What Special Features Did We Lose In Criterion's Bergman Box?

Alright, I know I just said that I was going to cut back on these multi-film write-ups because they take too long between posts, and now here we are with another one.  But I did say I'd "cut back," not "eradicate entirely," and I had this entry in the works anyway.

So anyway, a topic I've been eyeing for a while, is the special feature content that's gone missing from Criterion's Ingmar Bergman's Cinema box.  It's an incredible, 30 blu-ray disc set, packed with his classic works and an impressive array of documentaries, interviews and other extras.  This post certainly isn't intended to steer anyone away from it; it's a downright essential collection.  But it's a common mistake to assume it includes his complete filmography; and in a few cases, even films they have included are missing special features that were included on previous releases.  How much has been dropped?  Is it worth double-dipping for them?

Well, we've already covered one major omission: Saraband had a great behind-the-scenes documentary on the DVD, which I was surprised to see turn up absent.  But apart from that one doc, all the extras that have been dropped away can basically be traced back to a series of MGM DVDs covering one of his most powerful periods of work from the late 60s.  They were conveniently compiled into one boxed set, Ingmar Bergman Collection released in 2004.  Let's take them in sequence.
1966's Persona is Bergman's most famous from this selection, possibly the most famous in his entire ouevre, apart from The Seventh Seal.  But for me at least, it's actually the least compelling of these five.  But that's not to say it isn't a great and important film, filled with innovative, influential imagery (even if you've never seen Persona, you'll recognize key shots from the countless times they've been imitated and parodied) and a pair of excellent performances by Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in her first role for Bergman.  Andersson plays a nurse who agrees to move in with a famous actress, Ullmann, who refuses to speak after suffering an emotional crisis.  And the entire film essentially consists of these two women alone in a cottage together, influencing each other in healing and destructive ways, until their conflict even begins to affect the framing device of the movie itself.
The actresses are wonderful, and Sven Nykvist's photography is revolutionary, but the writing sometimes lets the story down, feeling at points immature or under-cooked, as if Bergman's is distracted from the heart of the characters by his own gimmicks.  It could also be a matter of some pre- or early feminist attempts at voicing female characters feeling a bit dated; but this is an issue Bergman usually handily finesses, even in his early work from the 40s and 50s.  So it's just this particular script that's a bit clumsy.  But everything that's great about this film, including also a brief but welcome appearance by Gunnar Björnstrand, makes this film still a must-see.  It just doesn't manage to find the same degree of emotional resonance as the following four films.
2004 MGM DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Before we get to the extras, though, let's took at the film presentation itself.  The film is fullscreen in both cases, but Criterion widens the image out a little from 1.33:1 to 1.37:1, revealing more information along the sides and even a sliver vertically.  Criterion provides a lovely 2k scan of the original camera negative, though it isn't new to this set.  Criterion previously released this edition of Persona on its own in 2014.  But that's not a mark against this transfer; film grain and fine detail are clearly and consistently captured.  And you only have to scroll up slightly to the DVD shots to see how it was all too soft to discern before, with just vague, splotchy hints of the granular pattern inherent to the actual film.  It's basically just a big, fat jump forward in clarity and resolution.  Otherwise they're similar transfer, though, with roughly equivalent levels, contrast, etc.  The only really significant difference to note is that the brightest highlights are blown out on the DVD, and it's nicely restored on the blu.

Both films give us the original Swedish mono with optional English subtitles.  MGM also threw in French and Spanish subs, which Criterion dropped; along with an English dub(!), which is only on the DVD.  On the other hand, of course, Criterion's audio is in lossless LPCM.  And I'd rank the original uncompressed audio and proper subtitles over a bunch of additional random language options any day of the week.
Now, this is the film that Criterion impresses most with its extras, because it's the only one (of these five) that they'd already put out as a stand-alone special edition.  But let's start with MGM, because each of their releases are special editions as well.  And each of MGM's special editions keep to a very specific pattern.  First, each one has an audio commentary by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais, and he's... interesting.  He's not as good as Criterion's usual Bergman expert Peter Cowie, and he has some bad habits of describing what's visually happening on screen and repeating a handful of points over and over.  You can make a drinking game out of the times he A) points out that "ingenting" is Swedish for "nothing," and he feels nothinginess is a major theme in Bergman's work, B) uses the phrases "personality disintegration" and "or whatever."  Years later, you'll be hearing "ingenting, personality disintegration or whatever" echoing in your mind whenever you watch another Bergman flick.  Still, he's more than able to provide the basic backstory and trivia about each film that you'd want from an expert commentary.  So overall, I'd rate these as below average, but not without value, expert commentaries.

