The Rest Of the Bergman Box, Part 4: The Exclusives and Bonuses

We finish this series with the exclusives, that is the Bergman films that were not only debuting on blu in this box, but in fact had never been released on disc, in the US or any other region.  These were real, first-on-disc debuts and definitely the titles I was most excited for when buying this set.  Plus, we're finally going look at the bonus BD, which features even more extras, not specifically associated with any individual film on its own disc.
And we begin with, hey, how about this?  A documentary Bergman made!  Yes, he did briefly dip into documentaries, the first of which is 1970's Fårö Document.  And as you could probably guess, yes, it's a documentary about the island of Faro that Bergman had just moved on to a few years earlier, and shot many of his features, the titular island of the other documentary Bergman Island.  But the two key distinctions right off the bat are that 1) this film is actually by Ingmar Bergman and 2) Bergman Island was essentially a film about Bergman, partially including his relationship to the island and his home on it and partially just his films. Meanwhile, this is actually all about the island: its small population, its economy, etc.  Even when it ends up being a bit of a polemic, you feel Bergman's strong personal feelings motivating the political messaging.  But really, it's about the people and these great first person interviews he gets; it reminds me of early Errol Morris in the best possible way.
2018 US Criterion BD.
Framed at 1.37:1, Criterion's 2k scan is taken from the 16mm original camera negative.  As a documentary, you can imagine the footage is a little loose and run & gun.  Clearly shot with more than one film stock, as it's combining black & white with color footage, and all 16mm, this was never going to be a film to bowl you over with pristine PQ.  Grain is soft and light for 16mm, especially in the color footage.  You expect grain to be finer taken from a negative rather than a print, but it does feel like they've done some "touching up" of the image, or maybe it's just the encode, as there's some macro-blocking as well.  But it's a BD, not a UHD.  For what it is, you couldn't hope for a much better presentation.

The original Swedish mono is lossless with optional English subtitles.  There aren't any extras for this film (to be fair, you wouldn't expect much for this one), but it shares a disc with a couple other films: Bergman's other forays into documentary filmmaking.  The first is a brief 1984 short film called Karin's Face, about his mother, which I already covered on my Best Intentions page (as it was previously included as an extra with that film). 
Another one is 1967's Daniel.  Like Karin's Face, it's a very short, minimal film that seems to be included more as an extra, as this and Karin don't seem to have been restored for HD like everything else in the box.  Framed at 1.38:1, its film source is obvious, but it appears to be an SD upconvert.  It's also pretty disappointing, just as a film.  And to be fair, it was never meant to stand alone like this.  Daniel is really a segment from an 8-part anthology film called Stimulantia.  So cutting it out and judging it on its own like this is a little unfair.  Daniel is Bergman's son, who at the time of filming, was still a very tiny little boy.  Bergman has essentially edited together a selection of his home movies of Daniel, largely set to a simple piano rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."  It's just about ten minutes long and there's not much more to it than watching a father's baby pictures, with little more cinema-craft on display from Bergman than your average layman.  But it's sweet, and I'm glad they included as much as they could in the box.  I'd certainly rather have it than not, though it's a shame they didn't bother with the entire Stimulantia.
Far more rewarding is Fårö Document 1979.  You don't need me to tell you that this is a follow-up to his 1970 documentary on the same subject, a sort of "where are they now," on the state of island.  A few people recur, more are new.  This one was clearly filmed over a longer period of time, essentially breaking up a full year into four seasonal segments.  This one's a little less political, the main issue being tackled this time is the costs/ benefits of tourism, which tends to hit the island pretty hard in the summertime.  But it's longer and feels even more personal.  The only disappointment is that, in the end narration, Bergman mentions his intention to make a Fårö Document 1989, but it never happened.
2018 US Criterion BD.
Framed again at 1.38:1, Criterion's book tells us this one was scanned from "16mm color reversal intermediate negative, duplicate negative."  So I guess they had to piece this transfer together?  You'd never know it considering the rough and tumble nature of the film, especially without having any other editions to compare it to.  A lot of the focus in this is pretty soft, for example, but that appears to be the nature of the film itself.  But grain is mostly there (albeit a bit light, like the first film) so I doubt we're missing much clarity "underneath" it.  I think it's safe to assume that, short of finding the original camera negatives, this is about as faithful a representation of the original film as you could get in 1080p.

The original mono track is in LPCM with removable subs and there are no special features besides the other films already discussed.
But the biggest jewel in Criterion's crown is The Touch from 1971.  This is one of the films you look at and marvel: how has this not been available, at least on DVD, anywhere before this?  The Faro documentaries are great, and I'm delighted to have them, but I can understand why labels weren't rushing to get them out into stores in the past.  But this is peak Bergman, 70s, strong drama with some of his biggest actors (Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow) and a surprise American star (Elliot Gould) in a leading role.  It's even in English!  The Touch is kind of a traditional modern Bergman tale of infidelity, and how three adults struggle to adapt when a marriage is broken.  There's also a kind of fancy, symbolic backdrop where Gould's character is an archaeologist showing us ancient art, including a Virgin Mary statue infested with a rare species of insect eating it from the inside.  Okay, I guess it does get a bit arch, but Sydow is great as always, the photography is elegant and Andersson's character and her performance are some of the best you'll ever see.
2018 US Criterion BD.
This one comes from a 35mm interpositive, and maybe missing negatives is another piece of the "why hasn't this been issued before" puzzle.  But it looks pretty great.  It's widescreen, matted to a precise 1.85:1.  Grain is strong but patchy and uneven; there is plenty of pixelation mixed in.  But it looks fine in motion.  It comes off a little grimier than it surely would if they have the negatives, but that gives it a nice, Earthy filmic feel, and the beautiful lighting certainly shines through regardless.  The audio, of course, is in lossless LPCM again, but this time there are two subtitle options, both English, one that just translates the few bits of spoken Swedish and one that transcribes the whole film.  And yes, there's an extra.  A roughly hour-long documentary simply titled Ingmar Bergman.  As the title implies, it's more of a Bergman overview than Touch-specific, but that's the film they visit him on set during, so there is a enough Touch coverage on here that you can see why they paired it up with this film.

