By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com July 7, 2011 at 1:39AM
Ask the layman, or even the more casual film fan, of their impression of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and the words 'depressed,' 'serious,' 'boring,' and 'forbidding' are likely to come up. Not that these aren't occasionally fair descriptions of aspects of the man and his work, but to label him exclusively as any of these things is to overlook the wry humor, the raw sexuality, and sheer entertainment ("The Seventh Seal" is a kind of a blast) found in most, if not all of his films. But even we were surprised to discover that like anyone, Bergman sometimes liked to kick back with a blockbuster.
Edward Lawrenson of The Guardian visited Bergman's home on the Baltic island of Fårö, where the director lived from the 1960s until his death in 2007, as part of the annual Bergman Week, and there's more than a few revelations coming out of the report. Most are about the man's lifestyle and work habits; his home on the island is described as something of a prison, with red hearts and black crosses etched on the door of his study signifying, respectively, happy and depressive moments. But it's his viewing habits that are more of a revelation.
Bergman had a cinema built in a converted farmhouse near his home, hosting a screening at 3pm every day -- his seat in the front row is left empty to this day as a mark of respect. Among his extensive collection? No less than John McTiernan's action classic "Die Hard," which Lawrenson notes is filed next to Kieslowski's "Decalogue." History doesn't relate whether the Swedish helmer liked it, or even ever watched John McClane and Hans Gruber go head to head, but there's one blockbuster that he certainly seemed to love.
Crime writer Henning Mankell, author of the "Wallander" series, is married to Bergman's daughter Eva, and relates watching Steven Soderbergh's star-studded remake of "Ocean's 11" with his father-in-law. The legend apparently loved the heist caper, telling Mankell after the screening "Jesus! We need to see this again next week."
We're not surprised that Bergman has an affinity with Soderbergh, one of the few people who would bring genuine experimentation into the blockbuster tent, and a man who loves film almost as much as the Swede. And, if he did watch "Die Hard," it reinforces that Bergman had pretty great taste in action movies -- we'd have been devastated if, say, "U.S. Marshals" or "Cradle 2 The Grave" were the ones dotted in his collection.
We're likely to get more insights into Bergman's home life in the next couple of years: Mankell is writing "Crisis," a four-part TV biopic of his father-in-law, to be directed by Susanne Bier, which will shoot next year, and likely get a theatrical release abroad. In the meantime, we'll be honoring the imminent four-year anniversary of Bergman's death tonight with a glass of aquavit and the comic antics of Bernie Mac and Matt Damon.