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Remembering Sven Nykvist

Posted at 12:53 PM on September 26, 2006 by Euan Kerr

There were just a few blips here and there in the press but the cinema world is in mourning from the loss of one of the greats last week. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who is best known for his 30 years of work with Ingmar Bergman, in addition to a huge list of other films, died last Wednesday at age 83.

Nykvist visited the Twin Cities a few years ago for a Regis Dialogue at the Walker Art Center. I was lucky enough to meet him. We sat on the stage of the old Walker Auditorium (now the cinema in the re-modeled building) and I tried to come up with some questions which weren't going to irritate him.

He was a great bearded bear of a man, who clearly had little time for any fuss. He didn't want to talk much about his relationship with Bergman who had just announced he was giving up making movies to concentrate on the theater. He said if I wanted to know about Bergman I should ask the man himself. He also said he didn't know if Bergman was likely to ever change his mind.

He did admit that he like working with Woody Allen ("Voodee" as he called him.) But he didn't have much time for people trying to devine the secrets of his famous mood-enhancing cinematography.

He said it was all quite simple: he liked to use just one light. He would set up a light source for a scene, and then wouldn't change it, even as he moved the camera for different shots. It satisfied his needs as a cinematographer, and allowed him to move quickly, which satisfied the director.

We had a great talk in the end, but my abiding memory is of him leaning back in his chair and looking at me.

As, I suppose, a cinematographer would.

September 2006
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