So there you have it.  That's every Bergman film in Criterion's epic box... though, to be clear, it's certainly not every Bergman film. I've seen people refer to it as his complete filmography, but honestly, you could make a whole Ingmar Bergman's Cinema Vol 2 boxed set.  It would mean this set was front-loaded with all of his most popular works, so it'll probably never happen.  However, I would be thrilled if it did (on the plus side, there would be a whole ton more "first time on disc"s).  But anyway, where I was going with this was: this is every film in the box, but not every disc.  There's still one more blu, #30, the bonus disc.  It has six additional supplements.
Laterna Magica - A weird little montage of images from Bergman's films, originally made as a German video installation.  Not the most exciting inclusion.

Ingmar Bergman at 60 - A 1978 episode of the British television South Bank Show, consisting primarily of a Bergman interview, with clips from select Bergman films.

Sven Nykvist - Just a fifteen minute audio-only interview recorded in the early 80s.  Nice to see Nykvist get a little shine, though.

Women and Bergman - A half-hour round-table discussion with several of Bergman's leading ladies (Bibi Andersson, Pernilla August, Elin Klinga and Gunnel Lindblom), and probably the most rewarding piece on this disc, despite being interlaced.  It's a carry-over from Artificial Eye's Classic Bergman set, and the only disappointment is that they didn't include the equally engaging and even longer companion piece, Men and Bergman.

17 Short Stories - A curious (and interlaced) feature documentary made by the director of Bergman Island, comprised of unused interview footage from that shoot and broken up into 17 anecdotes. Some of it's pretty good but it really feels like they're stretching to make this a whole movie.  Just turning the highlights into "Bergman Island deleted scenes" would've been much better.

...But Film Is My Mistress - A fairly modern (2010) retrospective documentary on Bergman.  At this point, it repeats a lot of stories and footage you've seen before, on the previous discs.  But the most interesting thing it adds is getting a bunch of other filmmakers, like John Sayles, Martin Scorcese, Lars von Trier and of course Woody Allen, to take about Bergman's influence on them.  But the rest of this film, from the behind-the-scenes footage of Bergman filming and the interview clips with him and Ullmann are tired, worn territory at this point.  You'll be able to say the words right along with them.  Again, a tight featurette instead of a self-important documentary that recycles a lot of old stuff would've been much more rewarding, but it's still nice Criterion scooped this up.

And that really is the end of the box.  It essentially consists of two large books, one housing the discs, the other a 248-page booklet with notes for each film and additional pages detailing the supplements and specifications, and a new introduction by Peter Cowie.  Both books are housed together in a sturdy slipbox.  It's a really impressive looking BD set.

And at this point, you're probably stuffed with Ingmar Bergman content... frankly, watching all of the extras across all of the 30 discs, you're gonna hear a lot of facts and stories repeat more than you'd like already.  But if you've still got some spirit left in you, I would recommend one more documentary, sold completely separately, about the great Sven Nykvist.  It's called Light Keeps Me Company, a 2000 documentary released on DVD in 2002 by First Run Features.  It delves further into one of Bergman's most important collaborators who had a hand in so many of his masterpieces.  But this non-Bergman specific documentary allows us to explore the rest of his body of work, as he's made many other masterpieces with other great filmmakers.
It's a bit sappy, admittedly.  It was made by his son, so it's a tribute that leans on the personal side; and if you're not a fellow family member, you might wish it was a little drier.  But it tells his life story, which nothing in the Bergman box really bothers with, and talks to an impressive range of big names that've worked with him over the years, from Roman Polanski to Julia Roberts.  So it's all pretty refreshingly original content, and rather tightly paced at just 76 minutes.  After that massive 30-disc meal, this is just a nice dessert.
2002 US First Run Features DVD.
Not that the DVD presentation itself is any great shakes.  It's non-anamorphic, presumably misframed at 1.58:1 and interlaced.  Also the subtitles are burnt in, and are split halfway over the picture and halfway below the matting, so if you try to zoom in your TV, you'll cut off the second half of everybody's sentences.  And of course there are no special features.  It's just the kind of thing to buy used and consider another special feature rounding out the set.

Now we can start to think of all the brilliant Bergman films Criterion left out.

1 comment:

  1. "The Touch" was originally put out by ABC Pictures Corp., the ill-fated first film arm of ABC, so that puts it in Disney's ownership now. It did get a VHS from Magnetic Video Corporation, but no further release - when Anchor Bay and MGM had deals with the ABC side of Disney, neither party thought "The Touch" was of any interest to them. Even when MGM put out their Bergman box set in 2004, "The Touch" was MIA until this Criterion box. Was there some kind of rights issue, or was it the aforementioned lack of interest?