Anna Soa Rossholm
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The playfulness of Ingmar Bergman
Screenwriting from notebooks to screenplays

This chapter discusses the creative playfulness in the screenwriting process of Ingmar Bergman’s filmmaking. The process of writing from notes and drafts to finished screenplays is examined from the perspective of genetic criticism in combination with perspectives on screenwriting as an intermediate process across media and in stages. The notion of play refers both to Bergman’s method of creative writing and to the playful dimension of the finished artwork, i.e. the films and screenplays. Play is understood in terms of transcendence between the fictional and the real on various levels. Most importantly, the chapter focuses on play in the ambivalence of agency in Bergman’s notebooks—that is transgressions between author, narrator, and character—that continues in the aesthetics of self-reflexivity and auto-fiction in the screenplays and in the films. The Ingmar Bergman Archives, where his notes and screenplay drafts are collected and digitized, allow such an examination of the writing process. The archive consists of the donation of Bergman’s personal collection of notes, drafts, letters, and other documents—personal and professional—from his early career in the 1930s until the last productions in the early 2000s, across several media and art forms.

The voice: You said you wanted to ‘play and fantasize’.

Bergman: We can always try.

The voice: That’s what you said: ‘play and fantasize’.

Bergman: Sounds good. You don’t exist, yet you do.

The voice: If this venture is going to make any sense, you need to describe me. In detail, actually.

Bergman: Sit down on the chair by the window and I’ll describe you.

The voice: I won’t sit down unless you describe me.

Bergman: Well, then. And how do I begin? You are very attractive. Most attractive.1

So begins Ingmar Bergman’s screenplay Trolösa (Faithless, directed by Liv Ullmann, 2000). This dialogue, which is a prologue to the story, is a playful depiction of the author’s creative process in developing a fictional character. Step by step, ‘the voice’ in the scene is given a body, name, and characteristics. In time, she becomes the character named Marianne.

How faithfully does this scene portray Bergman’s actual creative process? Obviously, it is not a literal description of what went on in Bergman’s mind. The Marianne character probably did not appear as a sudden creation of the author’s imagination. She is more likely to have been the result of a long mental process over the course of many years. Marianne shares traits both with real women in Bergman’s life and with fictional characters from his oeuvre. Although the scene in the prologue might not constitute a wholly accurate depiction of how Marianne came into being, there is some truth in its portrayal of how Bergman developed his stories. It is an abstraction of his creative process and also somehow a fragment of it, a small part in the long and complex process of writing fiction. The scene’s transgression of both reality and fantasy exposes the very core of fictional storytelling. It also illustrates Bergman’s characteristically playful interaction with the fictional world at the moment of creation. When writing in his notebooks, Bergman sometimes conversed with himself, often in a playful, self-deprecating manner, or interacted with the fiction at the moment of creation in a way much akin to a child’s make-believe game or a daydream fantasy. The question is how one should understand such ‘games’ and playful digressions as a feature of Bergman’s writing process. What does the transgression of reality and fantasy represent in Bergman’s filmmaking and screenwriting? This chapter addresses these questions and discusses the creative playfulness evident in Ingmar Bergman’s writings.

Bergman’s writings are examined from the perspective of genetic criticism, combined with perspectives on screenwriting as an intermediate stage-by-stage process across media. The focus is on what Jed Deppman, Daniel Ferrer, and Michel Groden in their ‘Introduction to Genetic Criticism’ term ‘the movement of writing’—that is to say, on an examination of ‘tangible documents such as writers’ notes, drafts and proof corrections’—in order to understand ‘the moment of writing that must be inferred from them’.2 This perspective is not equivalent to a biographical approach—or even a psychological approach—to the creative mind of the author. Rather, it is an aesthetic approach to the way in which the subject of the author’s thoughts is materialized (or, in Ferrer’s words, ‘produced’) in the text.3 In Bergman’s case, the tangible objects in his writing process consist of notebooks, screenplay drafts, and versions of finished screenplays, from working script to shooting script, and published screenplays.

Fortunately, the Ingmar Bergman Archive, where the filmmaker’s notes and screenplay drafts have been collected and digitized, facilitates just such an analysis of his writing process. The archive consists of donated materials comprising Bergman’s personal collection of notes, drafts, letters, and other documents, both personal and professional. These documents date from his early career in the 1930s until his final productions in the early 2000s and span all relevant media and art forms.

While the archive provides unique insights into Bergman’s creative process, few scholars have examined the material to date. Apart from my own previous research on the topic,4 Jan Holmberg has published a book on Bergman as a literary author.5 In his book, Holmberg analyses Bergman’s screenplays as autonomous works of art; by contrast, my perspective highlights the process from notes to screenplays and from writing to film. Maaret Koskinen, who helped found the Ingmar Bergman Archive, has also published works on Bergman’s writings. Among these, her case study of the Bergman film Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963) is of particular interest in the present context. Koskinen’s study uses the notebooks and screenplay drafts involved in preparing the film as background materials in her analysis of it.6 In contradistinction, my research constitutes the first analysis of the writing process in Bergman’s filmmaking viewed as a whole. The ‘playful dimension’ of Bergman’s writing and filmmaking as examined here refers both to his method of creative writing and to the playfulness aspect of his finished works, that is, his films and screenplays. Beginning with a discussion of play and playfulness in art and creative work in general, the chapter goes on to analyse what I refer to as the ‘aesthetics of play’ found in Bergman’s notebooks, screenplay drafts, and screenplays.

