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Hi Billy,

I hate to bring down a wonderful post (not to mention my first time commenting here) but you wrote "Crimes and Whispers' instead of 'Crimes and Misdemeanours'--or was that intentional?

Thanks for the blog, by the way, it's been fascinating.


Once again you did a stunning tribute, Billy. Ever think of doing eulogies for a living?

And as always your heartbeat on the world of those IN the movies and their body of work never ceases to amaze me. Sven Nykvist sounded like a real pro, would have been an honor to have heard him speak on his craft. Still, glad at least you gave us in Romcom land a couple quotes and stills from his pictures.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Mystery Man


My humblest and most sincerest thanks for your so very kind shout-out. I honestly feel a touch speechless to be in THIS post, but deeply, deeply grateful nonetheless.

I, too, have read the NY & LA Times articles on Nykvist, which were both good, but you offered a far better visual illustration of how truly masterful Nykvist was with his cinematography.

Visually, "Cries and Whispers" affected me personally more than any of Bergman's movies. Who can forget all that red? SO vibrant. A metaphor for the soul, I've read. There's also this amazing mixture of long periods of silence where events of great magnitude take place in the lives of these characters without one word being spoken, and then a radical shift in gears where a character would speak at great length about something completely heartbreaking. Relentlessly effective.

You also really nailed it for screenwriters when you suggested that they:

" a director of photography when they're writing a draft. See the movie in your head -- and then, while not writing every indulgent thing down, put the essence of those images on the page."

I couldn't agree more.

Great post.



Welcome, Tim: That's no bring-down, it's just helpful -- I've corrected the post accordingly, so thank you (the soup-strainer memory does occasionally confuse my brain)!

EC, hmmm, eulogies for a living -- sounds like it would be a fun and suicidally depressing gig...

Mystery Man: Glad you enjoyed, and I hope readers will check out your subtext series, it's truly useful stuff.


Beautiful. That makes me want to go out and rewatch every movie he ever worked on.


I've watched What's Eating Gilbert Grape a bunch of times and it never occurred to me that part of the attraction was the cinematography, but in retrospect... I love all of the films mentioned that I've seen. I regret to admit that I have not yet seen many (any?) Bergman films, which is like admitting I've never read the Bible.

I've been reading Mystery Man's blog and loving it. All summer, you were having a subtext party and I missed it somehow.

Mystery Man


I'm sorry I didn't find YOU sooner, and I sincerely mean that.

I still love subtext and there WILL be more posts to come. Frankly, 25 posts fail to even scratch the surface. You're very welcome to contribute any thoughts or scenes, and that goes for anyone else.

Can we talk about Nykvist? Is it not just amazing the way he transformed the use of light? I mean, really. Any lover of movies loves Nykvist even if you're not familiar with his name. I think it was the NY Times that talked about how he took light beyond simple "mood." He used light to express visual ideas about the spiritual conflicts of characters, their inner contradictions, the dualities in their natures, which tormented so many of Bergman's characters. Is that not just so amazing, the power of this medium?

It just excites me all the more about screenwriting, about creating characters with depth, about really exploring the human psyche, because when we create something with depth, a master like Nykvist and others like him take those stories to a whole new visual level we never even dreamed possible.

(I'm SO sorry to add such a long comment, but you got me all worked up. Now I'm going to write for hours...)



"tell it all with nothing".

I always say.

...which is pretty impossible. But it's a nice, sharp quote. And you get me.
I know you do.


Neil: A worthy pursuit (tho it would conceivably take you months and would certainly cut into your blogging time).

Christina: starter list -- go for "Persona" first I'd say; "Franny and Alexander" for later period and "Seventh Seal" for earlier...

Mystery Man: Hey, anything that gets you writing...

Yes Jess I get you. Now I hope you get that mouse.

Ann Wesley Hardin

Great post, Billy. Today I've had to revisit some of the basic writing rules to get my WIP back on track, and yours should be one of them.

Like Yoda reminding Luke to close his eyes and feel the force, your post reminds us to close our eyes and see the light(ing).


Been a while since I saw Grape (Darlene Cates is a good friend of mine) but isn't that scene Gilbert avoiding her, not her avoiding an ex lover?

Ann Wesley Hardin

I thought the same thing, MayAn. But no matter, the shot was so telling.


I loved all the photo stills you posted.


MaryAn & Ann: It's been awhile since I've seen it, so I've evidently disremembered -- I thought it was her avoiding Gilbert (her ex) but I'll sit corrected.

Thanks, Trish. It was actually hard trying to reduce his career to just those!...


Okay, so I took your advice and put more light in my screenplay but now when I plug it in, it's too bright to read.

Ms. Annie D

Fanny and Alexander is one of my favorite films, in large part because of Nykvist's amazing cinematography.

The bright, stark scene where the beautiful mother is on the floor at the feet of the bishop.

The darker, claustrophobic scene where Alexander is wandering through the puppet shop. Anyway, it was claustrophobic for me!

Thanks so much for doing this beautiful tribute, Billy.

Miriam Paschal

When we were in film school together, Conrad Hall Jr. did me the enormous honor of asking me to be his camera assistant in a student film project. That experience has influenced the way I write.

See the movie in your head is good advice, but I'll go you one better. Don't visualize it on the screen. Step beyond the screen, into the action, and look around you. Look everywhere.

We have a few writers on TS who can paint vivid pictures with just a few words. The language of the screenplay is simple and spare, but imagery is so important. Mastering the art of painting the picture is difficult, but a goal well worth striving for.


good work bill.... now this I can get into...
ah well, we have lost another one.
a true master. if there was a system for apprenticeship (or just a good cold dark place like wintery sweden, where you could learn to watch and learn about light. the dawn that glows for eight hours. the glow of the pot bellied stove) then maybe we could say that someday that there will be another. but by the time that the virtual digital era swallows us up and spits us into the trash, the memory of sven and his genius will be faded. not only was he a true master of cinematography and collaborator.. before the steadicam, the looma crane, HMI's and kinoflos.... this guy provided the FRAMEWORK for directors to tell their stories. He also managed to probably be the single most influential cinematographer of the modern era. Like anything else some were good students and some just visual parasites.. Gordon Willis (mid woody)(the Godfather)is near the top of the list... Robby Muller and Thomas Mauch... Fred Elmes.. Owen Roizman even his pier Nestor Alemendros and the late John Alcott who shot Barry Lyndon, these guys had Sven's brand on their ass's. For those that can only go and see one of his movies I would suggest you see.. Cries and Whispers. Bring alot of tissues.

In my hacked attempt at teaching two years ago at USC... photography or rather photographic conventions and constructs; to first year undergraduates in the writing program... I tried desperately to communicate the need for visual awareness.. in writing... what was shocking other than my own tangential lunacy..was that these students... born in the era of mtv.. really had the most limited visual acuity. As P Adam Sitney said to me in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel one autumn evening..(what was I 12?) when I asked him about his meetings with D W Griffiths, he looked at me with dark and sad eyes and said, "they have it all wrong now... they are supposed to be MOVING Pictures."
Sven understood that in ways that we can only pretend to.


JJ, God I hate it when that happens.

Annie D: And now you're making me want to go watch Fanny again...

Oui, Miriam, and I think you'll like the next post up.

Marken: Beautiful. My version of the Sitney comment that I use with students is, "They're called movies -- not stillies."


I love Bergman's work, without doubt not only because of his genius, but because of the exquisite cinemaphotography. (The red, white and black images of Cries and Whispers have remained with me....) But if he had worked in the U.S., wouldn't the films have been slashed and slaughtered--left in shreds in bins--labeled "Not Economically Viable?"

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