I’m not sure if any actor other than Max von Sydow so perfectly captures the balance between the high brow and low brow of cinematic art. In the early days of his career, Swedish-born actor Max von Sydow worked with the great Ingmar Bergman in classic films like The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring and near the end, he appeared in Star Wars; The Force Awakens and Game of Thrones. In between were a wild variety of roles in comedies, dramas, and horror films. Regardless of project, von Sydow elevated anything he was in.
Though he appeared in dozens of films throughout his career, his most famous role is likely that of Father Merrin in William Friedkin’s’ The Exorcist, where he played an ageing priest who comes to a mother’s aid when her daughter has been possessed by the Devil. Behind that would be the knight, Antonius Block, in Bergman’s existential art house masterpiece, The Seventh Seal. He played a crusader with a crisis of faith during the Black Plague, who after his death, interrogates the Grim Reaper about the existence of God. The other aforementioned collaboration with Bergman, The Virgin Spring, was the inspiration for Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left.
When I was a kid, I knew von Sydow from Flash Gordon, where he played Ming the Merciless and as King Osric in Conan the Barbarian. As a horror fan, I loved him as Leland Gaunt in the adaptation of Stephen King’s Needful Things and later in one of Dario Argento’s last truly great films, Sleepless. These films, though, a mere drop in the bucket of the full breadth of his work. We should honour his memory this week by exploring his kaleidoscopic filmography.
Rest easy, sir. Thank you for all you contributed to cinema.