Play and artistic creation

The relationship between art and play has been conceptualized in aesthetic theory since the Romantic era, and in particular since Friedrich Schiller presented his theory on the joy of play as the driving force behind artistic creation. The correlation between art and play assumes different forms in different theoretical contexts, from psychoanalysis and the theory of creativity to theories of fiction and poststructuralist aesthetics. These various theoretical approaches share the conception of play as a positive, liberating, and transgressive activity, either in the psyche of the artist or in the artwork itself. Play provides room for the paradoxes that arise from transgressing fantasy and reality; in addition, it allows the artist to be both present in and absent from the concrete, physical space and time in which the creative act occurs.

In concrete terms, play in literary writing can be manifested in at least two different forms: as a creative driving force that generates new ideas and develops stories, or as an aesthetic dimension of the text that transgresses conceptual or narrative limits and borders.

Within the field of psychoanalysis, the concept of play is particularly central in Donald W. Winnicott’s writings. In Winnicott’s view, play is crucial for self-construction and its traces can be found in various activities, including artistic creation and psychoanalytical treatment.7 Unlike Freud, Winnicott emphasizes the transgressive aspect of play, regarding it as an activity on the threshold of fantasy and reality. Play is also a key concept in Roland Barthes’s and Jacques Derrida’s early post-structuralism, where conceptual play destabilizes meaning and decentres the unified structure of a text.8 Similarly, play is also central in theories pertaining to creative thinking. In this context, it generates new ideas and norm-breaking thinking, in that it permits us to associate freely and in unexpected patterns.9

With regard to Bergman’s creative work, playfulness is particularly evident in his notebooks, where his writing is allowed to develop spontaneously and in an open-minded manner. These notebooks serve the dual function of (1) creative diary (i.e., documenting the actual creative process) and (2) fiction (i.e., as containing early versions of the fiction that is evolving). Bergman’s notebooks do not constitute a collective documentation of his personal life, but rather of the creative process of writing. Consequently, the text acquires a self-reflexive dimension, in that Bergman continuously comments on the developing fiction. This duality of reality and fiction is also found in Bergman’s finished works, in particular in his screenplays’ self-reflexive dimensions and in the way the ‘I’ of the text is articulated. The screenplay’s narrating agent might be Bergman the author, or it might be a fictional character or a narrator. This ambiguity of agency in his notebooks and screenplays represents the very core of the auto-fictitious dimension of Bergman’s work, in which the autobiographical is given fictitious form and the fictional is nourished from real life.

Bergman’s broad and varied oeuvre is characterized by continuous renewal and the reworking of old ideas into new stories. Play is an activity driven by pleasure or joy, and it offers the freedom to create within given frames. By comparison, free play is more open-ended than games and gaming; it is an activity that transgresses and alters given frames and rules to a greater degree. Admittedly, play also involves rules and frames, although to a lesser extent.10 In playful writing, the frame might be the time-frame or the physical implements used for writing, such as pen and paper. In Bergman’s case, his regimented daily routine concerning writing hours and the importance of his choices of pen and paper constitute the conditions that define the boundaries for spontaneity and freedom during the moment of writing. Bergman was a disciplined and well-organized writer: he wrote for three hours a day and selected his pen and paper with care.11 Bound by rules and habits, these daily writing routines constituted the frame for Bergman’s playful writing, with its free associations, self-deprecating jokes, seemingly irrelevant comments, and playful interaction with his fictional characters.

Bergman himself compared artistic work with children’s play, and the playful side of his personality has been highlighted in portraits of Bergman the auteur. Stig Björkman’s documentary film Bilder från lekstugan (Images from the Playhouse, 2009) is based on the short films Bergman made while shooting his feature films, and it shows Bergman joking in front of the camera and with other members of the film crew. Marcus Lindeen’s stage play Arkivet för orealiserbara drömmar och visioner (‘The Archive of Unrealizable Dreams and Visions’, Stockholms stadsteater, 2012), a work based on Bergman’s rejected screenplay ideas, includes burlesque scenes and profane jokes mocking characters such as ‘the king’, ‘the queen’, and various other characters representing the artist or director. That said, the ‘playful’ should not be confused with the humorous or jokey. Humour and jokes are certainly playful; but play can also be a thoroughly grave, even austere, activity devoid of humour. While Bergman’s humorous side is part of the playful dimension of his creative work, his writing and filmmaking encompass other aspects of playfulness as well. In the present context, Bergman’s playfulness is not to be understood as existing in opposition to the serious tone, demoniac presence, or anxiety that are so manifestly present in his works.

The notebook: diary and fiction

Bergman’s notebooks are creative diaries in which he reflects on the writing process while shaping the initial ideas for the fictional story that will develop in the screenplay. For the most part, his notes comprise either in-depth descriptions of characters or fragmentary scenes or situations with no clear beginning or end. Moreover, Bergman often switches focus—beginning a new story or a different line of thought—and in some cases, the fragments of a story that develop in a screenplay will produce two different screenplays in the end. Although brief sections of dialogue or a general overview of the whole story are included now and again, for the most part the fiction in Bergman’s notebooks comprises fragments of scenes, descriptions, and narrative situations or character descriptions that may serve to explain a character’s backstory or psychological constitution.

