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Introducing Big East Week: A Retrospective With Ingmar Bergman

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The world learned Monday of the death of Swedish film legend Ingmar Bergman, one of the most influential and visionary figures of any 20th Century art form. Bergman continued working into the 21st Century, but is best known for his early masterpieces The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and Through a Glass Darkly, the latter an Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film of 1961. He was widely considered the world's greatest living filmmaker.

At the time of his death, Bergman was in the process of collecting a series of interviews he had recorded in the last year of his life discussing the arch and tragedy of Big East football for the documentary Sommarnattens Rötgerset (Rutgers on a Summer Night). Here is a sampling of those interviews .
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Now let's get this Wannstedt business straight, once and for all. To begin at the beginning: the notion of Wannstedt, one might say, has changed aspect over the years, until it has either become so vague that it has faded away altogether or else has turned into something entirely different. For me, hell has always been a most suggestive sort of place; but I've never regarded it as being located anywhere else than in the vagaries of the damnable "West Coast" offense. His team runs it, the critics say, in "its purest form," as if such a loathable creature existed. They are afraid to say what is true: their beloved controlled passing, rather than a manifestation of intellectual and artistic grandeur, is mere mechanics and technical repetition. It is devoid of life. Yes, I have always known hell is created by human beings -- on Earth! In the robotic passing game!
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- On Dave Wannstedt, Interview with Mats Aghed, published in the Swedish daily newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet (March 2006)

Brohm has never properly learnt his craft. He is an aesthete. If, for example, he needs a certain number of yards for a first down, then he calls the simplest slant route to get the ball an inch past the damned stricks That is the attitude of an aesthete. He took great care over a single pass, but doesn't understand that a game is a rhythmic stream of plays, images, momentum, a living, moving process; for him, on the contrary, it was such a pass, then another pass, then yet another. So, sure, there are some brilliant bits in his drives. But I don't feel anything for the Orange Bowl, for example. Only indifference. I never understand why Brohm has been so incredibly applauded.
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 - On Brian Brohm, Interview with Jan Nilsson, Vision: The Images of My Life (Feb. 2007)

I've never gotten anything out of his offenses. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. His reliance on option routes is uninteresting and his blitz pick-ups an infinite bore. Petrino was a fucking bore. He's drawn his plays for the polls, the critics. On a vacation to America, I saw him speak on one of his plays, Trips Left Zip Brown 33 Iso, at a clinic in your bleak Middle West. It was mindnumbingly boring.
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 - On Bobby Petrino, Interview with Jan Nilsson, Vision: The Images of My Life (Feb. 2007)

The Scarlet Light -- suppose we discuss that now?... The film is often misinterpreted, because it is closely connected with a particular game: Rutgers' melodramatic victory over Louisville. I heard of it on the radio one evening during the darkest hours of the Autumn, and it struck me I'd like to make a film about a solitary figure on the plains of Uppland. My father, as you probably know, was a clergyman -- he knew all the Uppland church teams like the back of his hand. We drove about to morning games in various places and were deeply impressed by the strategic poverty of these congregations, by the lack of any fans and the miserable technical status of the players who dropped into the pocket like a shuffling, pathetically hunched Johnny Unitas with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, the poverty of their mascots, the nonchalance and indifference of the sacred ritual. These ragged Knights of Rutgers seemed very much to me like just such a wretched menagerie. In the film, as it was conceived, someone - a coach, a player, a devout fan, it was not yet clear - goes into a church, locks himself in, goes up to the altar, and says: 'God, I'm staying here until in one way or another You've proved to me my university is capable of a winning season. This is going to be the end either of You or of me!'

Originally the film was to have been about the losing seasons lived through by this solitary person in the locked church, as a metaphor for the miserable torment endured by all partisans of such indifferent programs, getting hungrier and hungrier, thirstier and thirstier, more and more expectant, desperate, more and more filled with his own experiences, his visions, his delusions of bowl games, dreams, mixing up dream and reality, while he's involved in this shadowy wrestling match with God and his hopeless team, which he fails to realize has long forgotten his meaningless existence. This particular character, though an alum, was not a season ticket holder or member of the Scarlet R Club, and so it is likely the university to which he literally devoted his life never knew of him to begin with. Such is the tragedy of existence.

