Encounters with Noise in the Dark
#2 Ingmar Bergman
Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls. [The Magic Lantern, 1988]
Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to revisit a number of Bergman films on the big screen. These have been included in the extensive Ingmar Bergman retrospective currently taking place at BFI Southbank in London, part of the worldwide centenary celebrations of the Swedish director. My cinema outings have including Persona , Hour of the Wolf , Cries and Whispers , Fanny and Alexander  as well as lesser known television works like Scenes from a Marriage  and Face to Face . These experiences have confirmed to me Bergman’s status as one of the greatest artists of the last century. I consider the depth of his probing examination into human psychology to be on a par with some of the greatest writers and thinkers of the past 200-years; a hugely significant, timeless body of work that offers insight, hope and ultimately guidance in these divisive times.
In the realm of all things sound and music, it is Bergman's films of the 1960s and 1970s that most interest me. A period marked by an intriging absence of conventional score. Gone are the orchestral strings of the earlier period. In their place emerges a more fragmented, modernist sound. Dynamic and atmospheric, the music of this period shifts between a sense of quiet atmosphere and violent atonal drama. This change in musical language, its subtle hues of expression, for me makes sense given the increasing intensity of psychological drama developing in Bergman's work. While films like Persona  and Hour of the Wolf  employ a bold contemporary sound, works scattered throughout this period tend to make sparing use of musical accompaniment, if at all. Instead what we hear are soundtracks composed almost entirely of location sound and studio sound effects.
The effect of less music significantly alters the way we attend to the films. I believe it pulls us closer to the actuality of the drama, re-enforcing the tactile presence of the world. Bergman time and again demonstrates his mastery of the close-up, not only with what we see (the details of the human face) but also with what we hear (the sounds of the body). At the same time a new layer of environmental sound is free to be heard. A character in its own right, these worldly sounds strengthen the atmosphere and tone of the film helping to situate the story in a specific time and place. In this way a kind of Bergman-esque soundtrack emerges consisting of particular sounds and sonic ideas identifiable in a number of his films from this period. Owe Svensson, sound supervisor on much of Bergman's work of the 1970s and 80s, would later go on to achieve the apotheosis of this cinematic expression in Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice . A soundtrack of precisely orchestrated noises and diegetic music, lingering between different planes of reality.
For further information see The Bergman Suite page.
Film images: Face to Face , Cries and Whispers . Hour of the Wolf