Bergman’s notebooks not only provide unique insights into his creative process, they also reveal how much of his creative process occurs outside of his written notes. The fragmentary nature of his notebooks reveals the absences and voids in his note-taking. For Bergman, a notebook’s function often seems to involve problem-solving, meaning that problems encountered in the process of developing a scene or character are more often commented on than the final outcome. Bergman’s notebooks comprise a variety of purposes. One of them is to clarify thoughts in the present, or to provoke new ideas in the act of writing. Another is to create a memory for the future, to write a text that can be reread at some time when the thoughts of the present have been lost or forgotten. Each notebook entry is dated, suggesting that, at least to some extent, the notebooks are intended to be (re)read by future readers, be they Bergman himself or a reader in a future public sphere. One finds words and sentences underlined in red throughout Bergman’s notebooks, which indicates that he did reread his notes. Bergman also continuously refers to his notebooks when describing his filmmaking process in his autobiographical book Images: My Life in Film (1995).12

The sometimes self-deprecatingly playful tone of Bergman’s notebooks can be understood in terms of the author’s attempt at self-distancing. For instance, when explaining in one passage that he has been invited to Hollywood, he adds the comment ‘or whatever it’s called, and however it’s spelt’. We can of course assume that Bergman knows very well what Hollywood is and how to spell its name, but that, in jest, he wants to pretend to be someone who does not.13 As creative diaries (in the same manner as most diaries), Bergman’s notebooks are not only a tool for documentation, but also for creating a persona, perhaps with future readers in mind. It is telling that before his death, Bergman himself donated his collection of notebooks and screenplay drafts for the purpose of founding an archive. Bergman’s writing and filmmaking always occupied a position on the threshold between the public and the intimate, and the same is true of the personal notes in his notebooks. At the same time, the text in Bergman’s notebooks is far from being a fully conscious construction of the author’s self, not even for himself as a future reader. It is obvious that the primary purpose of his notes is to capture thoughts in their fluid state in the present, to allow spontaneous ideas of the moment to shape the text. Coherence and context are lacking in the notebooks’ fragmentary style of writing, and the notes are often cryptic. Recent research has highlighted Bergman’s ‘self-fashioning’ and his desire to control his image in the public sphere.14 To fully understand the complexity of Bergman’s self-creation, we need to modify this image of the manipulating artist Bergman, or at least discuss the controlling side of Bergman’s self-fashioning in relation to the open, searching, and spontaneous writing that opened the door for the unpredictable and the improvised.

Bergman’s notebooks frequently include passages that seem to fill in gaps that are perhaps indicative of temporary creative blanks, an inability to progress, or possibly distracting procrastinations. It is significant that Bergman continues to write even when the words are seemingly meaningless in relation to the fiction he is developing; that is, that he allows room for distinctions and gaps in his writing. For instance, there are many examples in his notebooks where Bergman interrupts a story under development to reflect on the pen he is using. One such example is found in a notebook which sketches a story that is an early version of Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf, 1968) and, in part, also a precursor to Persona (1966): in the middle of a dialogue between the female protagonist (Alma) and a ghostlike creature, Bergman interrupts the fiction to describe how his pen has fallen out of the window:

‘Was someone there?’

Alma nods silently. It was, but what was it?

‘What did he look like?’

‘I don’t know’, Alma says helplessly. ‘It was inhuman.’

(I dropped my pen out of the window. First, I thought of leaving it there and writing with my two new pens. But now I feel that this blue pen is so alive, and its pin jumps around like crazy, so I decided to go down and get it. Now it’s done.)

‘Did you see anyone else?’

‘No. I got scared and sneaked in. I think he’s gone now.’15

The ambiguous function of the notebook—to document, and at the same time to develop a fictional story—is particularly evident in such passages, where there occurs an abrupt shift between the here and now of the writing situation and the fiction itself.

As material objects, the notebook and the pen with which Bergman is writing could be understood as what Winnicott calls ‘transitional objects’; that is, tools that enable the transgression between the real and the imaginary.16 Unlike a child’s teddy bear, tools such as a pen and paper are not objects that move between the realms of reality and fantasy. Even so, the author’s material objects do enable a transgression of reality and fantasy along similar lines: the materialization of fantasy in writing anchors the writer’s thoughts in a real time and space, at the same time as they allow room for the free development of the fantastic.

The details of the material conditions of writing are important to many authors; the desk, pen, and sheets of paper can play a quasi-ritualistic role in transiting to the fictional world during the moment of creation. To Bergman, well known for his nigh-on fetishized relationship with paper materials and writing routines, these tools are of great importance. His notebooks are simple, lined notepads, and his pen was an ordinary ballpoint pen. And yet, their mundane nature does not mean that Bergman’s choice of those objects lacks significance. Perhaps the simple notepad was ideal in the early phase of writing characterized by free associations, the phase during which the written words were not yet ‘art’ but spontaneous thoughts and reflections in the moment. Bergman’s reflections on his pen and paper are certainly jokes and humorous quips with a self-deprecating twist; but they are also self-reflexive comments that can be understood in terms of media-materialist aesthetics. Bergman’s spontaneous, unfettered way of writing, in which the pen follows the thought, finds parallels in the aesthetics of the finished screenplay and film. The self-reflexive modernism evident in films such as Persona (in which a projector is displayed and the story interrupted when the film strip burns) reveals a similar indistinctness between the here and now of the film viewing and the fictional world.

