I have written letters to writers I admire. Often I find myself squirming with embarrassment when I recall the words I wrote, (and I am still hurt that J.K.Rowling never replied). But I was so moved by their work that I just had to tell them.
During my research for Filmotomy’s celebration to Ingmar Bergman, I came across Stanley Kubrick’s letter to the director, and it was fascinating to see this side of Kubrick who is often described as being ‘cold’ and ’emotionless’. I was compelled to look into this letter and see how Bergman influenced Kubrick’s work. As I have been on my Bergman journey I can’t help being struck by a certain deja vu od certain scenes or sequences. I realise now that I have seen homages in Kubrick’s work (for example shots of long hallways in Kubrick’s The Shining, reminded me of the hotel featured in Bergman’s Silence).
Perhaps that will be another article detailing how Bergman’s work has influenced an array of other directors. But first I want to discuss the letter itself, which is worth analyzing because it allows us to glimpse a side of Kubrick that is perhaps unknown by many. It reveals that Kubrick had been touched emotionally by Bergman’s film, so much so that he felt compelled enough to put pen to paper. I would like to point out the spelling mistakes in Kubrick’s letter, which add a somewhat human touch to the letter, and somehow makes it seem more intimate.
February 9, 1960
Dear Mr. Bergman,
You have most certainly received enough acclaim and success throughout the world to make this note quite unnecessary. But for whatever it’s worth, I should like to add my praise and gratitude as a fellow director for the unearthly and brilliant contribution you have made to the world by your films (I have never been in Sweden and have therefore never had the pleasure of seeing your theater work). Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today. Beyond that, allow me to say you are unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere, the subtlety of performance, the avoidance of the obvious, the truthfullness and completeness of characterization. To this one must also add everything else that goes into the making of a film. I believe you are blessed with wonderfull actors. Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin live vividly in my memory, and there are many others in your acting company whose names escape me. I wish you and all of them the very best of luck, and I shall look forward with eagerness to each of your films.
First thing to note is Kubrick’s opening line: You have most certainly received enough acclaim and success throughout the world to make this note quite unnecessary. This is quite a nice little touch by Kubrick, who is being very flattering towards Bergman by implying that the director must receive many ‘fan’ letters and compliments, that Kubrick’s letter will be a drop in the ocean.
Kubrick goes on to say the following ”But for whatever it’s worth, I should like to add my praise and gratitude as a fellow director for the unearthly and brilliant contribution you have made to the world by your films.” Kubrick’s praise here for Bergman and his films is quite impressive, with the director informing Bergman that his work has made a contribution not only to cinema, but to the word – which is certainly a powerful statement to make.
I like the additional sentence which states the following: ”(I have never been in Sweden and have therefore never had the pleasure of seeing your theater work)” which is a confession of sorts, because Kubrick has yet to travel to Sweden (although Kubrick rarely left the UK, if ever, because of a fear of flying).
Kubrick’s letter goes on to state: ‘‘Your vision of life has moved me deeply, much more deeply than I have ever been moved by any films. I believe you are the greatest film-maker at work today.” which is again another bold statement from Kubrick. And one that reveals the effect that Bergman’s films have had on the young director, who was about to release Spartacus, which would cement his status as a big-time film director for Hollywood. But Kubrick would never be tamed by the beast that was Hollywood.
Kubrick also informs Bergman that he is ”unsurpassed by anyone in the creation of mood and atmosphere” which I have to agree with. Bergman has a way of creating a unique mood for every one of his films, and in this sentence we see that Kubrick believes that there is no other director (including Kubrick himself) that can match Bergman’s style. This reveals something a little too human about Kubrick, that he has insecurities…
The letter finishes with Kubrick complimenting Max von Sydow and Ingrid Thulin, who were both regular’s in Bergman’s films, saying that Bergman is ”blessed” with them. Kubrick knows the importance of good actors, especially good devoted actors. His acknowledgement of the actors to the director, reflects his point-of-view that it is the director’s responsibility to draw out the best performance possible from his actors. Kubrick wishes the actors good luck with their future, as well as Bergman, which is a polite touch from Kubrick. The last line of the letter declares Kubrick’s eagerness for more films, and states how he looks forward to them- those fans can be so demanding!
Kubrick’s letter to Bergman is interesting as it helps to show how film is built up on influences and homages to previous film texts that have come before them. Kubrick incorporated a lot of Bergman-like techniques into his film making, as mentioned earlier in this piece The Shining is a perfect example of this as it references not only The Silence but Persona and The Hour of the Wolf.
The letter reveals a lot about the psyche of Kubrick himself, and shows the profound effect that Bergman’s work had on him, moving him deeply. I can’t find anything to say whether the two men ever met face-to-face, or if Bergman replied to the letter, but I like to think that they are in the afterlife now, playing a good old game of chess.