Michael Punt


Along with many babies born in England that year she was called Ingrid. It was not just that the choice was inspired by the very glamorous film-star who was popular at the time, but in this case it was also because her mother cherished the whiff of ambition in the German exoticism it invoked.1 Ingrid was in no position to object to her mother’s choice and, to begin with, went along with it in good heart by sleeping at the baptismal font and remaining quiet during the small celebration that followed. In her first few months she recognized that the sound of the name in amongst all the babble around her was an indication that she should pay attention to what was going on.2 Around nine months old she knew that the sound was somehow synonymous with her being and would often smile when she heard it. But it was not until much later, when she was eight or nine years old that she began to understand that a name meant something: a name was the thing that made you and, thanks to her mother’s obsession, she was to the world the Ingrid thing. Fortunately for her the realization that she was an ‘Ingrid thing’ came when Ingrid was, after Bergman’s recovery from her dramatic fall from grace following Stromboli, once again a more popular name.3 By the time she was eleven it was again very good to be known as Ingrid and some years later when she, like her namesake, was keen to have affairs, she found it had a certain cachet – especially if she behaved in a slightly self-absorbed way.

Even while she was still at school, even before she had found a boyfriend, her mother knew that she would give birth to a baby girl and call her after Ingrid Bergman. She was too young to have seen her in a film at a cinema but claimed to have every picture of her that had been printed in a magazine (which of course was neither true nor possible).2 But it was true that she had a lot of pictures and also true that she looked at them a lot and, when she did, she thought of Germany. She knew that Ingrid Bergman’s was born in Sweden, and she had to be Swedish despite her German mother. But her Ingrid Bergman, pictured in thought somehow just below the surface of the ink that made the image, was always German.5 The internal grief that Bergman’s radiance never quite concealed resonated with her own confusion about a brother who had died of cold one April night on a mountainside in Germany.6 In this fusion of two inaccessible people the Bergman that emerged in here imagination was always undeniably German. She had not liked her brother much and would call her child Ingrid.

She married as soon as she found someone that she could say she was in love with and, just as she had predicted as a child, gave birth to her own Ingrid with red hair just like hers. Within a year her collection of fan magazines was thrown out. This was as much to signal her new life as the mother of a new Ingrid as to make room for a boisterous child who grew quickly and also married young. It left a void in her life, so she started a new collection of fan magazines in which a melancholic past of loss became her most meaningful reality. It was in this void that she discovered much about Bergman’s life and frothy romantic affairs which was so much more colourful than her own. She wished she had been kinder to some of the boys she dated and especially her husband when he was alive.

In her teens, her obsessive collection of fanzines did not translate into an interest in the cinema. The exception was during her brief period of dating. Even then it was a kind of filmgoing that she enjoyed mostly for the excitement of the queueing in the cold before the film and checking the latest fashions and the competition for the boys.7 She liked watching the films in the dark, but what she remembered of the cinema most fondly was the smell of damp coats and cigarette smoke. During the intermission, as the warmth of the cinema dried things a little, these smells were overcome with the perfume of synthetic vanilla and peanuts. It was a sensation that was intensified as the lights were lowered and the projector read the dirty soundtrack on the film leader counting down the seconds before something came up on the screen. It was a velvety dark; matches would strike from time to time and smoke curled in the projector beam while people would come and go throughout the evening. Dim torchlight would show a newcomer where a vacant seat was, and knees would have to be drawn in to let a damp coat pass. She loved the sound of collective laughter when a comedy was showing and the heavy tense silences in melodramas as men and women wept to themselves afraid that their companion might notice.8 Sometimes, during a newsreel or cartoon her companion would whisper something as an excuse to kiss her ear, or if they had been dating for some time, would try to hold her hand. When it was time to leave at the end of the show the yellow house lights that had been so inviting as they dimmed came up quickly to reveal the auditorium in which they thought that they had been so safe. Even though they were high in the ceiling the miserable yellow of the filament was visible as a grudging concession to get the audience out. In this dismal cavern with a flaking ceiling the national anthem played while barely legible film of the Queen on a horses added to the embarrassment of those who had not made the door before it started and had to stand still as the magic evapourated. If the film was not so good, they would leave before the end, mostly when they reached the point in the film where they first came in. They would struggle past the drawn-in knees to the gangway making for the illuminated exit sign; through padded black doors into a small unheated space with a single bulb and a door that opened with a crash-bar whose shrill ring shattered the membrane between the cinema and the world. Outside, the alley was dark and dangerous and always smelt of urine. It was a glorious feeling of redemption to follow the featureless walls of the cinema (avoiding the puddles – even in summer) back to the lights of the high street. On the bus home she might exchange a few words about the film but mostly she was in conversation with herself wondering if they would kiss, or how she might avoid it – depending on who she was with.