Other ‘distractions’ from the story found in Bergman’s notebooks are more readily understood as a kind of mental exhortation to simply continue writing, even when it yields no progression in thought. These exercises might be a means to dispel anxious thoughts, or to fill the gap caused by creative hiatuses or impasses. Later in the notebook quoted above, at a point when the story is developing only slowly, Bergman repeats the word tålamod (patience) until it degenerates into its constituent components: tåla (to endure, or put up with) and mod (courage).17 Perhaps repeating the word ‘patience’, and the ensuing wordplay with its components, instils courage in the author to continue writing, and even to feel confident in ideas about which he previously had reservations. This notebook was written during a period when Bergman was taking aesthetic risks, searching for new aesthetic forms and ideas. The courage to develop new ideas may arise from the flow of the writing process itself. To use a typology coined by editorial theorist Siegfried Scheibe, Bergman could be described as a Papierarbeiter: an author who thinks with his pen, so to speak.18 This categorization stands in contrast to a Kopfarbeiter: an author who formulates thoughts mentally before writing them down. This improvised, Papierarbeiter method characterized the early phase of Bergman’s writing process, the time when he wrote down the reflections in his notebook.

Bergman’s notebooks contain few images or illustrations. Unlike auteurs such as Stanley Kubrick, Agnès Varda, and Federico Fellini, Bergman did not prepare his films from images, but almost exclusively from words. There are sometimes doodles in the notebook margins, however, and here and there one also finds more conscious non-verbal expressions that become part of the creative process. For instance, one of Bergman’s notebooks contains a line that extends across a sheet of paper and is entitled ‘Exercise in Simplicity’. In this example, the seemingly irrelevant becomes a conscious method for developing aesthetic ideas beyond verbal language, something that was particularly important in Bergman’s films during this period. At the same time, the associations, digressions, and detours found in the notebook are spontaneous comments of the moment, and they form part of a creative method of writing fiction. In other words, Bergman’s notebooks are tools for creating original and innovative stories.

In his classic work on lateral thinking, creativity theorist Edward de Bono describes how play (together with jokes and humour) is essential to any kind of creative activity. De Bono develops creative games, such as role-play, which aim to instigate a break with expected behaviour or patterns, thus opening the way for new perspectives and ideas.19 Such deviations from the expected are characteristic of Bergman’s notebooks; he might interrupt a dramatic situation or other comments to insert a reflection on his pen, or some wordplay that transforms the written, giving it new meaning. It is no coincidence that Bergman began writing his fragmentary, exploratory, creative diary during the late 1950s, a period when his artistic freedom and experimentation had increased (although it should be noted that Bergman also kept notebooks before this time).

In the example of the pen, the shift from fiction to the here and now of the writing situation is clear and unambiguous. In other cases, the transition between fiction and the author’s reality is more ambiguous and transgressive. The ‘I’ of the text sometimes refers to both Bergman as author and to a fictional character, and Bergman sometimes speaks to himself in the third person. In one characteristic passage in a notebook, Bergman describes events from a first-person perspective, although it is unclear whether the narrator is Bergman the author, an anonymous narrating agent, or a fictional character. Suddenly, the prose is interrupted by reflections on the ‘I’ who is speaking. In the margins, the word ‘I’ (jag in Swedish) is written in capital letters and encircled with two arrows pointing at it from opposite directions. In the following sentence, the ‘I’ is transformed into ‘he’:

Who is this secret ‘I’? That’s something to think about. I think there has to be an ambiguous fission in wishes and dreams. Whole series of interesting personalities. They come and go – very surprising. But this much is clear: he doesn’t keep very good track of his characters. Now and then he loses them.20

This notebook is characterized by just such fissions and fusions of identities; an ‘I’ becomes a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, and at the same time these pronouns refer to both a fictional character and the narrating author.

In another passage in the same notebook, Bergman addresses a fictional character at the moment of its creation, a character with whom he struggles, not knowing how to shape it: ‘How can I reach you? How can I feel you as real more than in brief moments? How can I experience you with emotions more than in brief instants?’21 This marks the beginning of what later develops into the silent character Elisabet Vogler in Persona. Bergman’s initial difficulties in creating this character later gave rise to a silent, mysterious person who chooses not to speak. This is one example of how an impasse can still drive creativity when the difficulties are expressed in writing. The passage continues with Bergman turning the focus on himself through the eyes of the fictional character: ‘How do you experience me?’, he asks, and continues: ‘I have a feeling you know much more, are able to do much more. How can you experience me as real?’22

The character created by Bergman also helps define the author’s own contours as materialized in the text, as though she knows things about him of which he himself is unaware. Like a child in a make-believe game, the author simulates the fiction, thereby initiating the integration of the real and the fantastic. The ambiguity of agency in this notebook, as manifested in the transgressions between author, narrator, and character, continue in Bergman’s screenplays. Here, this ambiguity is no longer a creative method, but rather an aesthetic of self-reflexivity and auto-fiction. The latter undermines the autobiographical ‘pact’ between author and reader and negotiates the relationship between fiction and the autobiographical: the ‘I’ in an auto-fictitious story is sometimes identified as the author, and sometimes as a fictitious narrator or character.23 In Bergman’s case, the distinction between author, narrator, and character is constantly undermined in the screenplay—a negotiation of identity that can be traced back to the author’s identification with the fiction recorded in his notebook.