In addition to that, you get a roughly twenty to thirty minute featurette.  This one features interviews with Gervais, Ullmann, Andersson and clips of a vintage interview with Bergman.  These featurettes are actually quite good.  Then there are separate "interviews," which are always really just brief outtakes from the featurette.  So in this case, it's four extra minutes with Andersson.  They're nice to have, but it really feels like a cheat that they're listing these as interviews to make the package seem fuller; I'd prefer they just edited these little clips back into the featurette.  But hey, it's fine.  Anyway, then we also get the trailer, a photo gallery and an insert with chapter stops.
Liv & Ingmar
So now we get to Criterion's package, which is overall superior.  But they don't have the commentary, featurette, or extra interview clip that MGM gave us.  They do include the same vintage interview with Bergman, though, that was used in featurette.  And they have a whole bunch more.  Where to even start?  I guess the biggest deal is the feature documentary film, Liv & Ingmar, which was released theatrically in 2012, where Liv Ullmann returns to Bergman's home and reflects on their relationship... in some surprising and refreshingly candid ways.  I'm not a fan of celebrity gossip, but this turned out to be more compelling than I expected.  And we get an excellent, mostly 1.78:1 (the ratio shifts with the footage used) HD presentation.

Then, let's see... there's another one of Criterion's signature "visual essays," this one by Cowie, who provides some excellent info and insight.  A vintage, 20-minute television interview with Bergman, Ullmann and Andersson, new on-camera interviews with Ullmann and writer/ director Paul Schrader (who of course never worked on Persona, but is a great admirer).  Finally, there's about ten minutes of raw, behind-the-scenes footage, with audio commentary by another Bergman historian named Birgitta Steene.  The trailer's here, too, and film professor Thomas Elsaesser writes the Persona essay for the set's book.  So overall, Criterion's extras package is better, but I do miss getting Andersson's reflections on the film.  But the MGM loss is going to be a bigger deal moving forward.
Next up is 1968's Hour Of the Wolf, somewhat known as Bergman's horror film.  I'm not sure I'd quite label it that way, but it's certainly at least horror adjacent, and I'd also say it's a more affecting work in general.  Here, Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann play husband and wife, who've just moved into a cottage on Bergman's favorite Faro Island.  Things go quickly from idyllic to bleak when their new neighbors (including Bergman allstars Erland Josephson and Ingrid Thulin) introduce themselves... new neighbors who live in a castle and just so happen to personify the inner demons that have haunted Bergman for all his life.  But where in a traditional horror film, somebody's deepest fears might be snakes, getting buried alive in a coffin or chased by a maniac with a knife, here his fears are more psychological, complicated issues like sexual humiliation.  So yeah, it's not quite so directly horrific, though there are a few classically surreal horror film images.  Imagine Orpheus if it had been written by Ari Aster.
2004 MGM DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Again, Criterion widens out the image a tad, this time taking MGM's 1.33:1 to 1.38:1, uncovering image on the sides and additional slivers on the top and bottom.  This time it's a 2k scan of a duplicate negative, which again gives us a strong boost in clarity, giving us a sharper and naturally filmic image for a change.  This time the shadows are lightened up, revealing more detail that had previously been lost in shadow.  If it wasn't quite crushed out in the DVD, it had at least been pretty murky and difficult to discern, so watching the Criterion will be a fresh experience.

