Oscar Artists: Nykvist, Sven–Oscar-Winning Cinematographer Dies at 83

Sep 20, 2006–Sven Nykvist, one of the great cinematographers whose work includesn two-dozen films for Ingmar Bergman, died Wednesday (Sep 19) in Stockholm, Sweden. He was 83 and had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and aphasia for several years, forcing him to retire in 1999.

Twice an Oscar winner for Bergman films, for “Cries and Whispers” in 1973 and “Fanny and Alexander” in 1984, Nykvist enjoyed a distinguished international career beginning in the 1970s, manning the camera on pictures for such directors as Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Louis Malle, Paul Mazursky, Lasse Hallstrom, Bob Fosse, Alan J. Pakula, Bob Rafelson, Norman Jewison and Andrei Tarkovsky. He received a third Oscar nomination for his exceptional work on Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” in 1988.

As a director of photography on roughly 120 pictures over a 54-year career, he also made the occasional documentary, including one on Albert Schweitzer, “Under the Southern Cross,” in 1952, and directed three films, “Gorilla” (1956), “The Vine Bridge” (1965) and “The Ox” (1991).

Born in Moheda, Sweden, the son of missionaries to Africa, Nykvist left school and became a camera assistant at 19, then graduated to full cameraman at 23, in 1945.

He first teamed with Bergman in 1953 on “The Naked Night” (“Sawdust and Tinsel”), launching a 30-year collaboration that was one of the most profound of any director/cinematographer duo.

The earlier black-and-white films were remarkable for their nuanced gradations of tone and texture and for their sensitivity to the faces of Bergman’s exceptional actors. Among their most notable monochrome films were “The Virgin Spring,” “Through a Glass Darkly,” “Winter Light,” “The Silence,” “Persona,” “Hour of the Wolf” and “Shame.”

Nykvist’s subsequent color work for Bergman was arguably even more striking. The slashes of womb-like red intensified the psychological aspects of “Cries and Whispers,” while his meticulous treatment of the shared Sweden of their youth augmented the power of “Fanny and Alexander.” Later films with Bergman included “The Passion of Anna,” “The Touch,” “Scenes From a Marriage,” “The Magic Flute,” “Face to Face,” “The Serpent’s Egg,” “Autumn Sonata,” “From the Life of the Marionettes” and “After the Rehearsal.”

“Together with Ingmar, he created movie history with those lighting arrangements,” said his son, Carl-Gustaf Nykvist, who directed the 2000 documentary “Light Keeps Me Company” about his father. “He was called ‘the master of light’ because of the moods and atmosphere he could create with light. It was a near-impossibility to create the moods he created.” In that documentary, Bergman confessed, “The only thing that I miss with not making films anymore is that I don’t get to work with Sven.”

Among his many international credits were “The Last Run,” “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” “The Dove,” “A Free Woman,” “Black Moon,” “The Tenant,” “Pretty Baby,” “King of the Gypsies,” “Hurricane,” “Starting Over,” “Willie and Phil,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Cannery Row,” “Star 80,” “La Tragedie de Carmen,” “Swann in Love,” “Agnes of God,” “Dream Lover,” “The Sacrifice,” “Another Woman,” Woody Allen’s “Oedipus Wrecks” episode from “New York Stories,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Buster’s Bedroom,” “Chaplin,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Mixed Nuts,” “Only You,” “With Honors,” “Something to Talk About,” “Celebrity” and his last film, “Curtain Call,” for Peter Yates.

For Liv Ullmann, Nykvist shot “Kristin Lavransdotter” and “Private Confessions.”

Nykvist received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Cinematographers in 1996.

His wife, Ulrika, died in 1982. In addition to his son, he is survived by his daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.