In a review for The New Yorker, Dorothy Parker once characterized a small pamphlet of homilies as perfect bathtub reading: it could easily be balanced in one hand, and if it happened to slip into the water and disappear down the drain, well, that would be no great loss. Regi Ingmar Bergman (published in English as The Ingmar Bergman Archives) is in every respect that volume’s opposite. It weighs more than 6.5 kilos and is too large to fit on most bookshelves or be held comfortably on a lap. The sheer size and mass would not be a problem if this were a true coffee table book, to be left on display for cursory perusal of its illustrations. Although there are thousands of fascinating photographs—many of them relatively unfamiliar—arranged in an eye-catching layout, the volume’s nearly 600 pages also provide extraordinarily rich textual material on Bergman’s life and career. The chronological organization facilitates its use as a reference work, but Bergman lovers will also want to simply sit down and read.
Bergman died in 2007, but Regi Ingmar Bergman would not have been possible without his cooperation, since editors Paul Duncan (text) and Bengt Wanselius (images) had full access to his personal archive, donated to the Swedish Film Institute a few years earlier. The editors assembled a team of contributing editors—film scholars Birgitta Steene and Peter Cowie, producer Bengt Forslund, and dramaturg Ulla Åberg—whose knowledge and expertise cover divergent aspects of Bergman’s contribution and legacy. In scope, this is by far the most comprehensive book on Bergman to appear to date, and it is unlikely to be eclipsed in the future.
Following a brief but insightful preface by Bergman’s life-long friend and colleague Erland Josephson, the volume is divided into seven chapters: Lärlingen The Apprentice, 1918 - 1951; Erövraren The Conqueror, 1951-1956; Trollkarlen The Magician, 1957 - 1961; Tvivlaren The Doubter, 1961 - 1964; Domptören The Whip-cracker, 1964 - 1977; Flyktingen The Refugee, 1977 - 1983; and Mästaren The Master, 1984 - 2007. (Chapter titles do not always correspond to those in the English-language edition.) Each chapter in turn contains a detailed presentation, including complete production information, of each film or television drama that Bergman scripted and/or directed during that period. Commentary assigns central importance to Bergman’s own views, drawn from various sources, including diaries, letters, interviews, and the retroactive assessments in Bergman om Berman
Bergman on Bergman
, 1970, and Bilder
, 1990. Other perspectives are introduced through the accounts of collaborators, including Forslund and Åberg as well as, among many others, directors Alf Sjöberg and Vilgot Sjöman, cinematographer Sven Nykvist, and actors Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann. Bergman specialists both within and outside academia, in particular Steene and Cowie, provide additional background information and critical interpretations. Each chapter also includes a separate annotated chronology that takes into consideration theatre, opera, and radio productions as well as film and television. The appendix of the volume gives a year-by-year shorthand biography by noting important dates in Bergman’s life, information on contributors, and footnotes citing sources. Unfortunately, however, there is no bibliography or index of names and titles, which makes searching for specific references somewhat problematic.
As an extra dividend supplementing the printed material, an attached DVD makes available three behind-the-scenes home movies, each only a few minutes long, that Bergman himself made while filming Gycklarnas afton
Sawdust and Tinsel
, Det sjunde inseglet
The Seventh Seal
, and Såsom i en spegel
Through a Glass Darkly
, and three informative shorts or video diaries by others about later productions: Arne Carlsson on Höstsonaten
, Bengt Wanselius on Bildmakarna
The Image Makers
, and Torbjörn Ehrnvall on Saraband.
Even leaving aside the English-language edition, many of the texts in Regi Ingmar Bergman have been published before. This volume nevertheless serves an important function by pulling together a wide variety of enlightening material, some from hard-to-locate sources; by placing individual contributions in a meaningful framework, in part through new texts and well-chosen illustrations and by making the work available in the native language of Bergman and most of the commentators. The editors have done a laudable job in the exhaustive selection process. Regi Ingmar Bergman is truly monumental in every sense of the word. Fittingly, it won the prestigious August Prize as the best Swedish non-fiction book of the year.