that the Swedish tax administration began a witch hunt on the director, who was brought from the theater by uniformed police. This was later recognized as the work of power hungry administrators and he was freed from all charges, but he was mentally broken. Around the world, the view of Sweden as a Soviet in miniature was cabled out.
This made not only Bergman aware that ”anyone in this country can be attacked and humiliated by a special kind of bureaucracy that is growing like a raving cancer”. At the same time, Swedish author Astrid Lindgren (writer of ”Pippi Longstocking”) was supposed to pay 102% in marginal taxes. Stories like these did not only change the view of Sweden, it also had its consequences within the country and the social democratic party lost the next election after 44 years in power.
THE SWEDISH VIEW ON INGMAR BERGMAN: Sweden doesn’t have that many international celebrities, but we are very focused on formulating our country, inwards and outwards. Ingmar Bergman is therefore important to us in more ways than first meet the eye. Our icons are getting too old (like the botanist Carl von Linné and the mysticist Emanuel Swedenborg) or to well used (like the pop group ABBA or tennis player Björn Borg). What we want is someone to represent Sweden NOW, and rather not just anyone internationally important (like Hans Blix), but someone who put our country on the map. Or, to be frank, someone who indulge us by devoting time on the Swedes.
Ingmar Bergman did this. He has (reluctantly) become a national monument in Sweden, and now that he is dead we want to honor him. But how, where and by whom? The competition is on, and many voices are heard within a few days after his death. How many Ingmar Bergman streets can we have in Stockholm, for example? If there is more than one there might be some confusion, so one enthusiastic politician reasoned ”one can change the name a little, call it ’Director Bergmans street’ or something like that.” A lot of new books are being written, TV is finally showing his films again, and a few days after his death we learned that we will get a new stamp with Bergmans face on it. Further more, we already have one important Bergman monument since the massive Ingmar Bergman Archive has been inscribed in the UNESCO ”Memory of the World Register”.
I personally like Bergman a lot, I think there is nothing more natural than some form of memorial. But lets not get to whimsical – lets focus on what counts. Danish director Lars von Trier (”Dogville”) put his finger on it the other day: ”Bergman is by many charactarized as a genius. But there is only one way to celebrate the genius and that is by making his films accessible. He might be concidered as kind of a national monument in Sweden, but it is the films that is the monument. It is a scandal that they are not available for everyone to see!” Lets start there, I say.
Some recommended reading: Ingmar Bergmans two fundamental books, ”The Magic Lantern” and ”Images: My life in film”; The official Ingmar Bergman website; Interview with Lars von Trier (Swe); and a Playboy-interview with Bergman from 1964