Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ingrid Bergman <3'ed Joan of Arc

I have read a lot of materials regarding Ingrid Bergman's life and work and the theme that comes up the most was her love of Saint Joan of Arc.
Ingrid played St. Joan 3 times in her professional career.
She played Joan of Arc during a production on Broadway in 1946.

It received rave reviews and she was loved by her audience. The American audience ate up her "saint appeal" much like they did in The Bells of St. Mary's, this, of course did not help things when she left for Italy.
The play was titled "Joan of Lorraine" and it starred Ingrid, Sam Wanamaker, Kenneth Tobey, among others. Ingrid received an Antoinette Perry Award for her portrayal of Joan and a group called "The Alvin Gang" was developed as well (they were a group of young fans who also greeted Ingrid when she returned to America in 1957. The play did not have a lot of scenery and it was really all about the action and the people.
Reviews called Ingrid "clear and clean and honest" as well as "spiritual." The critics loved the play and were impressed by her stamina following an earlier play, Lilliom, in which she had co-starred with Bergess Meredith in 1940.

In 1948, Ingrid Bergman's dream of being Joan of Arc in a film were realized. She starred in a very long and not well received version of Joan of Arc. Though Ingrid is alive on the screen and her fans loved her in the film, the film was cut to shreds in post production and with all of the edits and rewrites, it didn't stand a chance. Critics still loved Ingrid, and Ingrid still loved Joan, but the film was a dud.

My favorite thing about this film, is that Ingrid is still convincing. Not once do you pause to say, "hey, wait a minute, isn't Ingrid Bergman like 33 in this movie? Wasn't Joan of Arc like 14?" No. The willingness of disbelief is there.

In Donald Spoto's book, Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, there is a section about Ingrid Meeting with the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw, when he was 93 and she was in her 30's. I think it is funny, so I will now give you the excerpt:

...But now the playwright was reading in the London daily newspapers about the shopping expeditions and social comings-and-goings of Ingrid Bergman, and he wanted to meet her. One very warm July afternoon, Pascal (producer/director of Shaw's plays) escorted Ingrid to Shaw's country house at Ayot St. Lawrence. Then ninety-three, Shaw was alert, cantankerous and appreciative of female beauty as ever. An imposing figure with his full head of white hair and a long flowing beard, he greeted Ingrid at the gate and at once asked why she had not done his play St. Joan in New York. "I didn't like it, " she said with a smile. "What do you mean you don't like it? It's a masterpiece" "Yes, but you gave us Shaw's Joan, not the Joan of history," Ingrid continued as they walked up the path to the house and with that she proceeded to offer him a brief lecture on the subject. "You see," Ingrid said without haughtiness, "I just happen to know much more about her than you do." Shaw was completely disarmed by Ingrid's frankness and charmed by her refusal to be intimidated by him. "Nobody has ever had the courage to tell me they don't like my work," he said, and then asked, "What plays of mine have you done?" "Well, Mr. Shaw, I haven't done any of your plays. as his housekeeper brought in the tea tray, Shaw sighed and gazed mournfully at Ingrid. "Well, my dear girl, you haven't even begun yet." Years after Shaw's death in 1950, she "began."

The last time Ingrid Bergman portrayed Joan of Arc (professionally) was in 1954, during her "Rossellini Period." Roberto Rossellini produced and (partially) directed the play. The play was called "Joan of Arc at the Stake" and it starred Ingrid, Valentine Dyall, and Harry Happengood (once again, among others). It was a musical melodrama with choruses and it was not very profitable (a problem the Rossellini's had during their time together). Ingrid was well received, but the play was kind of dumped.

Ingrid loved Joan of Arc and wanted to know everything she could about her. I admire this, because I feel the same way about Ingrid Bergman. Humanizing these icons is a hobby, finding your love for someone so great is what sparks the ambition. Ingrid, as a young lady, would collect medals of Joan and read all about her.

She also visited the sites of Joan's great triumphs and statues when she could, as an adult. She reached her life's goal to play Joan, and though it wasn't always the best for the audience, I'm sure it was for Ingrid.

Something that makes me a little sad about this play and all of Ingrid's stage performances, is that those of us who are devoted fans of her work never had opportunity to see her live. I was born after Ingrid died, and I'm sure a lot of you were probably too young to have seen her too...even if you were alive. I will never get to feel the presence of Ingrid Bergman in a room (beyond any ghosts willingly haunting me) or see the stage lit specifically for her greatness. Sure, I can see the next greats, like Mary Louise Parker or Cate Blanchett, but never Ingrid.
The closest I feel you can come to one of her real stage performances (on DVD) is Hedda Gabler. The BBC has an Isben collection that includes the TV version of Hedda. I love it. "Just killing time!"

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An avid Ingrid Bergman fan, I am a student of her life and work as well as film, filmmaking and Classic Film in general. I have my M.F.A. in TV/Film Production from USC School of Cinematic Arts and have been making a living in the business they call show. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @alexis_morrell