While looking through the lavish and quite fabulous new Taschen book, THE INGMAR BERGMAN ARCHIVES, edited by Paul Duncan, I was astonished to see how much of Bergman's career outside of his movies I was totally unaware of.
I daresay that most people in America probably know as little about Bergman's work on the Swedish stage as I did. However, like Orson Welles, Bergman's theatrical productions encompassed Shakespeare to Shaw.
It also took in Ibsen, Lorca, Brecht and Strindberg, and included several lauded productions of works by America's two greatest playwrights, Eugene O' Neill and Tennessee Williams.
In fact, Bergman's debut as a stage director in Sweden was in 1938 with a production of Sutton Vane's Outward Bound, which was revived that same year on Broadway, in a production directed by Otto Preminger and starring Mercury alumni Vincent Price. Of course, at the time Welles was at the height of his own theatrical career, before heading to Hollywood.
In the 40's Bergman, like Welles, went on to stage productions of Shakespeare's Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice (I've included more information about this wonderful book, that I highly recommend, at the end of this article).
However, Orson Welles was not exactly a great admirer of the Swedish director, at least according to his published remarks. Here are two of Welles's statements about Mr. Bergman:
I don't condemn that very northern, very Protestant world of artists like Bergman; it's just not where I live. The Sweden I like to visit is a lot of fun. But Bergman's Sweden always reminds me of something Henry James said about Ibsen's Norway—that it was full of “the odor of spiritual paraffin.” How I sympathize with that! I share neither Bergman’s interests nor his obsessions. He's far more foreign to me than the Japanese.
—Orson Welles to Kenneth Tynan, 1967
You could write all the ideas of all the movies, mine included, on the head of a pin. It’s not a form in which ideas are very fecund. It’s a form that may grip you or take you into a world or involve you emotionally—but ideas are not the subject of films. I have this terrible sense that film is dead, that it's a piece of film in a machine that will be run off and shown to people. That is why, I think, my films are theatrical, and strongly stated, because I can't believe that anybody won’t fall asleep unless they are. There’s an awful lot of Bergman and Antonioni that I'd rather be dead than sit through.
For myself, unless a film is hallucinatory, unless it becomes that kind of an experience, it doesn't come alive. I know that directors find serious and sensitive audiences for films where people sit around peeling potatoes in the peasant houses—but I can't read that kind of novel either. Somebody has to be knocking at the door—I figure that is the way Shakespeare thought, so I can’t be in bad company!
—Orson Welles to Barbara Leaming, 1983
Now, given those kind of hostile remarks, it's no surprise that towards the end of his life, Bergman was not very complimentary about Welles's work as a director. Here are Bergman's comments about Welles when he spoke to a Swedish newspaper in 2002:
INGMAR BERGMAN: For me (Orson Welles) is just a hoax. It's empty. It's not interesting. It's dead. Citizen Kane, which I have a copy of, is the critics' darling, always at the top of every poll taken, but I think it's a total bore. Above all, the performances are worthless. The amount of respect that movie has is absolutely unbelievable!
JAN AGHED: What about The Magnificent Ambersons?
INGMAR BERGMAN: Also terribly boring. And I've never liked Welles as an actor, because he's not really an actor. In Hollywood you have two categories: you talk about actors and personalities. Welles was an enormous personality, but when he plays Othello, everything goes down the drain, you see, that's when he croaks. In my eyes he's an infinitely overrated filmmaker.
—Jan Aghed, När Bergman går på bio, from the Swedish daily newspaper, Sydsvenska Dagbladet, May 12, 2002.
My own guess is both directors were probably over reacting. Bergman admits he owned a print of Citizen Kane, and Welles certainly must have found plenty to admire in Bergman's work, even if he wouldn't admit it in interviews. Which brings up an interesting point where the two men must have agreed: The Cathedral at Chartres. Here is an excerpt from Bergman's introduction to his published screenplays: