The uncrowned Queen of Hollywood. Ingrid Bergman paid a price for her all too human feelings. No i as ‘ason ofher films at Edinburgh Filmhouse pays tribute to her marvellous screen presence. Allan Hunter investigates.
‘l'en years ago in the spring of 1978 at the Haytnarket ’l'heatre in London. Ingrid Bergman was giving what would prove to be her final stage performance in N. C. Hunter‘s Waters ofthe Moon. Every seat for every performance had been sold: a testimony to the enduring lure of her name. The role of l lelen Lancaster fitted as comfortably as an old. friendly coat: a character overflowing with gaiety and joie de vivre. Bergman sparkled. her presence electrifying every inch of the theatre. Suddenly one understood why audiences had been enthralled by her beauty and warth for over four decades.
Over the next month the Edinburgh Filmhouse presents a special retrospective celebrating the film career of Ingrid Bergman. From Mttnklirogrevan in 1934 to a harrowing. triumphant swansong in Ingmar Bergman‘s Autumn Sonata. forty-four years later. she appeared in almost fifty productions. won three Academy Awards and earned the kind of popular immortality that only celluloid stardom can confer. Aside frotn the expected. acknowledged classics like ('asalilanca and .X'otortous. the core of the season is a rare opportunity to sample the early films. tnade in Sweden in the 193(ls before she signed a contract with Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick.
Viewing the films. one is immediatelystruck by the similarities with the roles being played by Bergman's American contemporaries in the 'I'hirties. (‘ertainly the genre of films is universal; melodrama. brittle comedy in the style of Noel (‘oward. moralistic romances; in essence what were known as ‘women‘s pictures’. that inevitably touched on affairs of the heart. Also notable is the greater diversity of role permitted in her native land where she was not yet an international star saddled with a specific image. Thus. in the spritely comedy Dollar it is rather startling to see her cast as a wantonly bitchy. scheming. flirtatious wife. equally so as the horribly disfigured black mailer in A Woman '5 Face whose inner life and outward appearance are transformed by the love of a plastic surgeon. 1n the season she can also be seen as a naively lovestruck secretary in Walpurgis .\'t'g/tt. as the wealthy girlfriend ofan impecunious scientist's son in Swedenlttelms and
as a smalltown woman on the run from a mysterious past in Jltllt’ Night. However. in retrospect. the archetypal Bergman performance from the era comes from the Swedish version of Intermezzo made in 1936.
In Intermezzo. she plays a gifted pianist who falls madly in love with a world renowned violinist. a married man with two children. Asked to join him on tour as his accompanist. they embark on a passionate affair. lle divorces his wife but the guilt of abandoning his family rests heavily on their relationship. Acknowledging the futility of what has come to pass. Bergman withdraws to allow a reunion with his loved ones. The plot is the stuffof pure melodrama. yet because of the sensitive script. fluid direction. sincerity of performance and eschewal ofsentimentality. the film works and Bergman reveals her most cherishable qualities as the lovetorn. self-sacrificing musician. The ease. grace and freshness of her work mark her out from contemporaries as a more natural. truthful screen performer.
It was the very contemporary qualities of naturalism and honesty both as an artist and a person that attracted the interest of American film producers. ()nce across the Atlantic. she enjoyed phenomenal popularity and a run of box-office successes until. by 19-15. she was voted the most popular female star in the land. 'l‘hree huge hits were playing New York at the time and such was her ubiquity that a common joke was ‘Say. today I saw a picture without Ingrid Bergman in it.‘
Bergman was an early example of a new breed of film star. who was only a goddess on screen and insisted on going home to the roles of wife. mother and woman. at night.
Bergman left her image at the studio and went home to be a human being with a private life. and for that she was to pay a price.
Because of the inner goodliness that she radiated on screen and the intense public affection for roles like her good-humoured nun in The Bells ofSt Marv 's. Bergman came to represent an image of ideal womanhood. Her on-screen purity was expected and adored even when she showed signs of waywardness in something like .N'otort'ous. Then. she saw Roberto Rossellini‘s Rome — ()pen ( try and was overwhelmed by the whole ltalian neo-realist movement and the breath ofcreative
fresh air it signified after the unrealityof Hollywood. She wanted to work with Rossellini and so went to Italy to make Stromboli. During the filming they fell in love and Bergman later gave birth to his child. The furore was incredible.
In America she was condemned from the floor of the Senate for her blatant lack of morals. She was ostracized. Stromboli was banned in certain places and Bergman fled to liurope. 'l‘he uncrowned Queen of Hollywood had betrayed her previously devoted public.
Twenty years later. Bergman’s lifestyle would not have provoked a scandal. 'l‘oday. it would scarcely raise an eyebrow. but in 1951) her candour was unheard of in a fantasy world where the studios protected their stars by bushing tip the odd infidelity or drunken spree. Bergman broke the infallible mould ofexalted stardom by her very human behaviour. and the claims to be unattainable gods and goddesses would never be quite as convincing again.
Her European exile was an unsatisfactory period artistically. although the season does allow a reappraisal of two of the films with Rossellini and ofJean Renoir‘s [ll('l1(l('ll(’.\’ llommes. Although Hollywood welcomed her back in the late Fifties. her American film career never again regained the heights it had once commanded. Public affection for her however. knew no bounds. She worked in the theatre. on television and occasionally in the cinema. tnost memorably as the shy missionary in the all—star Murder on the Orient [ix/tress and as the mother in her namesake‘s lace rating Autumn Sonata. a Swedish Long Day's Journey Into Night that won her perhaps the best critical notices of her career and proved an apt farewell to the cinema.
Ingrid Bergman died ofcancer in 1982. She was ()7. Ten years earlier she had received a rare accolade; a public apology on the floor ofthe American Senate. Belatedly making
amends for a bitter personal attack on her in 1951). Senator (‘harles Percy rose to his feet to record his ‘overwhelming admiration. affection and respect for one of the greatest performing artistsof our time‘.
The List 1—14 April 1988 7