“For me, the filmmaker Bergman is the greatest of all.”—Stanley Kubrick
In 1960, one day after Ingmar Bergman released his masterpiece The Virgin Spring, Stanley Kubrick wrote to his fellow filmmaker in a bid to congratulate his artistic expression. Clearly swayed by the vivid imagery and heroic storytelling at hand, arguably one of the greatest directors of all time bowed down to a higher power.
Swedish director, writer and producer, Bergman is undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. A highly accomplished auteur, who produced multiple seminal works, is best known for his brilliant films like The Seventh Seal, Persona, Wild Strawberries and, of course, The Virgin Spring. Having directed over 60 films and documentaries during his relentlessly creative career, Bergman is critically adored by those who understand the art of cinema on the deepest level, including the great Stanley Kubrick.
Kubrick has never been shy to express his admiration for Bergman, often referencing him as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. “I believe Bergman, De Sica and Fellini are the only three filmmakers in the world who are not just artistic opportunists,” Kubrick once said. “By this I mean they don’t just sit and wait for a good story to come along and then make it. They have a point of view which is expressed over and over and over again in their films, and they themselves write or have original material written for them.”
Kubrick, who himself is famously celebrated as one of cinema’s most important figures, selected Bergman’s picture Wild Strawberries as one of his top ten films of all time. The 1957 film had such a lasting effect on Kubrick that it prompted him to write to Bergman, praising him for his “brilliant contribution” to cinema and celebrate his unique ability to “create mood and atmosphere”.
However, after witnessing The Virgin Spring, a tragic exploration of the concept of a God that lets terrible crimes happen, Kubrick was simply blown away. Scenes of absolute brutality and the despairing artistic sensibility of Ingmar Bergman create a distinguished place for The Virgin Spring in Bergman’s filmography.
Described as “Bergman’s murder ballad”, the 1960 film shows a 15-year-old girl being raped and murdered by two older men. It is a film of terrible beauty and heavy symbolism that charged the very creative soul of Kubrick and confirmed Bergman as the ultimate master.
“It shows the crime in its naked atrocity, forcing us, in shocked desperation, to leave aesthetic enjoyment of a work of art for passionate involvement in a human drama of crime that breeds new crime, of guilt and grace,” Bergman once said of the controversial scene. “We must not hesitate in our portrayal of human degradation, even if, in our demand for truth, we must violate certain taboos.”
Kubrick, who felt compelled to contact Bergman following the success of such a controversial film, wrote to the filmmaker. As noted in Letters of Note, “Dear Mr. Bergman,” Kubrick begins. “You have most certainly received enough acclaim and success throughout the world to make this note quite unnecessary. But for whatever it’s worth, I should like to add my praise and gratitude as a fellow director for the unearthly and brilliant contribution you have made to the world by your films (I have never been in Sweden and have therefore never had the pleasure of seeing your theatre work).
“Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest filmmaker at work today. Beyond that, allow me to say you are unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfulness and completeness of characterization.
“To this one must also add everything else that goes into the making of a film. I believe you are blessed with wonderful actors. Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin live vividly in my memory, and there are many others in your acting company whose names escape me. I wish you and all of them the very best of luck, and I shall look forward with eagerness to each of your films.”
See the original letter, below.