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10 Strong Cinematic Links Between Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen

30 November 2014 | Features, People Lists | by Richard Eno

6. Marshall McLuhan/Ingmar Bergman

Marshall McLuhan

It is one of the most famous scenes from ‘Annie Hall’, where Allen’s, Alvy Singer, is arguing with his girlfriend, the titular, Annie, about their relationship whilst a pompous, pretentious academic is pontificating about Fellini as he tries to impress a romantic partner.  

In the film the Woody Allen character turns to the camera in a moment of absolute desperation and decries that the guy standing behind him in the queue is not only a classic schmuck but also has no idea what he is talking about. This comes to a head when the stranger starts referencing the ‘media is the message’ and cultural critic commentator, Marshall McLuhan.  

Allen’s character becomes incensed and approaches the stranger and lets him know that he really does know nothing and to prove it he brings out the actual Marshall McLuhan himself to testify against him! What few know is that Woody Allen’s initial choice for this scene was to have Ingmar Bergman as the enraged testifying cultural icon and not in fact, Marshall McLuhan.

 

7. Death

The Seventh Seal film

Ingmar Bergman died aged 89 on July 30th 2007 in his home country of Sweden. Newspapers around the world covered his death and wrote extensive obituaries detailing his personal life and prolific film career.They nearly all analysed his oeuvre of existential morality tales and nearly all featured stills from The Seventh Seal.

However, nearly all, especially in the UK and US, featured a reference to Woody Allen. Such was his well known appreciation of Bergman and his influence he had had on his work that many newspapers found it difficult to write about the death of Ingmar Bergman without writing about the life of Woody Allen. By the time Bergman had died the two filmmakers had become publically entwined and still today are rarely mentioned without the other.

Allen wrote an article for The New York Times entitled, ‘The Man Who Asked Hard Questions’, where he expressed for the first time his response to hearing of Bergan’s death:

‘In the end, your art doesn’t save you. No matter what sublime works you fabricate (and Bergman gave us a menu of amazing movie masterpieces) they don’t shield you from the fateful knocking at the door that interrupted the knight and his friends at the end of “The Seventh Seal.” And so, on a summer’s day in July, Bergman, the great cinematic poet of mortality, couldn’t prolong his own inevitable checkmate, and the finest filmmaker of my lifetime was gone.’

 

8. Filmmaking as a Job

Bergman directing

Woody Allen directing

In his lifetime Ingmar Bergman directed 45 feature films, over 20 short documentaries, over 10 television plays/dramas and scores of theatre productions and radio dramas, making him one of the most prolific filmmakers and artists of the last 100 years.  In fact, throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s he directed a film nearly every year, as well as working on theatre and television.  

This work ethic is in line with Woody Allen’s approach to filmmaking, where he has made a film almost every year for his entire professional life.  In total, he has directed over 40 feature films and a handful of short films and theatre works.  

Whilst he hasn’t reached Bergman’s output the very nature of his commitment to filmmaking as a job and a craft is evident in how he moves on from one film to the next.  In The New York Times article, Allen goes on to say how he was influenced by Bergman’s approach to work:

‘I learned from his example to try to turn out the best work I’m capable of at that given moment, never giving in to the foolish world of hits and flops or succumbing to playing the glitzy role of the film director, but making a movie and moving on to the next one. Bergman made about 60 films in his lifetime, I have made 38. At least if I can’t rise to his quality maybe I can approach his quantity.’

 

9. Women

bergman women

woody allen women

The two male filmmakers developed a penchant in their career for writing strong, well-rounded, complex female characters. Allen’s leading women are often highlighted for their acting and many have won acting awards, including several Academy Awards. The same has been true of Bergman who framed many of his most personal and deeply affecting films around women.  

Consider ‘Cries and Whispers’, with its exploration of the female mind and their relationship with death. Or ‘Persona’ and the manner in which the film deals with the relationship between the two female protagonists and how their relationship begins to merge them as one person. Or perhaps the stark psychologically disturbed character of Alma in ‘Hour of the Wolf’, played by Bergman regular Liv Ullman.

Woody Allen has also made it part of his process by writing very strong women, in fact many of his films are centred around complex women and their relationships with each other and the men in their lives. Consider the titular character of ‘Annie Hall’, played by Diane Keaton, in the way the film plays out as a flirtation between a woman obsessed with life falling for a man obsessed with death.  

Allen’s ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’ is another film in which women play a central role as the men in their lives attempt to make sense of them. ‘Hannah…’ also features Bergman alumni, Max von Sydow.

It is clear that both filmmakers have a deep respect for the female psyche and throughout both of their careers they continued to explore the manner in which women interact with men and how they see themselves as part of the human condition.  ‘Interiors’ and ‘Cries and Whispers’ both deal with issues of female suicide and the effect that has on the lives of those around them.

Allen’s recent, ‘Blue Jasmine’, starred ‘ Cate Blanchett in an Oscar winning performance as the titular character and works as a reminder of the power of his writing for producing work for the opposite sex.

 

10. Variation on a Theme

Through a Glass Darkly

annie-hall

Finally, both Bergman and Allen produced films that explored very similar themes throughout their careers and Allen continues to do so. Bergman extensively explored the nature of the human condition by making stories about mortality, masculinity, heterosexual relationships, faith and how the male and female psyche projects onto the literal world.

Likewise, Allen has made a career out of producing films about the absurdity of the human condition, about exploring the relationships between men and women; he has examined the Jewish faith and also made comedic, serious and tragic films about human morality.

Allen was always able to see both the tragedy in Bergman’s work but he also saw the humour and when he combines that with his other great influence, The Marx Brothers, you have a filmmaker who can make you laugh, cry and question all within the same film.

Author Bio: Richard is from Folkestone but was educated in Winchester. He has been teaching since 1999 and been involved in education management since 2006. He teaches A Level Film Studies, a subject he has remained passionate about. He also writes an education blog, www.teachingreno.wordpress.com.

 

 

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