INGMAR BERGMAN: A Critical Biography by Peter Cowie

INGMAR BERGMAN: A Critical Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A well-researched but reverent and plodding study of the great Swedish filmmaker/stage-director--with far more emphasis on uninspired, film-by-film criticism than on a probing analysis of Bergman's creativity. Cowie does, of course, concentrate at first on the Bergman childhood: his fear of punishment, his rebellion against upright, strict, bourgeois parents (father was a chaplain). But the attempts to relate early psychology to the film-themes here are erratic--ranging from the wishy-wishy to the obvious to the over-stated. (Ingmar's parents administered punishment with no display of feelings; ""as a result, Bergman's villains are always devoid of feeling."") And Cowie's genteel, often-fawning approach to Bergman's adult private-life (many wives and mistresses) limits his ability to make life/work cross-references later on: in Thirst, for instance, he says that ""the marriage to Ellen Lundstrom was hung, drawn, and quartered""--but, since so little information about that marriage is provided, there's no way to evaluate or appreciate the personal/artistic connection. What remains, then, is a detailed yet superficial rundown on Bergman's life--his theater work in Malmo and Stockholm; his relationships with Harriet Andersson (""splendid and uninhibited""), Bibi Andersson (""singularly rewarding""), Liv Ullman, and others; the ups and downs of his critical success; his traumatic problems with the Swedish tax authorities--plus serious consideration of his entire film oeuvre. Unfortunately, however, Cowie is neither eloquent nor persuasive as a critic. His analysis of Bergman themes is often fiat, verbose, or clumsy. (""His comedies amount to a reaction to his icy delvings into the human soul . . . . Sex amounts to the same mechanical principal at whatever level of society it rears its head."") And, while details on the filmmaking process and specific influences are intriguing (the obsession with eczema in Winter Light was inspired by wife #2's disease), there's little fresh illumination of such mysterious works as Persona. Still, Bergman students will certainly appreciate the data on lesser-known films here (including a brief stint in commercials)--and buffs will find this a sturdy, hard-working, if ultimately blurry assemblage, both enhanced and limited by Cowie's ""unique access to Bergman himself and his friends and colleagues.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Scribners