Narrator in the screenplays

To quote Steven Maras, the screenplay is an ‘intermediate’ text in a concrete sense of the word; that is, it is a text written to be transformed into another aesthetic form, the film.24 At the same time, Bergman’s screenwriting is anchored both in the dramaturgical conventions of industrial filmmaking of the classic period (the context in which he began his screenwriting career) and the experimental screenwriting of post-war cinematic modernism. His screenplays most often adhere to the classic three-act structure, with a development from set-up to climax; but they may also be connected with the literary screenwriting trend of the late 1950s and 1960s, of which screenplays such as Marguerite Duras’s Hiroshima mon amour (1960) and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, 1961) are prime examples.

Bergman’s screenwriting has always been regarded as ‘literary’ compared to most other screenwriting and, as such, also as ‘autonomous’ in relation to the resulting film.25 His screenplays have been published in book form and translated into many languages. In recent years, they have also increasingly been used for stage productions. Many of Bergman’s screenplays are written in a literary style which, in some ways, has more in common with the prose fiction of stage drama than with conventional screenwriting. Some of his screenplays include scene text written in the past tense and with a first-person narrator, a subjective voice that has in most cases been removed in the film adaptation. The screenplay for Persona, for instance, begins with the words: ‘I imagine the transparent ribbon of film rushing through the projector. Washed clean of signs and pictures.’26 In the film, the cinematic apparatus itself replaces the narrator. In this case, the images running through the projector are displayed before the eyes of the viewer, instead of being viewed by a narrator. This is one of many examples of how Bergman’s screenwriting and filmmaking oscillates between transmediation and media materialism. The screenplay is written to be transformed into film, yet the written text includes literary dimensions that are not adapted for inclusion in the film.

In other cases, fragments of a narrating voice are retained in the film, often Bergman’s own voice (e.g., a short fragment in Persona, the final scene in En passion (The Passion of Anna, 1969), parts of Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers, 1972), and the introductory parts of Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage, 1973). Nonetheless, classic, continuous narrative voice-overs are rare exceptions in the body of Bergman’s filmmaking. Instead, he often gives characters a narrating role, mainly in the many long monologues describing their memories, experiences, and interpretations of events, or their personalities. The blurred boundaries between character and narrator, as well as those between showing and telling modes of representation in these monologues, can be traced in the transition from notebook to screenplay. In fact, the author’s reflections on his characters’ backstories in his notebooks are sometimes transformed into monologues in the screenplays. One example of this is the scene in Scenes from a Marriage in which Marianne (Liv Ullmann) reads her diary to her husband. The entries in the diary, which explain Marianne and her husband’s backgrounds and psychological states, correspond with the author’s own reflections on the characters as recorded in his notebook. The diary as the fiction functions as a mise-en-abyme of the notebook in the creative process—a depiction of the notebook as a space for the author’s reflections on himself and others.

Shifts in the narrating subject in Bergman’s work highlight a mobility of agency as well as his interest in transformations and changes across the process of creation. This suggests that it might be misleading to examine the literary qualities of Bergman’s writing in terms of the artistic autonomy of each version of the story. Instead, their artistic quality is related to the intermediate process across different media forms and utterances, in the relations between notebook, screenplay, and film. In Bergman’s screenplays, the ‘play’ evident in the transitions of the narrating ‘I’ is not a creative method, as it is in his notebooks, but rather an aesthetic, self-reflexive gesture that facilitates the fusion and division of narrator and characters. This aesthetic can be conceptualized according to Derrida’s description of play as the presence and absence of the self in a given structure, which thereby disrupts that structure.27

Bergman’s ‘playing’ with the unity of the self is especially evident in a screenplay that was never adapted for film, Människoätarna (The Cannibals, 1964), an early version of what later became Hour of the Wolf, which also contains elements that were subsequently rewritten into Persona. The story in The Cannibals is related by several more-or-less unreliable narrators. Most of the scene texts are quotations from a fictitious diary, while other parts are related by someone who found the diary. Bergman employs these same two narrative frames in Hour of the Wolf, although in this case they are only explained in the prologue, rather than being continuously integrated in the story. The storytelling as act is particularly strikingly foregrounded in a section labelled ‘Alma’s story’, in which the narrator explains that his account is a retelling of Alma’s verbal, sometimes arcane, testimony. The narrators in the frame—both the diarist and the person tracing the diarist’s testimony—are to be understood as versions of Bergman as the author. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the fictitious diary’s dates approximately coincide with the period when Bergman wrote the script. Just like the diarist in the fiction, Bergman dates his writing. Apart from dating his notebook entries, he also concluded his screenplays with a note on the date and location of their composition. Bergman’s interplay between the fictions and actual writing in The Cannibals continues in the film Hour of the Wolf, where the diary (shown once in the images) is the same kind of lined notepad that Bergman himself usually employed for his own note-taking. As an unfilmed screenplay, The Cannibals constitutes a fragment of an artwork—a text that never reached an audience as a film, nor as a published book. It is also a more ‘literary’ text than most of Bergman’s screenplays, with its multiple narrative levels and storytellers.

