Ingmar Bergman died last week, and I don’t think that he or his heirs need my assessment of his genius added to the pile that’s been rightly accumulating since then. But I do feel the need to note that he was, at the time of his passing, one of perhaps two or three living artists who had achieved such a sense of import in my life. At the moment, Thomas Pynchon is the only rival I can think of, and I fear we may have seen the last of his published work as well. I’ve been catching up on some of Bergman’s earlier movies (I saw the brutally simple, but somehow still religiously complex The Virgin Spring yesterday, and I hope to see Persona in the next few days), and they’re brilliant, but it’s his later work that sets him in an artistic realm that’s very nearly his own: Scenes from a Marriage (along with its sublime coda from a few years ago, Saraband) and Fanny and Alexander.
These works were originally done for Swedish television, and were then edited down (with the exception of Saraband) and released theatrically in the United States and elsewhere. But the complete five-hour versions of Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander are available on DVD, and that’s how I saw them. Aside from Pynchon’s novels, I can’t think of any contemporary artistic efforts that are as grand, profound, and accomplished. And it’s worth noting too that, though he is largely remembered as a movie director, Bergman was also importantly a writer and a theater director. The scope of his great later works is literary (especially Fanny and Alexander), theatrical (all of them), and even musical (especially Saraband), as well as cinematographic. So if the appreciations pouring forth in the last week haven’t overwhelmed you, but have perhaps moved you to see some of his movies, I urge you to see these final summations.