Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sven Nykvist, RIP

The great cinematographer Sven Nykvist died yesterday at the age of 83.

Nykvist is best known as the cinematographer behind many of Ingmar Bergman's best films. Bergman would be considered a great director no matter what cinematographer he worked with but there is no question that those films are remembered far more fondly because of the sheer beauty of Nykvist's work. The use of red in Cries and Whispers, the way Nykvist shot the almost fantasy world of the uncle in Fanny and Alexander, the masterful use of black and white in films such as Winter Light and Through A Glass Darkly.

After Bergman went into semi-retirement in the early 1980s, Nykvist continued to work, though often on lesser films. He shot some of Woody Allen's most beautifully looking films, including Crimes and Misdemeanors and Celebrity. His work on Celebrity says a lot. A mostly forgetable film, I remember it today almost solely on the beauty of the camera work.

Nykvist also directed one film, The Ox, possibly the most depressing film I've ever seen. Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, and Max von Sydow, the film chronicles the struggles of one family through a horrible famine and the sacrifices people have to make at such times. Clearly, Nykvist did not only share a vision of film with Bergman, but a philosophy of life as well.

The death of Nykvist reminds me of a call Stanley Kauffmann made in the late 1990s for a Nobel Prize for Film. This is clearly a good idea. Nykvist would have made a worthy winner. One of the greatest cinematographers in the history of film, we have truly lost a legend.