Writing as remembering and forgetting

Bergman’s scripts were generally written and edited in three versions: (1) a handwritten draft, and (2) a typed ‘working script’ that was later revised into (3) the shooting script. In addition, there is also the published version, which, while not identical to any one of the script versions, most closely resembles the shooting script. Overall, the differences among these versions are relatively minor. In this regard, Bergman’s screenwriting is characteristic of auteurist filmmaking in which the director has significant control over the filmmaking process and does not need to adapt the script to different readers, nor develop script versions that include technical instructions. Bergman’s screenplays usually involved fewer revisions between versions and fewer alterations than screenplays used in conventional industrial filmmaking.28 There are hardly any revisions in the phrasing, nor any stylistic changes to speak of between the first handwritten script and the later versions. Such alterations as there are mainly involve changes to content, removals, and revisions in a single scene. Bergman was obviously not an author who revised stylistic details in his scene descriptions or dialogue. This indicates that he did not necessarily ‘think with his pen’ when writing the screenplay. Rather, this spontaneous writing method probably primarily characterized his early note-taking. With regard to his screenplays, Bergman was a Kopfarbeiter rather than a Papierarbeiter.

Bergman’s screenplays that never made it to film for one reason or another were not rewritten or changed, but instead served as inspiration for new screenplays. The rich diversity of Bergman’s oeuvre is partly explained by his ability to use earlier writings in new productions. Character traits, situations, and segments of dialogue recur from one screenplay to another. The reworking of The Cannibals into Hour of the Wolf and, in part, also Persona is a conspicuous example of the importance of rewriting in Bergman’s body of work. His entire oeuvre can be regarded as variations on certain themes, motifs, and characters. These variations moderate the autonomy of the individual artwork, since the rewriting process continues even after the seemingly final version of a story is complete. The artwork’s process of becoming may instead be understood as a network with links to a variety of different texts and versions, some links being stronger than others.

Bergman’s rewritings can be conceptualized in terms of the way play alters memory and experience, turning them into fantasy: each new rewriting or adaptation ‘remembers’ its precursor while at the same time representing something new. Koskinen aptly describes Bergman’s last film Saraband (2003)—a retrospective that explicitly reflects on his previous works—as remembering and forgetting brought together.29 The paradox of the remembering-forgetting combination that characterizes Bergman’s entire oeuvre is particularly interesting in connection with depictions of violence. Here, variations in Bergman’s creative process can be understood in relation to the psychosocial mechanisms of trauma, where repetition of the past event and its repression in the form of fantasy intersect.30

Violent scenes are often more explicit in Bergman’s drafts, notes, and unfilmed screenplays than they are in the final versions, or in versions seen by an audience. For example, The Cannibals includes a cruel scene in which a woman gives birth to a premature foetus and, upon discovering that it is alive, suffocates and buries it. The scene text explicitly describes her actions with the words: ‘The foetus, five months old, is lying in a mush of blood and excrement, whimpering weakly, with shivering arms and legs.’ Then follows the cruel and seemingly affectless act of violence: ‘She squeezes the upper part of the bundle, where the head is, with both hands, thereby stifling the snivelling noise.’31 Later in the screenplay, we are informed that this brutal scene might have been a fantasy, a mental transformation of what was actually a miscarriage into murder. In some sense, the screenplay depicts the transformation of memory into fiction, constituting a self-reflexive image of Bergman’s transformation of his past writings and memories into new stories. In his rewritings of The Cannibals into other screenplays, Bergman transforms portrayals of violence from the brutally explicit to the implicit. For example, Persona includes echoes of the scenes with the dying foetus in its monologue, in which Elisabet (through Alma’s voice) confesses to the difficulties she has experienced in connection with pregnancy and motherhood. The monologue includes no descriptions of actual acts of violence, but rather fantasies and wishes regarding such violent actions. Elisabet describes her ‘disgust’ and ‘hatred’ toward her child, how she tried to induce a miscarriage, and how she wishes ‘her child would die’. The brutal scene in The Cannibals may be viewed as the realization of Elisabet’s fantasies in Persona.

In Persona, the theme of a mother’s abandonment of her child is linked to the historical trauma of the Holocaust and the Second World War. In one scene, Elisabet observes the famous photograph from the Stroop Report that shows Nazi soldiers in the Warsaw ghetto pointing their guns at a young boy raising his hands above his head. This photo of the boy is paralleled with an image of Elisabet’s son, who is portrayed in a photograph that Elisabet wants to avoid seeing. The photograph of the boy in the ghetto is mentioned in Bergman’s notebook, but it is not included in the resulting fiction. Instead, it is the object of his reflections on the shortcomings of art and its inability to portray reality: ‘My art can’t melt, transform, or forget that little boy in the picture’, he writes, and continues with a reflection on how the photograph reduces his art to ‘buffoonery or something indifferent’, meaningful only to himself.32 The anxiety caused by art’s inability to represent the cruelty of history and reality characterizes the post-war aesthetic crisis, with the question of how to portray the Holocaust at its core. In Bergman’s case, this aesthetic question concerning representation becomes an issue of the relationship between one’s personal creation and its broader historico-political context; it reveals a division between the artistic creation as intimate, and historical reality as a sphere unreachable by the artist. To Bergman’s mind, the photo of the boy in the Warsaw ghetto reveals both a personal anxiety and his shortcomings as an artist. At the same time, the reflections in his notebooks shed light on why violence cannot be directly represented as such, but only indirectly through mediations of it. This realization is manifested in Bergman’s reworking of The Cannibals to become Persona, in the transition from a direct depiction of violence to an indirect retelling of fantasies of violent actions.

