Legendary Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist (1922-2006) collaborated with equally noted director Ingmar Bergman on dozens of features and television productions over the course of his nearly sixty-year career. To blithely sum up their relationship as an intimate one would be to miss the trait that drove both men to do their best work together.
You can sense the strength of Bergman’s bond to Nykvist in his remarks on the occasion of the cinematographer’s passing. Passion is a powerful and barely controllable emotion, its effect magnified by a partner of similar obsession. Would that we were all so lucky as to find that kind of creative soulmate…
“Sometimes I probably do mourn the fact that I no longer make films. Most of all I miss working with Sven Nykvist, perhaps because we are both utterly captivated by the problems of light, the gentle, dangerous, dreamlike, living, dead, clear, misty, hot, violent, bare, sudden, dark, springlike, falling, straight, slanting, sensual, subdued, limited, poisonous, calming, pale light. Light.”
Encounter With Greatness\Bonus Anecdote: An early Sunday morning in the mid-80’s… I was working as an assistant cameraman to Gordon Willis, ASC on a huge AT&T national spot. The location was a deserted Park Avenue in Manhattan; Willis had a 400mm lens pointing north from the intersection at 60th Street. While I was checking focus marks some five blocks away at 65th, a tall, well-dressed man approached with an inquisitive look on his face. Of course, it was Sven Nykvist. Since the rest of the crew and all our gear were nowhere to be seen, he thought it odd that I was alone in the middle of the road with a slate in my hand. Once I explained the situation, he wanted to speak to Willis. Knowing I was courting trouble, I got on the radio and summoned the boss, who was watching the encounter through the camera.
“Gordon, Sven Nykvist is here and he wants to say hello.”
Willis never appreciated distractions, so I knew what was coming. I was also glad that Sven apparently didn’t know much English. The walkie almost leaped out of my hand at Willis’ blistering reply.
“Great… Say hello back and then tell him to get the fuck out of the shot!”
I interpreted a more genteel version for Sven. He smiled, shook my hand and went on his way. And I had a good laugh to myself as I hiked back to base camp a quarter mile south.