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Maaret Koskinen, I begynnelsen var ordet: Ingmar Bergman och hans tidiga författarskap (In the Beginning Was the Word: Ingmar Bergman and his early writings)

Wahlström & Widstrand,  2002. ISBN: 9146183450

Reviewed by Annika Lindskog in SBR 2003:1


At his house on Fårö, Ingmar Bergman one day looked in on an untidy little room laden with various bits of paper. When he suggested to Maaret Koskinen that she could have a look through it, he described it as a kökkenmödding – a pre-historic term for rubbish dump. Out of this chaos, Koskinen has brought order. What she unearthed now resides at the Swedish Film Institute under the name of “the Fårö archive”. It contains a wealth of early scripts and scripts presumed lost both for stage and film, fragments of text and stories, blueprints and early versions of works that were to be filmed later and even an opera libretto. And it contains large chunks of the jigsaw that is the author and director Bergman. In In the Beginning Was the Word we are let in on this treasure. Maaret Koskinen has worked extensively on Bergman and she is an eminent tour guide, not just displaying what she has found, but showing us how you can link the different parts, how they relate to each other and to later works and how they all combine to reveal the ideas, the preoccupations and the talents that made and makes Bergman Bergman. She compares characters that were “born” in the 40s with their direct descendants in 2000, she gathers motifs that pop up in ever changing surroundings and traces ideas and personalities from novels to plays and to films. We are shown time and again the interrelation of all of Bergman’s works and how they are constant new takes of old dilemmas. His creativity is revealed as a kaleidoscope where pieces are carefully selected to create scenes that are all essentially the same but when viewed from different angles completely new; we are shown not only where many of these pieces were crafted but also the other constel-lations in which they have been used. It is as if colour is being added to what we earlier could only see as pencil sketches. She also frequently brings in Bergman’s own recollections, especially his auto-biography The Magic Lantern, to compare, explain or add – but even at times to contradict when it seems that Bergman’s composing hand has valued the literary quality higher than accuracy or when the memory perhaps has been a little blurred. The result is, as it were, an autobiography written by a third person – composed by the subject but presented to us through an intepreter, with all the analysis, logic, hindsight and emotional detachment the inevitable distance bring – and it is both riveting and spellbinding. In order to stucture chaos Koskinen has choosen a thematic approach and sorts her findings under six headings according to subject matter or other common links. The first chapter concerns itself with a notebook that contains among other things stories seen as the first embryonic version of parts of Hets (Frenzy). The following five chapters all have subtitles in common with recurrent topics we are familiar with from Bergman’s films and plays: (2) “Family Interiors: the Father, Son and almighty Mother”, (3) “Women without faces”, (4) “Early alter egos”, (5) “Men, wives and faithlessness”, (6) “The dreams of an author”. This divison of the material according to themes is more interesting than any strict chronological approach could be. But the combination of such a mass of material and the spider’s-web-like character of Bergman’s enormous output over more than 60 years, where everything is interconnected - an expansion, a diminuation, or a multiple of an earlier or later piece or thought - makes the structure essential in keeping the reader from drowning in the current. For those slightly less familiar with all sides of this productivity the long chains of linkage and the multilayered interpretations might unfortunately be rather hard to follow. Unfortunately, as this is not only a mammoth sorting task that has been carried out, but a very important work that is both fascinating and intriguing. Bergman is reported to have been aghast when reading it, but he didn’t change a word. On the title page is a quote by a 20-year-old Bergman: “And if only a morsel of beauty can emanate from someone like me, I will have fulfilled my destiny”. Well, many have seen the beauty. Now we know where it came from.

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