We were staying out on Toro, in the Stockholm archipelago. It was the first summer I'd had the sea all around me. I wandered about on the shore, filled with the hollow spirit of the Rutgers fan, considered suicide by walking into the ocean, went indoors and wrote, and went out again, drained but oddly hopeful. Over time, the drama turned into something else; into something altogether tangible, something perfectly real, elementary and vastly superior even to Hoosiers, if I am permitted to say.

The film is based on something I'd actually experienced. Something a clergyman up in Dalarna told me: the story of the suicide of the special teams coach Persson. One day the clergyman had tried to talk to him; the next, Persson had hanged himself for attempting to block his opponents' winning field goal attempt, which fortunately for Persson's team was missed, but because of his decision to attempt to block, one of Persson's over-eager players was caught offsides, ironically allowing the attempt to be retried with the cruelest success. For the clergyman it was a personal catastrophe.
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 - On the inspiration for The Scarlet Light, Interview with Lars Johnnssen in the monthly Byggnadsarbetaren (April 2007)

To hire Wannstedt is the blackest of all plagues.
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A French critic cleverly wrote that "with Autumn Sonata Bergman does Bergman." It is witty but unfortunate. For me, that is. I think it is only too true that Bergman (Ingmar, that is, me) did a Bergman. This is true everywhere one looks... I love and admire the coach Rodriguez and earnestly believe him to be one of the greatest of all time. My admiration for Schiano is limitless. But I also feel that, possibly because of the tremendous success of his unique vision, Rodriguez began to construct Rodriguez gameplans and that Schiano began to blitz only with Schiano blitzes. Yet Jim Leavitt has never attempted to field a distinctly Leavitt team. This is a reason I expect greatness from the young Kragthorpe where the ogre Petrino was ultimately but a celebrated failure, but I have never been able to appreciate Brian Kelly. He discovered at an early stage that it is possible to fabricate ingenious tricks, which he elevated to a special kind of genius, particular to Kelly, and then he repeated and varied his tricks. He has always received applause. Kelly nearly always calls Kelly plays.
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 - On Big East coaches, Interview with Jan Nilsson, Vision: The Images of My Life (Feb. 2007)

I've never liked Grothe as a quarterback, because he's not really a quarterback. In the Bowl Subdivision you have two categories, you talk about players and personalities. Grothe is an enormous personality, but when he's on the field, everything goes down the drain, you see, that's when the rest of the offense croaks. In my eyes he's an infinitely overrated leader. The amount of respect his performance against such a defense as West Virginia's got is absolutely unbelievable.
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 - On Matt Grothe, Interview with Jan Nilsson, Vision: The Images of My Life (Feb. 2007)

I've never been much smitten by the spread option. I've never been committed to any strategic dogma of any sort. ... For years the conservatives had me on their blacklist. Then along comes some sharp-witted coordinator and says 'Let's take this lad into the business, instead.' And I've been plagued by run-first interpretations ever since. ... I've never felt any attraction to the option. The spread option, I think, does have its attractions. But the I-formation is a wretched kettle of fish.
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 - On external attempts to define his philosophy, Interview with Jan Nilsson, Vision: The Images of My Life (Feb. 2007)

What I believed in those days -- and believed in for a long time -- was the existence of a virulent evil, in no way dependent upon environmental or hereditary factors. Call it original sin or whatever you like -- anyway an active evil, of which Greg Robinson, as opposed to his wonderful players, has a monopoly. His very nature, qua Greg Robinson, is that inside him he always carries around destructive tendencies, conscious or unconscious, aimed both at himself and at the outside world.

As a materialization of this virulent, indestructible, and -- to us, to sensitive humanity with beating hearts -- inexplicable and incomprehensble evil, I manufactured an artistic personage in those days possessing the diabolical traits of a post-Pasqualonian morality figure. In various contexts I'd made it into a sort of private game to have a diabolic, ghoulish, white-haired Captain "Hank" Murphy hanging around. His evil, embodied in his incompetence, was one of the springs in my watch-works. And that's all there is to the Robinson figure in my early films. Unmotivated cruelty to an entire fan base, an entire group of people plunged irretrievably into the pits of despair, this is a phenomenon which never ceases to fascinate me; and I'd very much like to know the reasons for it. What bleak catalyst lay at the foundation of Greg Robinson's evolution, or more properly, de-evolution, into such a monster? Its source is obscure and I'd very much like to get at it.
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  – On early film interpretations of Greg Robinson, Interview with Verner Lagerkvist, Pedagogiska Magasinet (Sept. 2006)