Ingmar 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.