Ingmar Bergman, the “poet with a camera,” died in his sleep at his home in Faro, Sweden Monday at the age of 89. The director of such influential films as The Seventh Seal, Persona, Cries and Whispers, and Fanny and Alexander, Bergman was known for his literary sensibilities and existential ruminations. The director’s work has exerted a profound influence on filmmakers as disparate as Woody Allen, Lars Von Trier, and Wes Craven.
Bergman’s childhood and early career is outlined in potent detail in his autobiography The Magic Lantern. A precursor to the slide projector, Bergman acquired a magic lantern from his brother in trade for 100 tin soldiers. Citing his imagination as a refuge from the oppressive discipline of a Lutheran clergyman father and housewife mother, it’s rather poetic he should enter the realm of cinema by trading toys for visions. (Fanny and Alexander, about an upper-class family in Upsala before the First World War, is regarded as a loosely autobiographical portrayal of his youth).
Bergman left his home at the age of 19 and got a menial job at the Royal Opera House. In 1942 the Swedish Film Industry hired him as an assistant scriptwriter. Torment (aka Frenzy or Hets), a script he wrote in 1944 was filmed by then dominant director Alf Sjoeberg and went on to win several awards including the grand prize at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Promptly thereafter, Bergman began his directorial career, producing an average of one film a year. When his comedy Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) appeared in theaters he won international acclaim. Bergman also worked in television, directing everything from soap commercials to the monumental miniseries Scenes from a Marriage (1973).
Bergman frequently collaborated with such notables as Max von Sydow, , Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Erland Josephson, and especially Liv Ullmann, with whom he produced ten films and a daughter.
Bergman won Academy Awards for best foreign film in 1960 (The Virgin Spring), 1961 (Through a Glass Darkly) and 1963 (Winter Light). The latter two films were part of his “faith trilogy,” and it’s suggested the third in the series (The Silence) was too sexually suggestive to be considered for the Oscars. In 1972, two of his films, Persona and Wild Strawberries (1957), were included in Sight and Sound’s prestigious poll of critics as two of the 10 greatest films of all time. In 2005, Time Magazine called him the world’s greatest living filmmaker.
The Associated Press reports the filmmaker, director of 54 features, and 129 stage productions, never fully recovered from a hip surgery he had in October. His last film was 2005’s Saraband.
Bergman is survived by his nine children. Funeral services have not yet been announced but the Swedish Film Institute plans a memorial event for the month of August.