Ingmar Bergman, Swedish Film genius (no relation to Ingrid), died on Monday.
I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire. The nearest movie theater was 10 miles away in Exeter – the Ioka. It showed things like Beach Blanket Bingo and Jerry Lewis movies in b&w. Foreign films and “art films” were little more than rumors. In high school, boys whispered with bright eyes and drooling lips that foreign movies had naked girls in them – lots and lots of naked girls. It was a powerful draw at 16. The closest we could get in the puritanical US, still reeling from the sexually suppressed and frightened 50’s, was Ursula Andress in a skimpy bikini (Dr No).
We made the most of it.
Then I graduated high school and got a scholarship as a day student at UNH for a year. At the time I wasn’t exactly a film buff. I liked movies and watched them on tv but I didn’t know anything about them. I thought they were fun but that was as far as it went.
The first week I was at the university and scoping out my new territory, I discovered, just off-campus and down a side street that wasn’t much more than an alley, a marquee. A movie house! And within walking distance of the campus (which isn’t really saying much – Durham is so small practically everything is in walking distance). Cool.
I remember being about to walk away when it dawned on me to actually read the marquee to see what was playing. To my surprise, it wasn’t Beach Party or the latest James Bond. It was Duck Soup, my favorite Marx Bros movie, and it was playing with The Maltese Falcon. Groucho and Bogart on a big screen with no commercial interruptions? That was something I’d never hoped to see. I’d never heard of movie houses that showed old films. I was supposed to be on my way home but as you can probably imagine, I dumped that plan and went inside.
From that point on, I was hooked. I went every time they changed the program, and sometimes I went to the same program several times. It wasn’t until January, I think, that they showed their first foreign film, Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly. The title intrigued me – American films didn’t go in for obscure Biblical references or, indeed, have any panache about them whatever – though I didn’t recognize it (I quit going to church several years before and had never bothered to read the Bible), so I went on the chance there would be naked women in it.