Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reading more about Ingrid Bergman

Jean Renoir, Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini. Paris-Match 1955.
Donald Spoto: Notorious. The Life of Ingrid Bergman. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1997. 474 p.

Charlotte Chandler: Ingrid. Ingrid Bergmanin elämä. (Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, A Personal Biography. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007). Suomentanut Liisa Paakkanen. Helsinki: WSOY, 2009. 349 p.

Having finished reading Ingrid Bergman's remarkable memoirs I continued with Donald Spoto's biography on her. His is a well-researched and linear story which complements the autobiography with missing pieces, affairs which now can be discussed, and of course the final years.

My favourite chapter in Bergman's memoirs is that on Autumn Sonata, and Spoto manages to convey important new insight even into that conflicted production. In Spoto's account Ingrid finally saw herself in Charlotte. (To some extent. But really Ingrid Bergman's family situation was completely different. For example, Ingrid interrupted her career for one and a half years to take care of Isabella when she had a serious health condition.)

There is a blind spot in Spoto's story: Rossellini.

Spoto is blind to Rossellini's achievement in film history. This invalidates his book twice. Firstly, it remains incomprehensible to him why seeing Rossellini's films totally shattered Bergman. Secondly, Spoto is incapable of seeing the value of the six films that Rossellini and Bergman made together.

Roberto Rossellini was a key artist in two of the greatest turning-points in film history.

First, of course, in Neorealism, together with Luchino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.

Secondly, as a godfather of the New Wave of the late 1950s and the early 1960s in France and Italy (with reverberations around the world).

Rossellini was already a professional in conventional studio production before he switched into a new way to make films, first making a virtue out of necessity, and then preferring it as a way to explore a rapidly changing reality.

Rossellini and Bergman realized that their ways were incompatible. It was a story of "opposites attract". Ironically, the artists themselves did not seem to understand the grandeur of their collaboration, either.

Their films were a kind of action painting, a journey of spiritual exploration, a key corpus in the study of modern post-WWII alienation, disillusion, loneliness, and disintegration of the family, still firmly rooted in concrete historical reality - Stromboli starts with post-war refugee anxiety.

The Rossellini-Bergman cycle was the first in a series of cycles such as Antonioni-Vitti, and Godard-Karina. Resnais (Hiroshima, mon amour) owed to them. Even Ingmar Bergman's studies of solitude in relationships are relevant here.

I have not read Charlotte Chandler's personal biographies before. (She has written on Groucho Marx, Tennessee Williams, Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Mae West, Katharine Hepburn, and Marlene Dietrich). Her book on Ingrid Bergman is so agreeable that I look forward to reading the rest, as well.

Charlotte Chandler knew Ingrid Bergman and many of the key people around her, and she draws from first-hand observations. A lot is fresh and new. Even better than Spoto's weighty tome, Charlotte Chandler's book is a complement to Ingrid Bergman's memoirs, sharing her sense of humour and values, and covering the final years in the spirit of Bergman herself. In a compassionate way it conveys something of Bergman's healthy, humoristic sexuality that has not been covered before and that was clearly a key to her creativity.

Chandler, too contributes something new to the Autumn Sonata story. Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann had their reservations about the dialogue, and together they deliberately undermined the director's concept by making Ingrid more sober and generous and Liv more narrow-minded.

Chandler has something new to contribute to Ingrid Bergman's final film, too: in it, she played Golda Meir. It was important for her because her family was German from her mother's side, and Bergman was deeply shocked by the Nazi rule. But what had not been known before Chandler's book was that at age 11 Ingrid, who spent her childhood's summer holidays in Germany, heard from her "Tante Mutti" a family secret of top importance. Tante Mutti required that Ingrid would never tell anybody about it. Her father had known about it since before her marriage to Frieda Adler that there may be some Jewish blood in the family. Ingrid forgot all about it, but after the war, during her love affair with Robert Capa, she sensed a special affinity because of this. During her post-war visits to Germany Ingrid Bergman refused to visit a concentration camp because she felt that she would not have been able to act anymore having witnessed that.

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