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A CANDID LOOK AT INGRID BERGMAN

Documentaries about film history don’t seem to have long shelf lives, in theatrical or television distribution. That’s why I’m grateful that the Criterion Collection has released Stig Björkman’s Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words, which played the film festival circuit and a handful of theaters last year. This strikingly intimate portrait of the luminous leading lady draws on the actress’ letters, diaries, and copious home movies. It features all four of her children, including Isabella Rossellini, the only one to follow in her parent’s footsteps.

We learn about Bergman’s bittersweet childhood and the losses from which she never fully recovered. Once she achieved success, at home and then in Hollywood, Bergman chose career over family time and again. Somehow her children made their peace with it; they loved their mother and knew she loved them. Daughter Pia Lindstrom says that being with her mother was great fun, and the candid footage we see backs her up.

Ingrid Bergman-Criterion-225Criterion has augmented the hour-long documentary (narrated by Swedish-born Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander) with an assortment of goodies: excerpts from early Swedish films featuring Bergman, a new interview with director Björkman, deleted and extended scenes, and even more of those enticing 8mm home movies.

There is also a first-rate essay about the star by film scholar and teacher Jeanine Basinger, who acquired Bergman’s archives for Wesleyan University in Connecticut years ago. She describes the actress as “a professional international wanderer, but a wanderer with baggage. And her baggage wasn’t jewelry and clothes and furs—the usual star trappings—but the emotional baggage of memory: little gifts, letters, photographs, remembrances, school papers, locks of hair, valentines. Her true home was never geographical; it was archival. She held things close because she couldn’t always hold people close. Bjorkman understands this Bergman as well as he understands Bergman the actor. His film is not an external documentary but an internal, emotional one…”

I couldn’t agree more. It’s a keeper.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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