Abandoned, punished children and parents who either leave or neglect their children are recurring themes in Bergman’s filmmaking. A comparison of Persona with The Cannibals shows how Bergman depicted these themes in dissimilar ways in two different screenplays. The final example in this chapter compares two versions of the same scene from Bergman’s film The Serpent’s Egg (1977), which depicts a couple living in Germany during the years before the rise of Nazism. Here, too, the rewriting effects a transition from the direct and explicit to the indirect and implicit. Likewise, historical trauma is linked to personal trauma and to the intimate in this case as well. The scene in question shows a physician’s psychological experiment, displayed on a film screen, which aims to test a woman’s endurance when isolated in a room together with a screaming, inconsolable infant. This ‘film within a film’ shows the woman’s despair gradually degenerating into uncontrollable rage; in the end, she kills the infant. The German doctor who conducts the experiment represents the dehumanized ideology of Nazism. The violent act itself is neither shown in the film images nor described in detail by the doctor assisting with the projection. The projection is interrupted just prior to the killing, and the doctor explains that the apparatus is not ‘in perfect condition’.

The collection of drafts and notes held at the Ingmar Bergman Archive includes an earlier version of this scene noted on some loose sheets of paper and inserted into the notebook for the film The Silence. It is worth observing that the event’s historico-political context is not explicitly rendered in this early version. In this case, the man showing the film is not a doctor, but an amateur filmmaker who wants to demonstrate his ‘hobby’ to a friend. In this first draft, unlike the final version of the scene, the violent act itself is described in great detail. The scene text explains how the woman throws the infant against the wall and then stamps it to death:

The woman lifts the screaming infant and hurls it against the wall. Her face is stony with rage. The infant screams and convulses on the floor. The woman stamps on it repeatedly until the screaming suddenly ceases in a gurgling noise. The woman’s face registers the sudden silence. She sits on the bed with her hands pressed against her stomach. And with her mouth open.33

As in the previous examples, this scene was also rewritten in order to become a more implicit and indirect depiction of violence. In this case, the rewriting also locates the scene in a historico-political context that is absent from the early draft. In both versions, however, the film within the film contains a self-reflexive dimension that both highlights the mediation of violence and problematizes its representation. Also, in the case of The Cannibals, the violent scene is indirect: it is a scene that lies somewhere between nightmare fantasy and reality. While the portrayal of violence is problematized in all versions, rewriting often adds layers of the mediated, the indirect, and the implicit to its depiction.


Bergman develops his stories through playful, creative writing. This playfulness is first and foremost an open and spontaneous writing mode which generates a free, liberating space that transgresses reality and fantasy. This transgressive act has a good deal in common with a child’s make-believe game, where the actual instance of play co-exists with the fantasy being played out. The playfulness observed in Bergman’s writing sometimes also involves wordplay and ambiguous agency as he plays with the meaning of ‘I’ in the text. In the context of Bergman’s notebooks, writing assumes the dual, simultaneous function of documenting the creative process and of developing the fiction that creates this ambiguity. In Bergman’s screenplays, the roles of narrator, character, and author intersect. The evolutionary process from notebook to screenplay reveals that the author’s self as a construction in the text takes on various and shifting shapes.

In his notebooks, Bergman’s playfulness manifests itself in the creative method that allows for distractions, detours, and open-ended searching. In his screenplays, his playing with the absence and presence of narrators and narrative levels is less an outright method and more an aesthetic dimension of the text. The freedom that characterizes the initial entries in Bergman’s notebooks lays the foundation for the creative process that generates new ideas and a variety of new, original stories. The reworking of old screenplays into new works builds on this permissiveness towards the unexpected in the screenwriting process. Notebook and screenplay represent two separate kinds of writing; and, though playful in different ways, both form part of the same creative process that ultimately generates new stories and renewed aesthetic ideas.

Spontaneity is essentially a matter of relinquishing control by allowing oneself to be surprised. The scene from Faithless described in the introduction to this chapter reveals the paradox inherent in what happens when an author is as it were ‘surprised’ by the fiction that has developed in his or her writing. From the moment he creates a fictitious character, the author becomes someone else: a fantasy or fiction that he cannot entirely control.

