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Ingmar Bergman: auteur, innovator, genius... and a big fan of the Blues Brothers

Documentary reveals guilty pleasures of art house director renowned for bleak films

Geoffrey McNab
Saturday 29 September 2012 00:28 BST
Acclaimed director Ingmar Bergman
Acclaimed director Ingmar Bergman

He was one of the bleakest's art-house directors of his generation, best known for forbidding and dark films exploring the absence of God.

But in quiet moments Ingmar Bergman liked nothing better than crashing out in front of Ghostbusters or Jaws, according to a new documentary. The Swedish filmmaker's other guilty pleasures included the musical comedy The Blues Brothers, the Michael Douglas action-adventure Romancing The Stone and Foul Play, a comedy-thriller starring Goldie Hawn. All of these films were found in Bergman's personal library after his death in 2007.

Now, two young Swedish filmmakers, Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas, are making a documentary about "Bergman's videos".

"We were very surprised by the collection. He had everything from Die Hard to Solaris," Magnusson said. "For instance, he loved The Blues Brothers. He even had a Blues Brothers T-shirt."

The filmmakers argue that their discovery of this unlikely treasure trove of Hollywood action movies and art house classics will enhance rather than diminish Bergman's reputation.

To many Swedes he is a forbidding figure, revered but not much loved for his towering achievements as a director, which included The Seventh Seal (1957), set during the Black Death.

"As Woody Allen told us, when he would talk with Bergman on the phone, Bergman would tell him that 'when I need to relax when I have my angst, I need to watch something easy'," Magnusson said, noting the surprising number of lowbrow comedies in the collection.

The documentary makers have been at the Holland Film Meeting in Utrecht this week, raising finance to complete their film for a likely release next spring. They have already interviewed dozens of filmmakers and stars whose movies appeared on Bergman's shelves, including include Wes Craven, John Landis, Catherine Hardwicke, Robert De Niro and Laura Dern.

Bergman was sent a copy of almost every video released in Sweden but he was selective about the ones he kept. Of the 80,000 VHS movies he is thought to have been sent, he kept 1,711. "He sent the rest to the garbage," Magnusson said.

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Like a film critic, the director marked the films he most liked with Xs. Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard is one of the few movies in the collection to receive five Xs, while Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher received four Xs.

We already knew that alongside Charlie Chaplin's The Circus and the 1921 Swedish film The Phantom Carriage, which he screened every year in his private cinema, he also had a sneaking affection for Dallas.

What is startling about Bergman's collection is the sheer breadth and populism of his tastes. Some of these films he is likely to have watched with his many grandchildren. Others must have been his own guilty pleasures.

Fans of British cinema will be heartened to discover that there was plenty of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach in the collection as well as old Ealing comedies, Hammer horror films, Stephen Frears' The Hit, David Lean's Brief Encounter and Lynne Ramsay's Ratcatcher. And what about Sex Lives Of The Potato Men? Bergman, it seems, had to draw the line somewhere.

High minds, low culture

Julian Baggini, philosopher

"There are records by Whitesnake, Rainbow and Marillion from the late 70s and early 80s that I still enjoy."

Alison Moore, author

"I have a penchant for musical films like I and The Sound of Music. 'Hopelessly Devoted To You' by Olivia Newton John is fantastic."

Amanda Nevill, BFI chief

"I do have guilty pleasures on television, especially Wartime Farm and The Great British Bake Off."

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