Friday, October 28, 2011

Ingmar Bergman's Projection Room

Near downtown, on a stately street near the university, through a handsome arched doorway, across the theatre lobby, nearly to the framed and mounted poster advertising "Fanny and Alexander,'' then up a few steps, is the modest projection room where Ingmar Bergman learned to love cinema.

The theater, a lovingly restored 1914 structure in the Swedish university town of Uppsala, is called the Slotts Biograph (in Swedish: Slottsbiografen). Bergman served as an upaid assistant to the projectionist while growing up in Uppsala, his hometown, in the 1920s and 1930s. The room, small but neat, is much like it was then.

The cinema,with its traditional single screen and non-traditionally comfortable seats, is a pleasure to visit. It still shows movies, including silents, though Slotts is no longer a commercial cinema. Rather, it is an arts center with a special emphasis on film. Theatrical performances, music, readings, meetings, even weddings for the heritage-minded, also take place there. The theatre operated as a commercial moviehouse until 1991. It was declared a monument in 1994. Extensively restored, it was reopened in 1996. With just 130 seats, about half as many as during Bergman's boyhood, it is more comfortable now than back in the day.

Visiting the Biograph was one of the highlights of my recent visit to Sweden and Finland. It provides a physical link to Sweden's rich cultural past and to Bergman, an Old Master who is to the movies what Rodin is to sculpture and Rembrandt is to painting. It's easy to imagine the boy Ingmar lifting a new reel of film and offering it to the projectionist, peeking out of the projection room at flickering black and white images on the screen of this marvelous, three-dimensional magic lantern and trundling home after the show to his grandmother's apartment.

She occupied an entire floor in a handsome building that still stands. This was the home fictionalized in Bergman's late masterwork "Fanny and Alexander,'' released in the early 1980s. Before that, making pilgrimmages to see Bergman pictures such as "Wild Strawberries,'' "Smiles of a Summer Night'' and "The Seventh Seal'' were artistic rites of passage for many filmgoers, including myself. His works survive as touchstones of 20th century European art cinema.

After retiring from filmmaking, Bergman (1918-2007) served in Stockholm as artistic director of the magnificent Royal Dramatic Theatre. Tours are offered in that cultural mainstay of central Stockholm and they are well worth taking.

Still, there is something innocent and beguiling about Slotts Biograph. It is easily reached from the central train station in Uppsala, which is only 40 minutes from the capital by train. If you get the chance, go.

Slotts Biograph is located at Lower Linnankatu 6B, 753 09, Uppsala, Sweden. Tel. 018.101101, e-mail

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