- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

STOCKHOLM, Sweden Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died today, the president of his foundation said. He was 89.

“It’s an unbelievable loss for Sweden, but even more so internationally,” Astrid Soderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, which administers the directors’ archives, told The Associated Press. Photo Gallery

Bergman died at his home in Faro, Sweden, Swedish news agency TT said, citing his daughter Eva Bergman. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Through more than 50 films, Bergman’s vision encompassed all the extremes of his beloved Sweden: the claustrophobic gloom of unending winter nights, the gentle merriment of glowing summer evenings and the bleak magnificence of the island where he spent his last years.

Bergman, who approached difficult subjects such as plague and madness with inventive technique and carefully honed writing, became one of the towering figures of serious filmmaking.

He was “probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera,” Woody Allen said in a 70th birthday tribute in 1988.

Bergman first gained international attention with 1955’s “Smiles of a Summer Night,” a romantic comedy that inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical “A Little Night Music.”

“The Seventh Seal,” released in 1957, riveted critics and audiences. An allegorical tale of the medieval Black Plague years, it contains one of cinema’s most famous scenes a knight playing chess with the shrouded figure of Death.

“I was terribly scared of death,” Bergman said of his state of mind when making the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the best picture category.

The film distilled the essence of Bergman’s work high seriousness, flashes of unexpected humor and striking images.

In a 2004 interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT, the reclusive filmmaker acknowledged that he was reluctant to view his work.

“I don’t watch my own films very often. I become so jittery and ready to cry … and miserable. I think it’s awful,” Bergman said.

Though best known internationally for his films, Bergman also was a prominent stage director. He worked at several playhouses in Sweden from the mid-1940s, including the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, which he headed from 1963 to 1966. He staged many plays by the Swedish author August Strindberg, whom he cited as an inspiration.

The influence of Strindberg’s grueling and precise psychological dissections could be seen in the production that brought Bergman an even-wider audience: 1973’s “Scenes From a Marriage.” First produced as a six-part series for television, then released in a theater version, it is an intense detailing of the disintegration of a marriage.

Bergman showed his lighter side in the following year’s “The Magic Flute,” again first produced for TV. It is a fairly straight production of the Mozart opera, enlivened by touches such as repeatedly showing the face of a young girl watching the opera and comically clumsy props and costumes.

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