1 Ingmar Bergman, Föreställningar (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2000), p. 9. Translation mine.
2 Jed Deppman, Daniel Ferrer, and Michael Groden, ‘Introduction to Genetic Criticism’, in Jed Deppman, Daniel Ferrer, and Michael Groden (eds), Genetic Criticism: Texts and Avant-textes (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), p. 2.
3 Daniel Ferrer, ‘Production, Invention, and Reproduction: Genetic vs. Textual Criticism’, in Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux and Neil Fraistat (eds), Reimagining Textuality: Textual Studies in the Late Age of Print (Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2002), p. 57.
4 Anna Sofia Rossholm, Ingmar Bergman och den lekfulla skriften: ur arkivets samlingar av anteckningar och utkast (Stockholm and Gothenburg: Makadam förlag, 2017); ‘Den lekfulla skriften: Autofiktion och minne i Ingmar Bergmans arbetsböcker och manusutkast’, in Paula Henrikson and Jon Viklund (eds), Kladd, utkast, avskrift: Studier av litterära tillkomstprocesser, no. 68 (Uppsala: Skrifter utgivna av Avdelningen för litteratursociologi, 2015), pp. 59–80; ‘Ingmar Bergman’s Screenwriting’, Journal of Scandinavian Cinema 4:2 (2014), 165–171; ‘Auto-adaptation and the Movement of Writing across Media’, in Jörgen Bruhn, Anne Gjelsvik, and Eirik Hanssen (eds), Adaptation Studies: New Challenges, New Directions (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), pp. 203–222; ‘Tracing the Voice of the Auteur: Persona and the Ingmar Bergman Archive’, Journal of Screenwriting 4.2 (2013), 135–148; and, with Jon Viklund, ‘Verkets förvandlingar: Ekelöf, Bergman och den genetiska kritiken’, Tidskrift för litteraturvetenskap 1 (2011), 5–24. The research presented in this chapter has been published previously in Swedish (2015 and 2017).
5 Jan Holmberg, Författaren Ingmar Bergman (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2018).
6 Maaret Koskinen, Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence: Pictures in the Typewriter, Writings on the Screen (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2010).
7 Donald Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 2002 [1971]).
8 Jacques Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play’, in Writing and Difference (London: Routledge, 1995 [1967]), pp. 287–294; Roland Barthes, ‘From Work to Text’, in Stephen Heath (ed.), Image, Music, Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), pp. 155–164.
9 Most notably in Edward de Bono, Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas (London: HarperCollins, 1993 [1992]).
10 Rob Pope, Creativity: Theory, History, Practice (London: Routledge, 2005), pp. 119–121.
11 Mikael Timm, Lusten och dämonerna (Stockholm: Norstedts, 2008), p. 165.
12 Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film, translated from Swedish by Marianne Ruuth (London: Faber & Faber, 1995).
13 Ingmar Bergman, unpublished notebook, ‘Nederlaget. Experimentet. Laboratorium. Prinsen. Ormens ägg. Sju sex. Porr-film. Den förlorade försten. 48 timmar av Jesu liv’, 1975 (Notebook No. 30), F:123, the Ingmar Bergman Archive. Translation mine. A selection of Bergman’s notebooks was published in 2018. This chapter refers to the archival documents themselves, rather than to the published texts. My reason for doing so is not only that I have personally examined these archival documents in my research, but also because some aspects of the handwritten originals have been revised in the published texts.
14 See, for example, Janet Staiger, ‘Analysing Self-fashioning in Authoring and Reception’, in Maaret Koskinen (ed.), Ingmar Bergman Revisited: Performance, Cinema and the Arts (London: Wallflower Press, 2008), pp. 89–106.
15 Ingmar Bergman, unpublished notebook, ‘De skeppsbrutna’, 1962–1964 (Notebook No. 21), F:114, the Ingmar Bergman Archive. Translation mine.
16 Winnicott, Playing and Reality, pp. 1–34.
17 Ingmar Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
18 Siegfried Scheibe, ‘Einige grundsätzliche Vorüberlegungen zur Vereinheitlichung von Editionen’, in Michael Werner and Winfried Woesler (eds), Edition et Manuscrits: Probleme der Prosa-Edition (Bern: Peter Lang, 1987), pp. 177–189.
19 De Bono, Serious Creativity, pp. 8–17. For games as creative exercises, see pp. 77–87.
20 Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
21 Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
22 Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
23 In a study of auto-fiction from a genetic-criticism perspective, literary theorist Philippe Lejeune explains that the materialization of the author’s self in the text assumes various forms and expressions. See Philippe Lejeune, ‘George Perec: L’autobiographie et fiction’, in Jean-Louis Jeanelle and Catherine Viollet (eds), Genèse et autofiction (Louvain-la-Neuve: Burylant-Academia, 2007), p. 144.
24 Steven Maras, Screenwriting: History, Theory and Practice (London: Routledge, 2009).
25 See, for example, Birgitta Ingemanson, ‘The Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman: Personification and Olfactory Detail’, Literature/Film Quarterly 12:1 (1984), 26–33, and, more recently, in works by Jan Holmberg.
26 Ingmar Bergman, Persona and Shame: The Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman (New York: Marion Boyars Publishers Ltd., 2002), p. 23.
27 Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play’, p. 294.
28 As described in Steven Price, The Screenplay: Authorship, Theory and Criticism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 63–73.
29 Maaret Koskinen, ‘Saraband and the Ingmar Bergman Archive’, in Maaret Koskinen (ed.), Ingmar Bergman Revisited: Performance, Cinema and the Arts (London: Wallflower Press, 2008), pp. 19–34.
30 Janet Walker, Trauma Cinema: Documenting Incest and the Holocaust (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005).
31 Ingmar Bergman, unpublished screenplay, Människoätarna, 1964, B:004, the Ingmar Bergman Archive. Translation mine.
32 Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
33 Bergman, unpublished notebook, 1962–1964. Translation mine.
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Ingmar Bergman

An enduring legacy



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