Ingmar Bergman vs. the OSCAR

Ingmar Bergman
Ingmar Bergman

Jean Dujardin, Meryl Streep, Christopher Plummer, Michel Hazanavicius, Octavia Spencer, and surely Harvey Weinstein are thrilled they and/or their movies won Academy Awards last night at Hollywood & Highland. Not every Oscar nominee/winner, however, has felt that way.

The Criterion Collection has posted (via dizzydentfilms) a May 12, 1960, letter in which Ingmar Bergman scolded the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for nominating his 1957 drama Wild Strawberries for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 1960. (Wild Strawberries was shown in Los Angeles in 1959.)

Here's the text of Bergman's letter, which was displayed at the 2010 Academy exhibit “Ingmar Bergman: Truth and Lies”:

As Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) didn't compete for “OSCAR” I think it is wrong to nominate the picture and therefor [sic] I want to return the “CERTIFICATE OF NOMINATION".

I have found that the “OSCAR” nomination is one for the motion picture art humiliating institution and ask you to be released from the attention of the jury in the future.

It's unclear why exactly Bergman found the Oscar “for the motion picture art humiliating institution.” Perhaps because he knew – and was none too pleased? – that at the April 4, 1960, ceremony Wild Strawberries had lost the Best Original Screenplay Academy Award to the fluffy Doris Day-Rock Hudson comedy Pillow Talk?

Or perhaps because he felt that any institution that hands out 11 awards, including Best Picture, to something like William Wyler's Ben-Hur was not to be taken at all seriously?

Either way, Bergman would personally be nominated for eight more Oscars in various categories (Best Picture producer, director, screenplay), and was named the recipient of the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1971. Additionally, the very year after Bergman wrote his letter, the Academy not only nominated but chose his stark drama The Virgin Spring as the Best Foreign Language Film of 1960. The same would happen the following year, when Through a Glass Darkly won in that same category. The third and last nomination/victory for a Bergman effort in the Best Foreign Language Film category would come 21 years later, when Fanny and Alexander won in early 1983.

For the record: The other Best Original Screenplay nominees of 1959 (at the 1960 ceremony) were the Cary Grant comedy Operation Petticoat, François Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and Ernest Lehman's screenplay – a rehash of The 39 Steps – for Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest.)

Also for the record: I'm an admirer of many William Wyler films – e.g., The Letter, The Little Foxes, The Heiress – and I appreciate even his lesser ones. But Ben-Hur, which stars a wooden Charlton Heston in the title role, is his very worst effort that I've seen. As far as I'm concerned, despite its wide screen and Technicolor cinematography, it pales in comparison to Fred Niblo's 1925 silent version starring Ramon Novarro.

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