Sunday, 12 June 2011

RIP Gunnar Fischer

Gunnar Fischer was undoubtedly one of the greatest of Swedish cinematographers and possibly in the world. But now, almost 101 years old, he has joined Bergman on the other side. He and Bergman were a team during the 1950s, and some years before, and you can easily divide Bergman's career into the Fischer phase and the Sven Nykvist phase which followed. Nykvist nowadays gets all the attention, but Fischer was important, if not instrumental, for making Bergman's films come alive, and to make Bergman a visual artist as well as a literary artist. Secrets of Women (Kvinnors väntan 1952), Summer With Monika (Sommaren med Monika 1953), Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende 1955), The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet 1957), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället 1957) and The Magician (Ansiktet 1958) are some example of their impressive standard. They're all different, but at the same time the same, consistency mixed with experiments. Personally though my favourite is Summer Interlude (Sommarlek 1951), which has extraordinary passages of luminous out-door photography, as well as complex interior scenes with mirrors within mirrors.

And Fischer also worked with Carl Th. Dreyer on the one film Dreyer shot in Sweden, Två människor (1945) and on Arne Sucksdorff's fiction film Pojken i trädet (1961). And he worked with Hasse Ekman on several films, most impressively on Egen ingång (1956), which I write about in my thesis. Ekman and Bergman were competitors in the late 1940s, early 1950s, and one thing they competed about was who could do the longest take. Ekman and Fischer won, with a sequence-shot in We Three Debutantes (Vi tre debutera 1953), which also has beautiful, poetic cinematography of Stockholm in the sun-drenched morning mist.

I once interviewed Gunnar Fischer's son Jens Fischer, also a cinematographer and a great guy. My thoughts are now with him and his family. I didn't get to meet Gunnar up close and personal, but I've heard him speak, telling amazing anecdotes. That great shot in The Seventh Seal where the man dies, kicking and screaming on the road, and then suddenly becomes embalmed in sunlight, that was Fischer's idea, insisting that he keep the camera rolling, when Bergman wanted to wrap things up. It's clear that Fischer had a great eye for light and lighting.

Here are some clips:

Something more cheerful:

And an old trailer for Summer Interlude, with some misspelled names:

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