With such competition for her senses, it was no surprise that before she was home, she could remember almost nothing of what was shown on the screen. She quickly learned how to talk to her friends the following day about film: The gorgeous actor, the girls’ dresses, the colour (if there was any) and the amount of kissing. If it was a comedy, then jokes that everyone knew would be retold and the conversation would be about how one thing turned out in the end to be something else. Mostly they said that they did not like comedies although when they watched them, they seemed to laugh a lot and be much closer to their date. Two or three days later the genre or the star might be remembered but the title would be forgotten because the next film had arrived and, those who had read the fanzine or seen the lobby cards, were already discussing the next gorgeous actor and the next new dresses. Nobody seemed to mind that the films did not matter because it was something that they did twice or three times a week and the next one was what counted. Once the cinema habit was broken, in her case by marriage and the arrival of Ingrid, it was too much effort to take it up again and in any case the things that really made it a night out did not really matter anymore. She stopped going to the cinema and thought no more of it while she built a new collection of pictures and of Ingrid Bergman.

It was many years later before she saw Ingrid Bergman on large television screen while she was house-sitting for some rich people. She had seen lots of films on television, but she did not associate them with the cinema since she was sitting at home. The picture was small and degraded and she was invariably doing something else as well so that the sound was often turned down. This image that she was looking at was somehow different. It was clear and vivid and in a brilliant black and white in a way that it seemed to be there only for her. The rich people told her that it was not television but a LaserDisc and showed her how to work the machine with a remote controller along with all the other devices that kept the house going.9 However, almost at once she forgot everything that they said, and the machine just carried on in its own way. The central heating was also complicated, and she gave up trying to understand how to make it work. So, for three nights she sat wrapped up in the old green coat that she used as a dressing gown and watched the second half of a film that she had seen several times before, and, after the novelty of the vividness had worn off, she had it running in the background listening to the rhythm of the sound and the occasional song while she did other things. By the fourth night she could sing the songs and recite parts of the dialogue almost word for word as she washed up and swept floors. In an effort to see something else she pressed some buttons on the controller which only stopped the sound and made the film go very slowly. She had no idea what she had done but it meant that for the first time she saw how films were made how each frame was different and she became addicted to the slow flicker of incremental change so much so that she looked forward to watching it after cleaning. Each frame was fixed for a quarter of a second like a still photograph. She was able to see Ingrid’s switch between despair that Rick had another girl at the Blue Parrot and then radiate with joy at the realization that Sam was lying – all in the two seconds it took to sip a drink and say ‘…you used to be a much better liar’. She knew the sequence so well that she could relate the slow motion to the proper speed and predict the small movements of Bergman’s eyes and mouth as she orchestrated ‘Sam, play it once for old time’s sake’ in anticipation of the tune he eventually would play. The minute movements of her face and the periods of absolute stillness seemed so purposeful and effortless. And all within less than 90 seconds she saw that Ingrid shaped her eyes to show that she was certain that Rick was behind her but did not know whether to turn to him -and then after a split second of calculation decide that she had to. As she watched this over and over, she become one with the intensity of her performance and saw Ingrid Bergman not as an image but as a wonderfully complete thing on the screen. She thought for the first time about her daughter’s name and felt into the pocket of the coat where there was a ragged hole caused by a piece of metal that she had carried until it had fallen into the lining of the coat (where it still was). It was comforting to explore the ragged edges and tease out threads (as she had done many times before) to enjoy the memory of how it had got there; but this time as she did, her thoughts drifted from wondering if she had indeed been terribly unfair in naming her daughter Ingrid to her brother who had died in the Black Forest.


1 She knew that Ingrid Bergman was technically Swedish but preferred her to be German.

2 Mandel, Denise R et al. ‘Infants’ recognition of the sound patterns of their own names’ Psychological science vol. 6,5 (1995): 314-317.

3 Gureckis, T.M. and Goldstone, R.L. (2009), How You Named Your Child: Understanding the Relationship Between Individual Decision Making and Collective Outcomes. Topics in Cognitive Science, 1: 651-674.
Berger J, Bradlow ET, Braunstein A, Zhang Y. From Karen to Katie: Using Baby Names to Understand Cultural Evolution. Psychological Science. 2012;23(10):1067-1073. doi:10.1177/0956797612443371

See also the Google engram for ‘Ingrid’.

4 The Ingrid Bergman Archive is held at the Weslyan University in the Reid Cinema Archive.

5 Ingrid Bergman was apparently also named after a famous Ingrid- Princess Ingrid of Sweden.

6 Her brother died in Hofsgrund on a school trip when she was ten.

7 See, Richards, Jeffrey. and Sheridan, Dorothy. and Mass-Observation. Mass-Observation at the movies / edited by Jeffrey Richards and Dorothy Sheridan Routledge & Kegan Paul London 1987. And, O’Brian, Margaret. Enter The Dream-House Memories of Cinemas In South London From The Twenties To The Sixties BFI London 1993.

8 Harper, Sue. and Porter, Vincent. Moved to Tears Screen 37: 2 Summer 1996 pp.152-173.

9 LaserDisc was a record-sized disc 12 inches in diameter and made up of two-sided aluminum discs layered in plastic. It used an optical recording system which meant that for the first time in a domestic context high quality slow motion and single frame images of popular films could be studied.