Starting on February 7, The Best Show in Town may well be Film Forum’s Centennial Retrospective of the gargantuan six-decade oeuvre of Ingmar Bergman. 47 films over five weeks, 40 of them brand new digital restorations.
Usually in these circumstances I gather as many posters as I can find from a filmmaker's career, but collecting posters for all of Bergman’s work would be a monumental task. And so I’ve decided to cut to the chase and select my ten favorite posters for his films.
Most American posters for Bergman’s films—especially those from the 60s and 70s—are unusually wordy and quote-heavy, relying on critical acclaim to sell the latest product from the master. But, as much a visual stylist as a cerebral provocateur, Bergman has inspired many poster artists to great heights over the years. So here are my ten favorite Bergman posters, in ascending order. Feel free to disagree or tell me your favorites in the comments below.
10. Swedish poster for The Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Though I haven’t done a rigorous study of what else was out there, I would imagine that this poster would have been quite unique in late 1960s Sweden. Its elemental yowl from the darkness looks more like a poster for a David Lynch movie, 30 years ahead of its time.
9. 1955 US one-sheet for Summer with Monika (1953)
A fabulously lurid reminder of how Bergman splashed onto the world cinema stage with his twelfth film, the succès de scandale that was released in the US simply as Monika. Note that there are no fewer than five taglines on the poster and yet no mention of Bergman himself. In fact, the version that was first released in the US had been dubbed, given a new score and recut for its more sensational aspects by a company that had previously made millions on the 1945 “hygiene” film Mom and Dad, the poster for which is similarly tabloid-esque.
8. 1962 German poster for Secrets of Women (1952)
Mildly sensational itself, this beautiful re-release poster for another of Bergman’s early films was drawn by Heinz Edelmann, best known for his work a few years later on Yellow Submarine. I love the orange and green, the stylized bed, and way the woman’s state of déshabillé is rendered by that ruler-straight line.
7. French grande for Face to Face (1976)
With its Rorschach test background morphing into the reflected faces of Liv Ullmann, this elegant poster feels like classic, unadulterated Bergman, perfect for one of his late period psychological slugfests. It seems to have originally been an American design for Paramount, the studio that distributed the film in the US and France, but I like the borderless larger French version more.
6. UK one sheet for From the Life of the Marionettes (1980)
Another poster that feels like classic Bergman, though without any of his familiar faces. A stunning semi-abstract design redolent with Bergmanian despair.
5. Danish poster for The Magician (1958)
Beautiful comic-book style illustration of Bergman star Max von Sydow by Danish maestro Benny Stilling. The tagline translates (badly) to “imaginative comedy with horror effects.”
4. 1958 German poster for Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
A classic design by the great German designer Hans Hillmann who could always do so much with so little. Here he distills Bergman’s circus melodrama to a lovely image of woman standing on a horse in the middle of the bright moon of the circus ring. Note the hint of an audience at one edge.
3. Swedish poster for Port of Call (1948)
Recently rediscovered by Heritage Auctions, this gorgeous design for one of Bergman’s earliest films is by Swedish master Eric Rohman. If not so recognizably Bergmanesque as some of the others on the list it is nonetheless an absolute beauty.
2. Polish poster for Wild Strawberries (1957)
Usually one of the more playful, light-hearted and colorful of Polish designers, Jerzy Flisak was inspired to somber heights by Bergman’s nostalgic masterpiece Wild Strawberries.
1. German poster for The Silence (1963)
My favorite Bergman poster of all is this work of art by Dorothea Fischer-Nosbisch. Reminiscent of the work David Hockney was doing around the same time, with its mixed media collage of faces, this nonetheless feels unmistakably like a Bergman film. As with the two other German posters here, I love the simplicity of the sans-serif title balanced against the expressivity of the artwork. A masterpiece itself.
The Bergman Centennial retrospective, which is a co-presentation of Janus Films, the Swedish Film Institute and the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, runs from February 7–March 15 at Film Forum and then will be traveling around the country. Posters courtesy of Posteritati and Heritage Auctions.