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CHRIS MENGES WITH LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD!
REMEMBERING THE MASTERS: GUNNAR FISCHER
NEW PROGRAM SECTION AT CAMERIMAGE 2015!
CAMERIMAGE CALLS FOR ENTRIES!
Our guestsAlan Rickman
Our guestsJohn Turturro
Our guestsDavid Lynch
Our guestsKeanu Reeves
Our guestsPhilip Kaufman
Our guestsJoel Schumacher
Our guestsGus Van Sant
Our guestsAlbert Maysles
Our guestsNastassja Kinski
Our guestsHaskell Wexler
Our guestsVittorio Storaro
Our guestsViggo Mortensen
Our guestsBill Murray
Our guestsRutger Hauer
Our guestsTerry Gilliam
Our guestsOliver Stone
Our guestsRoman Polański
Our guestsIsabelle Huppert
Our guestsAlan Parker
Our guestsDarren Aronofsky
Our guestsJerzy Skolimowski
REMEMBERING THE MASTERS: GUNNAR FISCHERAdded : 16.07.2015
Since its inception the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography CAMERIMAGE has always focused on distinguishing those brilliant filmmakers who stayed in the shade of actors, directors or screenwriters - the cinematographers. We have shown their exceptional skills and visual sensitivity. We have acknowledged their input in the art of cinema. Together with them we observed the upcoming digital revolution.

The aim of “Remembering the Masters" is to accentuate the craft of all those brilliant cinematographers who passed away, and to provoke a discussion about the cinematic possibilities given by the films which over the years set the standards for what we watch today. In the moment of the digital revolution, both mental and technological, it is crucial not to forget about the always-fascinating history of cinema without which such revolution wouldn't come. We therefore invite everyone to watch the work of true masters, and by this remember every lesson they wanted to teach us.

This year we will present the work of Swedish cinematographer Gunnar Fischer.
 
  • Summer with Monika (1953),dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • Smiles of a Summer Night (1955),dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • The Seventh Seal (1957),dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • Wild Strawberries (1957),dir. Ingmar Bergman
  • The Magician (1958),dir. Ingmar Bergman
 
 
GUNNAR FISCHER (1910 - 2011)
 
Gunnar Fischer (born on 18 November 1910 in Ljungby as Erling Gunnar Fischer, died on 11 June 2011 at the age of 100 in Stockholm) was a Swedish director of photography who completed 61 films during his career. He became famous as the first of the two main cinematographers that collaborated with Ingmar Bergman (the other being Sven Nykvist).
 
 Gunnar Fischer

Fischer studied painting in Copenhagen, illustrated children’s books, and, prior to his studies at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, he served in the Swedish navy. Thanks to an actress that he met on a ship in 1935, he became an assistant camera at Filmstaden Studio, which at the time belonged to Svensk Filmindustri. Fischer’s mentor there was Julius Jaenzon, a famous cinematographer of the Swedish School from the era of silent films and the director of photography for films produced by the Swedish School’s leading representatives, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller. In the spirit of the Swedish School, Jaenzon showed Fischer how to enhance the psychological expression of film characters by selecting appropriate scenes of nature in terms of their aura.

Gunnar Fischer admired the well-known American cinematographer Gregg Toland, in particular for his camerawork in Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. Fischer also applied Toland’s characteristic depth of field in his own works, both in long shots and in close-ups. Carl Theodor Dreyer had a major impact on these works—he contemptuously defined Fischer’s early works as a director of photography during 1938–1943 as ‘milk and porridge’. Fischer took this opinion to heart and in Dreyer’sTwo People (1945), the first significant film in Fischer’s career, he applied hard, contrast lighting—a technique which originated from the Swedish School and, predominantly, from German Expressionism. Fischer turned this visual style into the most distinctive of the many styles present in majority of the twelve feature films he made with Bergman for which he was responsible for the camerawork (black and white). The above emphasis on feature films is significant, as these two artists also collaborated on nine very imaginative commercials.
 
Still from "Summer with Monika",
photo by Svenska Filminstitutet

The dozen feature films they produced does not include the film in which the collaboration of both artists started in a quite unfortunate way—Crisis [1946]. Fischer only did the screen test for this film; when the time for actual shooting came, he was substituted for another cinematographer. Fischer’s name was not quoted in the opening credits. In Port of Call(1948)—Bergman’s temporary flirt with neorealism—it was too early to talk about any of the sophisticated lighting that would be used in Dreyer’s Two People. The camerawork had to be quasi-documentary, all the more so due to the fact that most of the story took place outdoors (Bergman regretted that he had shot so many scenes in an atelier). It was only in Thirst [1949] that a closer approximation to the creative lighting of later productions would to some extent be seen, as in this film Bergman developed a taste for long takes, most of which he shot in vast open spaces. Fischer’s task here was rather to unify the lighting so as to allow the actors and the camera to move freely around the large spaces. However, thanks to some diverse shining the director of photography managed to avoid a flat frame.

