Bergman at 80
In a greenish patterned shirt with a black sweater vest, Bergman at 80 sat and talked easily with a friend and fellow filmmaker and writer, Jorn Donner, for a 90 minute interview made for Swedish television, and widely available for the first time here on the DVD of Wild Strawberries.
He spoke about the relationship of his life to his work, elements of his autobiography (especially his exile from Sweden when he felt he was being persecuted by authorities on tax evasion charges that later proved groundless), and about his work habits, and his beliefs.Harsh parental discipline and formality felt as coldness dominated Bergman's experience of his childhood, as he portrayed in several films.
While his older brother survived it through aggressive assertion, he said, he survived it by adopting a persona pleasing to his parents, and by being a liar. "I lied freely and without restraint."It's remarkably close to what Truffaut said about his own childhood survival technique. "I see life as very hard; I believe one should have a very simple, very crude and very strong moral system," Truffaut said in an interview. " One should say, 'yes, yes,' and do exactly as one pleases. This is why there can't be any direct violence in my films. Already in The 400 Blows, Antoine is a child who never rebels openly. His moral system is more subtle than that. Like me, Antoine is against violence because it signifies confrontation. Violence is replaced by escape, not escape from what is essential, but escape in order to achieve the essential. "
Bergman affirms his continuing relationship to his childhood, which is central to "Wild Strawberries." "The whole of my creativity is finally childish," he says, at age 80. "I can, in a second, go back to my childhood...Anything I've done that's of value [is] a dialogue with my childhood."It was his fear of death, strongest in his teen years, that led him to write and film "The Seventh Seal," released just before "Wild Strawberries," and which he says exorcised that particular demon.
Bergman writes by hand, on the same kind of thick square yellow pads that were standard issue for screenwriters in Sweden when he started in 1942, but which in later years he had to have specially made. His only concession to change is that he's switched from a fountain pen to a ball-point.He always begins with notes in workbooks.
He fills many for each project. "Workbooks are fun!" By the time he starts writing the script itself, he knows exactly what he wants to do. "It goes quickly, but it's so boring. It goes quickly because it's so boring...The workbooks are the creative process. Scripts are the process of putting it in order."
He adheres to a strict schedule: three hours a day, in 45 minute sessions with 15 minute breaks. This is as much ritual as routine, he agrees.Bergman's tumultuous private life, which got translated into his domestic relationship films, is well known. But his last long marriage of 24 years ended with his wife's death, and he says he survived only by strictly scheduling his day, and finally by forcing himself to write. He has lived alone since, and though he enjoys talking on the telephone, he is comfortable in solitude.
He says he's not religious but is aware of "the possibilities of bigger patterns...I have a lot of ideas about other realities that surround me. I also have the feeling that we're part of an infinitely large pattern, that we never analyze [or] understand. You can feel that sometimes."But he is sternly practical about his work, which at the time of his interview was mostly as a theatre director (though he'd had a decade of writing many scripts and stories.) Fame doesn't help the next day's work, he says, when he goes to rehearsals with the same prayer: "Let this day go well. Let it be meaningful and let it be alive.""Let the work be meaningful for those who do it and then also be alive, so that it will live its own life. That's the only thing I'm afraid of---that suddenly the ability to make something living and moving will be taken away from me. I'll no longer know how to do it."He has that anxiety every time, "the anxiety that what I do won't live."
There are many stone dead days, he says, it's the most terrible thing there is. "This is my recurring nightmare.""I'm a craftsman, and I make a good product. I make a product to be used. I'll be terribly upset if nobody wants to use my product."
The documentary ends with Bergman walking down the beach of his island of Faro, where he lives and the only place he writes. With his walking stick carried more like a sword, his stride is quick and sure, fluid, elegant and full of authority, like Peter O'Toole playing Lawrence or the King of England.