LatinoLA Remembers Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007)
Memories of the filmmakers visit to Los Angeles
Alejandra Espasande Bouza
"I see that you are troubled Paul," Bergman said. "And I know that I am your friend - and that I have gone through many terrors of my own but always come out stronger and better afterwards. Life has meaning. You must believe that, hold on to that - although we may never know precisely what that meaning is. I have learned that what really matters is just being alive, each day."
Published on LatinoLA: August 14, 2007
Ingmar Bergman to Paul Kohner, Excerpt from The Magician of Sunset Blvd. by Frederick Kohner.
On Thursday, August 2nd, The New Beverly Cinema, located in the intersection of Beverly Blvd. and La Brea, presented a rare showing of two films by the late Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, who passed away on Monday, July 30th in the island of F?Ñro (Sweden).
Angelenos from different walks of life ceremoniously packed the movie theater, to bid farewell to the Master filmmaker. As some came to pay respects with their presence, a large number of young men and women came to attend their first Bergman film, making the evening the more fascinating.
Who said Bergman was too complex for the young?
Rafael Luna, film enthusiast from the Philippines, paced around snapping photos. "Stop with that flash!," a woman exclaimed, but Rafael continued. When asked, Luna confirmed the obvious, it was a historic moment and he had to document it.
The lights dimmed away followed by a series of vintage commercials that preceded the presentation of the first film, The Virgin Spring (1960). When the name of Bergman appeared on the screen, applause resonated throughout the theater, the weight of the filmmaker's passing had made itself present, yet despite his absence he was right in front of the audience, alive in every word and movement.
The first time Ingmar Bergman visited Los Angeles was through the insistence of his agent Paul Kohner (1902-1988), who had managed to convince the filmmaker after years of patient trips and meetings. A native of Czechoslovakia, Kohner had worked as a producer before turning into one of Hollywood's most prominent of agents. Actress Lupita Tovar, wife of Kohner, remembers one of such trips in the work-in-progress memoir she is writing with the assistance of her son Pancho Kohner.
"Paul wanted to discuss business with Ingmar alone, he left me at the hotel. Arriving at Ingmar's house at the appointed time, Ingmar asked, "Where is Lupita?" He refused to talk until a car had been sent back to the hotel for me to join them. Paul had the idea to arrange financing for Ingmar films from American distributors. With a more generous budget Ingmar would be free to concentrate on the artistic side of film making."
In due time, the agent's insistence paid off and Bergman arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, October 26, 1975. He traveled in the company of his wife Ingrid and was met at the airport by Kohner and Tovar. Bergman's trip included a series of meetings that secured what Kohner had envisioned, the financing of future film projects. Before departing Bergman had a final request for Kohner, to watch the Mexican film Santa (1931), starring Lupita Tovar.
An excerpt from the book The Magician of Sunset Boulevard, a biography of Paul Kohner, written by his brother Frederick Kohner, documents the occasion: "Ingmar Bergman had asked to see the film Santa, that nation's [Mexico] first 'talking picture', in which the eighteen year old Lupita had enjoyed great fame south of the border, where she was known as the 'Sweetheart of Mexico'. (...) A Forty-five-year-old print, shown many times over, cannot possibly do justice to any motion picture. Yet the artless beauty of the young Lupita remained clear and undiminished. And despite technical flaws and sundry shortcomings to be expected in an old film, Ingmar Bergman was obviously moved.
Bergman returned to Sweden and the veteran agent rejoiced at having achieved his main goal, the satisfaction of contributing to the career of a filmmaker whose work had won his admiration.
Considered too somber and complex for some, the films of Bergman are a filmmaker's quests to unravel the meaning of life. Though Bergman never alluded at having found the answer, his cinematic search proved comforting for many.
The film that closed the evening at the Beverly Cinema, Wild Strawberries (1957), exemplifies Bergman at his best. The film depicts an elderly man's journey into a past that unveils painful memories of lost love, a chattered marriage and issues of fatherhood which are worked out as subtly as they are introduced into the picture. In the end, the character is able to reflect, to make a balance of his life, and to change. No matter how many the wrongdoings, there's hope, even at the threshold of death.
When the film came to an end, the audience exited the theater renewed with having experienced the catharsis of two great Bergman films. Some assembled under the theater marquee, the camera of Luna still flashing. When asked, Luna stated that the death of Bergman, and that of Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni, who passed on the same day, had marked the end of an era.
Alejandra Espasande Bouza:
Alejandra Espasande Bouza is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles