How About a Little Summer Interlude? (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Let's take a break between all these high-profile new release horror discs (spoiler for our next post!) for a little Bergman film.  I say "little" in that it's one of his lesser known films, which is probably just by virtue of the fact that it's one of his earliest, having been released in 1951.  Still, that makes it like his tenth feature; but the guy has a massive body of work, and 1951 puts it well before Seventh Seal, Persona, and the other really famous ones that always make it onto the important lists.  But this is no roughly hewn "before he figured it all out and became a master" early work.  Like, for me, once you start going into Fellini's pre La Dolce Vita stuff, it starts to feel a little lifeless, more typical of early Hollywood.  But while Bergman's films still do reflect their times, I don't think there's any less interesting period for me.  Revisiting Summer Interlude now, it's as immediate and effective as anything contemporary or from "peak Bergman," whenever that would be said to be.
Summer Interlude goes through a couple of interesting phases.  We start out behind the bustling scenes of a ballet production of Swan Lake, sort of in the style of Topsy Turvy, where we meet the fun colorful characters who work off stage.  A handsome reporter tries and fails to get backstage and meet with one of the young dancers.  She receives a mysterious package which takes her away from the play and the city to a small island, where she flash backs to her youth and first romance.  I'm not going to get into spoilers, but we cut back and forth between the two timelines to slowly uncover the roots of some deep seated tragedy she's now carrying around with her, and she comes back to the city to confront the resulting existential crisis.
There are several times when the film shifts gears, and what at first appears to be a light-hearted, even indulgent flight of nostalgia (yes, the young ingenues do frolic and pick wild strawberries), turns into a serious work of art that confronts some surprisingly weighty issues.  It even tackles some ahead-of-its-time feminist issues, like the misogynistic expectations placed on young working women decades everything from Nine To Five to Dietland got in on the action.  And it's not flippant or preachy; it comes as a bit of a slow moving surprise - thanks in no small part to a versatile performance by Maj-Britt Nilsson, who breathes so much life into the cheery sections, it feels like they might be the entire picture - but ultimately packs a pretty powerful punch to the audience's guts.
One of the reasons I refer to Summer Interlude is the complete indifference it's felt on home video.  For decades, it was only viewable when Tartan released it in their massively inclusive series of DVDs, their Bergman collection, which included many rare titles that had otherwise gone unreleased.  Ultimately, in 2016, Criterion did ultimately bring it to the states with a blu-ray so barebones, it had an MSRP lower than all of their standard discs.  There's not even a trailer on the thing.  But hey, who can argue with a cheap Criterion?
2004 UK Tartan DVD top; 2016 US Criterion blu bottom.
They might've cheaped out on the extras (really? they couldn't get Peter Cowie to do a visual essay?), but they didn't cheap out on the new transfer, which looks great and is obviously a whole new master than what Tartan used.  According to the booklet, it's a 2k scan of two 35mm duplicate negative sources edited together, as each were damaged in different places.  It certainly restores the filmic look, replacing a softer more videotape look (detail especially appears washed away in the dark areas) with natural, if feint, film grain and crisper detail.  The aspect ratio shifts from 1.33:1 to 1.37:1, slightly shifting the framing and revealing more information along the sides.
Both discs feature the original Swedish mono audio (bumped up to lossless LPCM on the blu) with optional English subtitles.  The Tartan DVD is about as barebones as the Criterion, with only two trailers for other Bergman pictures (Persona and Autumn Sonata) as extras, though it does have a stylish four-page insert with notes by Philip Strick.  That's about all Tartan was doing for most of the Bergman Collection, particularly the lesser known titles which I suppose we were just lucky to get at all.  Criterion's disc is quite barren too, but does at least come with a substantial, 20-page booklet with notes by the aforementioned Cowie.
I wasn't in any hurry to upgrade my Tartan DVD, because going from barebones to barebones is pretty joyless.  But I eventually bit the bullet during last year's Criterion sale, and now, seeing the new transfer, I have to say it was worth it.  You're not paying for anything but the upgrade in PQ, so thankfully it's a very distinct upgrade.  And since they did make it cheaper than usual, that took some of the sting out as well.  Of course, if you haven't already got this disc by now, you might want to consider holding out just a little bit longer for Criterion's upcoming, massive Bergman boxed set.  I'm sure it'll feature the same transfer and lack of special features for the film (probably the exact same disc with a different label slapped onto it), and the price of that box is going to put off all but the very serious Bergman lover; but if you're even thinking of getting that set, there's no point in getting any of their individual titles, like this or their just released Virgin Spring, now.

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