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Tuesday, 9 September 2008

How an Ingmar Bergman Film Engages Me in the Writing of Stories

by Suzan Abrams

Captions: Ingmar Bergman as an 85-year old recluse in a rare television interview and Bergman in his younger days, celebrating a well-deserved stardom that saw him grab 3 Oscars for Best Foreign Film.
A Bergman Poster.
Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson who starred as lesbian lovers in the world-famous Persona (1966).
Also pictured is Norwegian actress Liv Ulmann who was a favourite Bergman choice.
Finally, a
poster that attempts to capture multi-faceted emotions.

It begged a serious contemplation for any Bergman film to prove educational as befits the writing craft.

Perhaps as an excellent example, the tear-jerkers shot decades ago in Sweden, but which continue to be watched worldwide with religious repetition.

Or how about instead, the brilliant screenplays that provided as an urgent call to their scripts; a lingering sensual awareness with regards to skilled body movements and extremely careful speech. Then there were the whirpool emotions wound from heartstrings, strummed up and torn from maligned affairs of the heart, that promised to stay classic for all time.

In Waiting Women, Autumn Sonata, Wild Strawberries, Persona and others , remembered images twinned with their elegant titles like old dusty gowns, still offer seductive shadowy apparitions.

Famed actresses combined a bewitching beauty and bookish brains; those like Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson engrossed in sensitive playful roles and yet at unsuspecting unsuspecting moments, would suggest deep wretched scenes of reflection, confessions, accusations and even the occasional violent slap across the face routine - at some point the screenplay demands it - all swing with grace from an emotional tightrope banking on sadness and pain to gripping conclusions that range from happily-ever-after butterfly kisses or maybe-never-again fullstops.

Such prospects stay one of the most wonderful and immediate masters of a literary science; this free accomplished study like a series of valuable masterclasses on the flawless use of flashbacks, exposition scenes, the dissolving scenes of one character floating like a ring of mist into another and how an old one would rise again in a perfectly natural way at an inopportune moment where a new one subsequently fades into oblivion.

All these to suggest the ensuing successes of cliffhanger after cliffhanger.

Daughters watch over a dying sister, another bent on the infliction of emotional torture confronts her famous, runaway mother who later, cleverly, famously and thankfully runs away again in the dead of the night, a dead sister playacts a terrifying ghost, spinsterish housekeepers whose pasts are so macarbe, they may hide a museum of skeletons each in their cluttered closets, a cold-hearted father now wretched and misreable longing for a lost son, and perhaps as a last of many other examples; sisters who clouded in a stirring storm of love and hate for the other, end up almost becoming incestuous when lust suddenly joins hands with revenge.

Yes, Bergman could play up envious sibling rivalry with ease and grace - perhaps that's why in later years, he would confess to a shocking knowledge that watching his own films made him depressed.

Yet his films continued to make make terrific chapters for the intent study of the use of profound emotions in conversations.

Can you now hear the snatch of script from a soft serenade in Waiting Women...
"Open the door, only a little..
...Martha is a free tree,
she is a glistening little fish,
why are your eyes so sad, my Martha?
Your sweetheart is sitting outside your door.
Eternal is my love for you...
so open the door, only a little..."

All the while it shows a close-up of Martha's wonderment; the slow deliberate filling of her eyes with tears, the half-opened movement of her lips as if to kiss someone while a guitar strums, the coy turn of the head to mark a growing curiosity as she hears the creaking of the door, the footsteps of hesitation - one sharp high-heeled footstep closing in on the other - and finally Martha's smile that takes its time to break open like a flooded dam.

Each story is moulded from a timely pace that at first, slowly trickles like a forgotten tap announcing leaky drops of water and a hint of angst before spiralling up to a stormy ocean of ferociousness. So deafening is the climax that builds from one small conflict to another small conflict, that at the end of the day, all fit neatly into the other like a perfect jigsaw puzzle.

As a viewer, Bergman may even challenge you to choke from such a climax of revolving pain...the fantasy of an eternal orgasm may come to mind as a paraphrase.

What probes fascination is that entire dramatic scenes comprising various moods and tones may take place in just one bare room.

In this way, concentration becomes absolutely necessary to face the exciting challenge that bares all in body language and sophisticated speech.

How you play out a woman screaming or speaking affably in low intimate tones as she lights a cigarette or pours out a martini determines the degree of how far you could end up as an author, titallating a reader's senses and thoughts. How would she swing her bottom? How sexily would she pose? By saying nothing, your character could be telling the reader everything.

And Bergman reminds the viewer of essential detailing subtleties that spring up as flesh for the bone; character substance that helps to strengthen the foundation for a plot.

In Waiting Women (1952), Bergman's technical execution is exceptional.

Four sisters-in-law married to four brothers, young and old, but with a domesticity that has stood the test of time and lived to tell the tale, now wait at sundown for their husbands to come home, in a living-room lounge.

Thrilled over this reunion and with hearts aching from a separated love, they are engaged in chatty congenial banter. Each one gripped by a sudden affectionate mood begans a sharing of confidences. Each woman relieves the scandalous history of its making in the wife's meeting of her husband. Some were almost never meant to be.

Four supplementary stories are eagerly captured into one huge tale that embodies the entire theme for the film. But it was a clever reminder hinting on the importance of changing storylines...once again, the mood, pace, tone, subtle conversations and powerful body language hinted at everything of how a story could take its reader or viewer to great heights from nothing but the imagination and using a myriad of emotions.

How even the fact that one story could stem into a 100 little ones. After all, the plots were all different. A single mother with her passionate love for an artist. An older wife who redeems her husbands from his philandering ways when they make love in a stuck lift. A wife who betrays a clandestine affair to her husband and in a panic attack has to industriously stop him shooting himself, before she realizes she loves him after all.

Nighclubs, artist garrrets, can-can dancers and a hospital's maternity ward.

The rock of the sea, the taste of a drink, the sharp nettled ring of a telephone, the tasty scent of a plucked rose, laughter from an apartment, strange knocks on the door...

Where there was sadness, there would suddenly stem gaiety. Where there lay poignancy, this face of the film would without warning, switch into suspense. A tear would curl up into a muffled sob and then a remembered smile. As a viewer, you would be kept on the edge of your seats, not knowing what would happen next. Even romance became blanketed by the strong dark hands of mystery.

Yet, Bergman was not afraid of exposition scenes; of switching back and forth like a flickering lightbulb. And to be at home with this kind of technique, even as an author hints of great possibilities. Here was a man who would turn memories into ghosts and ghosts into real people.

The flight of imagination soared superbly when winged from a foundation grounded on reality.

Bergman could also employ mellow scenic views of lonely manors, vast landscapes and dark brooding lakes to straightaway paint any different kind of a a forlorn mood. He didn't always need a face to tell a story.

But again, learning from a master storyteller is everything.


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