A Brief Word on Max von Sydow (1929 – 2020)

It’s difficult to overstate how significant of an actor Max von Sydow was, not solely to the European arthouse scene of the late 50s and 60s but to international cinema in general, having worked with the likes of George Stevens, John Huston, Jan Troell, William Friedkin, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, and Martin Scorsese. He was an actor renown for his stoic features and stern presence that communicated a deep angst with the surrounding world; whether he was the lead character or in a supporting role, von Sydow often bore the emotional crux of the film.

Of course, von Sydow is most known for his collaborations with Ingmar Bergman (and, with the exception of Liv Ullmann, was the Swedish auteur’s most important performer); their partnership yielded some of Bergman’s best films (including Wild Strawberries, The Magician, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, and countless others). The most famous of their work together is undoubtedly The Seventh Seal, which if I recall correctly, was amongst the first non-English speaking movies I saw, and left a huge impression on my teenage self. 

5 thoughts on “A Brief Word on Max von Sydow (1929 – 2020)

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  1. oh hey! You’re posting regularly again! Sweet, I’ll have to back track through all your recent posts, the last one I remember was about Agnes Varda I think, and that was moooonths ago, if not over a year.

    I definitely took a break too, I just found I was analysing too much and not enjoying new films. But after a decent break, and especially now I’m starting to make films myself, I feel the urge to write about a film that I wasn’t in ‘analyse mode’ at all now which is nice

    Anyways, I did not know Max had died. RIP. Funny what you said, the Seventh Seal was one of the very first (nonpolanski) foreign films I saw too, I’ll never forget it. Hour of the Wolf is my favourite performance of his, tho seventh seal is an extreeeeemly close second!!!

    I did not know about his other work though. What would you recommend as a non Bergman film to check out?

    PS – did you hear Dead Cross are recording a second album?? and they released an EP. wooooo!

    1. Thanks Jordan! I’ve been quite busy with work over the past year and things with the pandemic have been a bit stressful, but I’ve found a bit more time to do some writing. I’m hoping on revamping the site and thinking about changing the new interface.

      But yeah, it was very sad news to hear about Max. Seventh Seal made a very big impression on me when I was younger (and still remains one of my favorites).

      He’s been in a good amount of films, and in recent decades has taken a lot of supporting or bit parts in English-speaking movies. The Exorcist is the most famous example, but he was also in Hannah and Her Sisters, Minority Report, and Shutter Island. But the best non-Bergman Sydow films are almost certainly the Jan Troell collaborations. Check out The Emigrants if you can, it’s long but terrific.

    2. Oh yeah, also heard about the new Dead Cross album, I’m pretty stoked. Though I’ve been pretty sluggish recently when it comes to listening to new music, I’ve been spending my free time relistening to Carcass, Skeletonwitch, and the first few Danzig albums (before his music dipped too heavily into self-parody).

      1. I haven’t listened to much opf any of those bands, exc ept for Carcass’s early stuff obviously. That was the band who turned into Arch Enemy wasn’t it? Such a pity..

      2. Mike Ammott, who played the guitar with Bill Steer on Necroticism and Heartwork, ended up founding Arch Enemy (I remember once he said in an interview that Jeff Walker hated AE). But Carcass’ previous album, Surgical Steel, is an absolute masterpiece and by far my favorite album of the last decade.

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