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DREAMSCAPES SPRING/SUMMER 2019
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TRACING BERGMAN'S FOOTSTEPS IN STOCKHOLM
 
(2019 - Spring/Summer Issue)

Writer: WAILANA KALAMA



I was living in Stockholm for two years before I saw my first Ingmar Bergman film, Persona (1966). I wondered how such a moody and metaphysical film could be born from a native of this city that was all tidy and, in many ways, uncomplicated.

It’s not easy to find remnants of Bergman in Stockholm. Unlike Kafka, whose face is plastered all over coffee mugs in his hometown Prague, Bergman is no mascot. There are no statues, no bottle openers, no signature berets splashed with his silhouette. I didn’t even have the faintest idea of what he looked like.

That’s not to say that Swedes aren’t proud of him. Bergman is as much an indelible symbol of Sweden as IKEA or ABBA. He crowns the 200-kronor banknote. He produced around 60 films and 172 plays over his lifetime and is one of the most influential directors in the world. I spent a day chasing Bergman’s faint memory around Stockholm.

INFLUENCED IN ÖSTERMALM

Though born in Uppsala, Bergman spent most of his childhood in Stockholm’s fashionable Östermalm district. I went on the hunt for his first apartments, past high-end townhouses. I paid a visit to Skeppargatan 27, a banal condo that looked less than inviting. Bergman painted an austere picture of the loft in his autobiography The Magic Lantern: “The dining room faced on to a dark back courtyard with a high brick wall, the outdoor privy, dustbins, fat rats, and a carpet-beating stand. I am sitting on someone’s knee being fed with gruel… Suddenly; I vomit over everything. That is probably my very first memory.” His family later moved nearby to the shy Romantic Villagatan 22. In contrast, this apartment “had sun-yellow linoleum on the floor and light-coloured blinds with castles and meadow flowers on them.”

At the time, Östermalm was the artistic hub in Stockholm. Bergman would grow up with the Royal Opera and Zita Folkets Bio cinema in his figurative backyard. He saw his first film at the Sture-Teatern, once located at Birger Jarlsgatan 23-30. He sat in the front row to Black Beauty (1921), age six, captivated by the moving images of horses. “I was overcome with a fever that has never left me. The silent shadows turned their pale faces towards me and spoke in inaudible voices to my most secret feelings.” Closed since 2001, the block is now dedicated to an Italian eatery and the Hotel Kung Carl.

As a teenager, he was often found at Sandberg’s Bookshop, a popular waterhole for intellectuals at the time. His friend Erland Josephson’s father ran the shop on the corner of Sturegatan and Humlegårdsgatan. I wandered Östermalm, but instead of finding a statue or bust, I came away with a vague sense of cinemas and playhouses, playgrounds for a fledgling artist.

These neighbourhoods echoed into Bergman’s adulthood and films. While his father worked at the Sophiahemmet Royal Hospital as a chaplain, the family took up residence on-site. Bergman would return later in life as a patient in the hospital, where he scribbled down the screenplay to Persona.

Stockholm was both Bergman’s home and his studio. Though he moved around, with time spent in west Sweden and Germany, he always returned to the capital. When he lived abroad, he would import Swedish filmjölk, a sour milk poured over cornflakes. He even declined offers by studios abroad, reportedly because he doubted his ability to make a film in any language other than Swedish. Instead, he could usually be found at what was known as the “Swedish Hollywood.”

SWEDISH HOLLYWOOD

Other than Östermalm, Bergman spent most of his life at the Filmstaden Råsunda in Solna. Though some of his movies were filmed on location around the city and archipelago, the majority were shot on the lots of the famed “Film City.”

Built on a former ostrich farm, Filmstaden once contained two large film studios. From its opening in 1919, the Swedish Film Industry recorded around 440 films here, at least 32 of which were by Bergman. Today, the premises host cinephile clubs and festivals.

Emerging from the subway at Näckrosen, I crossed under the ornamental archway to Filmstaden’s waffle café. From the window, who greeted me but Bergman, or at least a large photo of his wry face in a director’s chair. Beside him, a sign proudly welcomed me to Bergman’s Filmstaden. Stamped on a fence behind the café was a line of posters of his films, with Persona at the very end.

On the café steps, I met up with Sven-Åke Peterson of the Filmstaden Culture Foundation, a long-legged gentleman who had promised me as many Bergman anecdotes as I could handle. Together we wandered past the soft peach buildings smothered in ivy. It was probably due to its charm, Sven suggested, that Råsunda was still standing when so many old movies studios around the world had folded. He showed me the square where Bergman had filmed a scene from Summer with Monika (1953), flipping through stills of the film.

Bergman showed up at Filmstaden in the early 1940s. Already in demand as a theatrical director, he was signed on as a scriptwriter. His first screenplay, Torment (1944), was a success. Bergman hit the director’s chair with Crisis (1946). On the set, he quickly acquired a reputation as a perfectionist. When selecting costumes for his cast, he handpicked each colour—even though his films were black and white. No detail, however minuscule, was safe.

Sven pointed out a small door to Bergman’s own private auditorium, where he held a cinema club, on Ingmar Bergman’s Way. Around the corner, a newly minted sculpture paid homage to The Seventh Seal (1957) with chiselled Knight and Death. “I’m so old that I remember that in my hometown,” Sven recalled, “in the summers, there was an old tradition called Commedia dell’Arte where clowns, dancers, singers travelled into little villages.” I peered into the face of the Knight, but instead of Max von Sydow, I saw Bergman’s own lean face pitched toward something only he could see.

THE ROYAL THEATRE

I returned to Östermalm in search of more palpable homages, making my way to Nybroplan, where Ingmar Bergman’s Street flows into Ingmar Bergman’s Square. Both are smallish, but with elegant brickwork and Jugendstil turrets. I peeked into Teatergrillen, a beloved go-to for Bergman and other cast and crew of the Royal Dramatic Theatre since 1945. The restaurant, lavishly laid in red booths, promised fresh oysters. I could easily imagine Bergman here munching on toast topped with baby shrimps. Diners can even book his regular table, the first left of the entrance.

On the corner of the square stands the Royal Dramatic Theatre, a magnificent stage that hosted the likes of Greta Garbo and Max von Sydow. Though largely known for his films, on and off for 40 years Bergman served as a theatrical director of this grand stage that overlooks Nybroviken Harbor. Admiring the theatre’s façade of Ekeberg marble, my eyes fell on the three crowns of Sweden. “I am so 100 percent Swedish,” Bergman once told the New York Times. “Someone has said a Swede is like a bottle of ketchup—nothing and nothing and then all at once—splat.”

Travel Planner

Every summer, the Filmstaden Råsunda at Greta Garbos väg 3 (en.filmstadenskultur.se) offers guided tours. Reserve a seat at Teatergrillen (teatergrillen.se/eng) in advance to beat the summer tourists. The Radisson Collection Hotel Strand located at Nybrokajen 9 (radissoncollection.com/strandhotel-stockholm) was once a favourite haunt of celebrities like Greta Garbo and Ingmar Bergman. More information on Stockholm, Sweden, can be found at visitstockholm.com.

 
 
 
 
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