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Out of Tarr's Universe

An uncompromised vision (FW34)

Ingmar Bergman on cinema
How to find inspiration in a great master
What does filmmaking mean for Ingmar Bergman?
Filmmaking is a vital necessity for me, a need comparable to hunger and thirst. For some people, expressing themselves means to write books, to climb mountains, to beat their children or to dance samba. I express myself by making films. In Le sang d’un pote, the great Cocteau shows us his alter ego irresolutely wandering the corridors of the house of nightmares, and behind each of the doors he lets us glimpse one of the components of which he is made and which constitute his I.
Without wanting to compare my person to that of Cocteau, I intend to give you a tour of my inner ’studio’, the place where my films are invisibly developed. This visit, I fear, will disappoint you. The equipment is always in a mess, in some places the lighting is too low and on the door of some rooms large letters spell out PRIVATE. Indeed, the guide himself sometimes wonders if this tour is worthwhile.
So a director is a guide?
No, he’s an illusionist. If we look at the fundamental element of cinematographic art we realize that it is composed of little rectangular images, each separated from the others by a thick black line. Looking even closer we discover that these tiny rectangles, which at first glance seem to contain the same motif, differ through a nearly imperceptible modification of that motif. And when the projector lets the images in question run across the screen, in such a way as not to show that this only happens once every 24th of a second, we have the illusion of movement.
Between each of these little rectangles, the shutter passes before the lens and we are plunged into darkness, only to be inundated in full light with the following rectangle. When I was only ten years old and operated my first projector, a shaky tin box with a chimney, a petroleum lamp and a few infinitely repeated films, I found this phenomenon mysterious and exciting. Even today I still feel that childhood thrill when I think that actually I am an illusionist only because of this imperfection of the human eye which makes cinema possible: its inability to perceive images separately which follow each other rapidly and which are essentially similar.
I calculated that when seeing an hour-long film I am plunged in complete darkness for 20 minutes. When making a film, I therefore make myself guilty of a deceit, I use a machine through which I take my spectators on a seesaw ride from one emotion to its opposite, I let them laugh, smile, scream in fear, believe in legends, be indignant, take offence, become enthusiastic, excited or start yawning. I therefore am a deceiver or - in the case of an audience which is conscious of the deceit - an illusionist. I fool them, having at my disposal, in the hands of a conjurer, the most precious and amazing magical machine ever to be invented in the history of world.
There is in this (and there should be for all those who create or exploit films) the source of an insoluble moral dilemma.
Is there a remedy to the fear of failure?
Before starting a piece of work, or after having started, Jean Anouilh dedicates himself to a game in order to exorcise his fear. He says to himself: “My father is a tailor; he intimately enjoys the creation of his own hands, a beautiful pair of trousers or an elegant overcoat. It’s the joy and the satisfaction of the craftsman, the pride of the man who knows his profession.” This method is also mine. I recognize the game, often play it and successfully convince myself and others, even if this game is really only a mediocre tranquillizer: “My films are good pieces of work. I am committed, conscientious, attentive to detail. I create for my contemporaries and not for eternity; my pride is the pride of the craftsman.”
However, I know that in speaking in such a way I am fooling myself, and an uncontrollable anxiety calls out to me: “What have you made that could possibly last? Is there a single meter of your films worthy to be passed on to posterity, is there a single line, a single scene that is really and indisputably true?”
To this question I reply, perhaps under the effect of a disloyalty that can’t be eradicated even in the most sincere of people: “I don’t know. I hope so.”