The role of the heart

Between Stage and Screen

June 28, 1996

Egil Tornqvist attracted the attention of Ingmar Bergman scholars in 1983, when he wrote with perception and lucidity on the links between Hamlet and Fanny and Alexander, in a special issue of the Swedish film magazine, Chaplin, to mark Bergman's 65th birthday. Here, he seeks to analyse the director's work for stage and screen. He does so with a meticulous intensity not found in the Bergman literature hitherto.

The problem facing so much theatre criticism is that with rare exceptions no record exists of a stage production. The author must depend on his own recollections of the play and the direction, and the reader must rely on the critic's ability to conjure up a long-vanished evening. The number of people who have seen even a majority of Bergman's stage productions dwindles by the year. Tornqvist wisely invokes only the plays he has seen presented by Bergman (starting with The Dream Play in 1970). He has had access to tapes of Bergman's TV production of Strindberg's Storm (1960) and of his radio adaptation of the same dramatist's Easter (1952).

The most valuable aspect of the book lies in its interweaving of themes from film and theatre. Tornqvist locates useful parallels between Wild Strawberries and Strindberg's Storm, for example (both concern old men, preparing for death, with unhappy marriages behind them). and between Cries and Whispers and The Ghost Sonata. Tornqvist's precise descriptions of each play's staging surpass anything done before now in Bergman studies, and thus the book acquires an esential place on the library shelf.

Yet the work suffers from a tantalising lack of form. Films appear to have been selected arbitrarily for close reading. The chapter on Autumn Sonata, for instance, is rather plodding and adds little to Tornqvist's central thesis that the relationship between performer and recipient governs Bergman's approach to his art. Awkward, too, is the author's habit of quoting from the original printed script of a film, and the finished, released film version. Some quotations, from both plays and films, run to excess and the point of comparison becomes blurred. And to devote an entire chapter to Miss Julie without mentioning Alf Sjoberg's award-winning screen version is perverse. But the chapters on The Seventh Seal and Persona repay careful reading and establish Tornqvist's credentials beyond doubt.

Tornqvist has recognised, more than most recent Bergman scholars, that "the true performance takes place neither on the stage nor on the screen but in the mind and heart, especially the heart, of the recipient."

Peter Cowie is international publishing director, Variety Inc., editor, International Film Guide, and author of a biography of Bergman.

Between Stage and Screen: Ingmar Bergman Directs

Author - Egil Tornqvist
ISBN - 90 5356 171 4 and 137 4
Publisher - Amsterdam University Press
Price - £57.95 and £16.95
Pages - 243

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