The next steps towards the dark, expressionistic visual style could (paradoxically) be observed in films where at least a part of the action took place in a particularly unfavourable season—that is, the bright and sunny summer. A reference to this was given in their titles: Summer Interlude [1951], Summer with Monika [1953], and Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). However, it is in Summer Interlude and Summer with Monika where the idyll of a sunny summer, which the main character of the first film remembers with nostalgia and the title character of the second one carelessly spends with her boyfriend, is in contrast with the shady, darkened sequences that take place in the moment (Summer Interlude) or before and after the hot summer days (Summer with Monika) in the depressive humdrum of everyday life. ‘(…) In none of Bergman’s previous films (…) had Gunnar Fischer created camerawork so precisely harmonised with the psychological states of the characters. Close-ups on confined and dark [bold by A.B.] city spaces are followed by pictures of the sky, sea, and awakening Stockholm, filled with light, air, and life, which accompany the triumphant departure of Monika to freedom (...)’, wrote Tadeusz Szczepański, an expert on the works of this great director, in his book Zwierciadło Bergmana.
 
Still from "The Seventh Seal",
photo by Svenska Filminstitutet

The dramatizing, expressionistic visual style of Bergman–Fischer, as it may be defined, bloomed in the splendid film The Seventh Seal [1957], clearly marked its presence in the true masterpiece Wild Strawberries (1957), and returned impressively in the intriguing film The Magician (1958). The Seventh Seal is a morality play set in the harsh environment of the late Middle Ages, in a plague-stricken country where Death, one of the central characters of the film, takes its heavy toll. This clearly called for strong visual techniques: dark sequences, which constituted Death’s scope of activity and which were devoted to ethical, metaphysical, and religious dilemmas, are contrasted with bright sequences, where the love of a happy family prevails. The seaside scene of a game of chess between a knight and Death, lit with counterlight from two intersecting directions to give the impression of there being two suns, went down in cinematographic history. To all those who criticised this solution as uncanny, Fischer responded: ‘If one can believe that a knight may play chess with Death, they will also accept the fact that there are two suns in the sky.
 
In a change of tune, Wild Strawberries is a contemporary film largely shot on location, meaning that creativity had to be curbed for the sake of realism. It was in this spirit, yet still with strong visual contrasts, that the storyline was filmed—we watch the road trip of the almost 80-year-old professor Isak Borg, who it should be noted was played by one of the masters of the silent Swedish School, Bergman’s mentor Victor Sjöström. However, the Swedish School (with references to Sjöström’s film The Phantom Carriage from 1921) and German Expressionism are clearly visible in the first nightmare of the professor, who in an empty street sees a clock without hands, a faceless silhouette, a hearse that has crashed into a street lamp, and eventually himself in a coffin. Expressionistic means of representation were also applied in the scene of another nightmare, in which Borg, with one foot in the grave, fails a professional knowledge exam; even though he should have had a perfect command of this knowledge, it had been erased by senile dementia.
 
Still from "Wild Strawberries",
photo by Svenska Filminstitutet

Fischer’s mastery is proven here by the harmonious combination of these—metaphorically and literally—dark dreams, both with the realism of the scenes in the real world as well as with the professor’s nostalgic childhood memories. Fischer depicted the memories’ oneiric character by overexposing the negative, with the picture becoming softer and lighter in its tonality. The Magician marks Fischer’s return to darkness, the sharp division of light and dark, and the long shadows of people and objects—that is, to all the expressionistic tools in the art of cinematography. The choice couldn’t have been better for the slightly uncanny film, which resurrected the Romantic era and its characteristic belief in supernatural phenomena and the fame of all sorts of magnetisers, hypnotists, healers, illusionists, and the like.

When Gunnar Fischer launched his collaboration with Ingmar Bergman, they both decided to be honest with each other, ignoring any possible praise from the critics. Perhaps this was one of the foundations of their successful collaboration, which, as even the best collaborations must, eventually had to come to an end. The first discords between these two great filmmakers appeared during their work on the comedy The Devil’s Eye (1960). Some sources claim that the background of this rift remains unclear. According to other sources, Bergman expected much “lighter” camerawork from Fischer, whereas the latter might still have drifted towards heavy expressionism and, reportedly, didn’t like the film itself. As Fischer himself put it simply: ‘Apparently, Sven Nykvist turned out to be a better cameraman than me.’ A realist, Nykvist, who replaced the expressionist Fischer, was the director of photography for The Silence [1963]. Bergman had wanted Fischer to be the director of photography for this film, but at that time Fischer was working on a Disney production. Fischer only collaborated with Bergman on one more occasion—filming the opening credits sequence for The Touch [1971].
 
Still from "The Magician",
Ansiktet / The Magician
©1958 AB Svensk Filmindustri
 
In the 1960s and 1970s, Gunnar Fischer worked on cinema and TV films, as well as TV series. Fischer was a master of black-and-white film photography, which is evident when one watches the drama Two Living, One Dead (1961) by the English director Anthony Asquith. As far as colour tapes are concerned, Fischer achieved some noteworthy results in a film based on a screenplay by BergmanThe Pleasure Garden by Alf Kjellin (1961)—and in Ola & Julia by Jan Haldoff (1967). In Parade (1974, TV movie), the last film by Jacques Tati (the co-author of the camerawork was Jean Badal), Fischer introduced a video technique which was a novelty at that time. Don Juan (1979) was the last film for which Fischer was the director of photography.
 
Gunnar Fischer directed two short films, wrote screenplays, and gave lectures on cinematography. Twice [in 1992 and 2002] he received the Guldbaggen—an award from the Swedish Film Institute. In 1938, he married Gull Söderblom, sister of actor Ake Söderblom. His marriage lasted 67 years, until the death of Fischer’s wife in 2005. They had two sons together, Jens and Peter, who are both cinematographers.


Andrzej Bukowiecki

 

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