Ingmar Bergman kept changing styles, achieving successes

Ingmar BergmanIngmar Bergman (1918 – 2007) was a conceptual innovator who didn’t follow the typical pattern of fading with age. Instead he followed up his youthful breakthroughs with shifts in style that led him to success in later life too.

“Truffaut observed that the nature of [Bergman’s] films changed considerably, constituting a series of distinct periods,” noted David Galenson and Joshua Kotin in a 2005 working paper on conceptual and experimental innovation in film making.

They cited Bergman’s imitation of the style of Kurosawa as a model for “Virgin Spring” at age 41 (in 1959) and of Fellini for “All These Women” at age 46 (in 1964).

He was “the first film-maker to use the cinema as an instrument of sustained philsophical meditation,” said critic Philip Kemp.

Based on Galenson and Kotin’s compilation of critics’ ratings, Bergman’s highest-rated films were from age 39 (“The Seventh Seal” and “Wild Strawberries”) and from age 64 (“Fanny and Alexander”).

Conceptual film makers tend to achieve their greatest successes at a somewhat later age than conceptual innovators in other fields, probably because gaining enough experience to be accepted as a director takes so much time.

In the working paper on 13 directors, conceptual innovators’ first high-rated films were at age 26 (“Citizen Kane, Orson Welles); age 27 (“The Battleship Potemkin,” Sergei Eisenstein); age 32 (“The General,” Buster Keaton); age 40 (“La Dolce Vita,” Federico Fellini); and age 40 (“Birth of a Nation,” D.W. Griffith), in addition to Bergman’s 39.


One Response to Ingmar Bergman kept changing styles, achieving successes

  1. Remy says:

    I don’t know if anyone will get to read this comment, but I staunchly disagree with the idea that Bergman was a conceptual rather than experimental innovator or that experimental innovators in film primarily make films to entertain while conceptual innovators primarily seek to explore ideas. I wouldn’t say as a rule that all Euro arthous filmmakers were conceptual, although some of them certainly were. Bunuel, Rivette, Rohmer, and Bresson were all indeed experimental judging by the Galenson definition, and I’d say Antonioni was as well, and Godard would be somewhere in the middle on the continuum. Perhaps on paper it may seem as though Godard were conceptual, but if you knew anything about the history of the New Wave, you would know that its revolutionizing the medium was largely an ‘accident’. Godard’s initial intention with Breathless, a film he’s in fact not particularly proud of I might add, was to make a genre exercise, and in fact many cinephiles don’t think he declined and that he’s actually maintained his momentum throughout his career, even if the middlebrow truism dictates he peaked in the sixties, since he’s later stuff is far less commercially viable. We can’t judge the progress of an artist’s career by referring entirely to his on-paper canonical status. Sometimes you need to actually engage with the work and judge it for yourself.

    People dealing in ideas rather than mimesis can progress through trial and error and be experimental too. The difference is experimentalists don’t have defined goals whereas conceptualists do, and it’s clear from watching Ingmar’s films he was in pursuit of a single objective his entire career. He didn’t constantly reinvent himself. Jacques Rivette was an experimental innovator in arthouse cinema if there ever was one, and his work has little if any commercial appeal.

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