This time there's no English dub, so both discs just have the Swedish dub - in LPCM on the blu - and both have optional English subs, with extra French and Spanish ones on the DVD.
But here's where the real disparity kicks in.  MGM's DVD follows the same formula as before, but Criterion's blu is... barebones!  Blah.  So MGM's got the commentary, which again, is fine but not great.  But they've got another great featurette, with Gervais, Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson and two vintage Bergman interviews.  Then they've got two more interview clips, with Ullmann and Josephson, two galleries, the trailer and an insert.  Criterion just has a brief essay by Sarinah Masukor, who divides her focus between Hour and From the Life Of the Marionettes.  So that's awfully disappointing, especially since Hour is so bizarre and surreal, it's the kind of film that really calls out for some special features to help the audience understand what the heck it is they're looking at.  And sufficient extras already exist, Criterion just didn't want to license them.  And we'll see later on that doing so was almost definitely a possibility.
That same year, Bergman released another film with Sydow and Ullmann playing a married couple on the island of farrow: Shame.  But if Hour Of the Wolf was Bergman's horror film, this would be his... political thriller?  In some ways, it's actually more of a horror film, just with less of the gothic trappings.  In this film, the couple's characters are tested when a war breaks out and carries them along with it.  This film is sort of like Testament, in that it's more of a war-themed nightmare playing itself out rather than a literal depiction of any particular real war scenario.  There are some surprisingly large production values for what really boils down to another character study on the island of Faro, and that combined with the insightful and brutally honest writing makes this film hit home harder than almost any other Bergman film, before or since.  Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand are great as always, and I think Ullmann grows into an even more impressive actor than she was in her previous films.
2004 MGM DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Are you feeling like you can predict my findings before I write 'em?  Well, we'll get a bit more variety coming up.  But for Shame, Criterion has again widened MGM's 1.33:1 to 1.38:1, revealing more image, mostly on the sides. Brightness, contrast, etc are pretty similar, but it's a natural leap in resolution.  This one's a 2k scan of the interpositive, which I guess why the image feels a little softer than the last two films.  Grain is very light in some areas and often sporadic, which feels to me like some sloppy compression.  In motion it looks quite good, and obviously it blows away the DVD, but it's not as consistent as, say, Persona.

The audio and language options are pretty much all the same story again, too.  The Swedish mono is in LPCM on the blu, both have English subs, but MGM also has Spanish and French.  The interesting part is that, like Persona, there's another English dub that's only on the DVD.  I mean, these English dubs aren't great and certainly not the proper way to watch the films.  But they could be handy for visually impaired fans, or really just fun for cinephiles to check out as a novelty.
So let's get into these extras.  MGM's got everything you'd guess, another commentary by Gervais, a nice featurette, an additional interview clip with Liv Ullmann, the trailer, a photo gallery and an insert.  And again, Criterion carries none of that over.  Well, except the trailer.  But Criterion has cooked up some great stuff of their own again.  They've got their own, brand new interview with Liv Ullmann, which does a good job of replacing the old one from the DVD, so I don't miss their extras so much this time.  Then there are several vintage TV extras, including a brief "Shame in the News"  feature, a vintage interview with Bergman and most notably, a full-length documentary called "An Introduction to Ingmar Bergman."  As the title suggests, it's a bit of a basic overlook, but it's interesting (and appropriately included on this disc) because they visit Bergman on the set of Shame, giving us some nice glimpses behind the scenes.  There's also an essay in the book by Michael Stragow, which covers both this film and the next one.
The next one being 1969's The Passion of Anna; and hey, look, we're finally in color!  But otherwise, not so much has changed.  Sydow and Ullmann again play a couple on the island of Faro, though in this case they don't start out that way.  They meet and are at odds almost as much as they're drawn together.  They're mutual friends with another couple on the island, played by Erland Josephson and Bibi Andersson.  Everyone seems to be harboring dark secrets in this one, even the island itself, as animals turn up mysteriously killed and the locals hunt for a scapegoat.  I'm giving Gervais a hard time, but "personality disintegration" is a pretty apt description of what unfolds here.  The Passion Of Anna is a pretty bleak, nihilistic look at human relations, but it's hard to deny its truthfulness.
2004 MGM DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
So, here things get different, and it's not just the color.  This time the film is widescreen: 1.63:1 on the DVD, corrected to 1.66:1 on the blu.  The DVD is also non-anamorphic (a bit shocking for a prestige, studio release in 2004), so the resolution gap between the two formats is even wider here than before, and the DVD is way too soft and fuzzy.  It's also far too red.  Criterion fixes all of that.  The blu's grain is still a little patchy despite being from another 2k scan, which suggests compression could be a little stronger, but they're back to the original negatives so it's a perfectly satisfying watch and an absolute must replace of the old DVD.

Audio-wise, it's the same story again.  The only difference is that the MGM also happens to have an additional Spanish dub, which is a bit random, but why not?
And extras?  Yeah, here's another one where Criterion really lets us down.  MGM has the full package: commentary, featurette, interview clips from Ullmann, Andersson and Josephson, plus the trailer, gallery and insert.  And this time MGM goes even further, including the complete audio book of the original story, written by none other than Elliot Gould (as the intro to this explains, Bergman wrote this in a to-be-filmed short story/ novella format rather than your usual screenplay).  And Criterion?  Zero, zip, zilch.  Why not even the trailer?  Oh well, at least things pick up again for our final film.
We jump ahead a bunch of years to 1977's The Serpent's Egg.  Bergman certainly worked between The Passion and this, including some major films which are in the Criterion set, but I guess this just happened to be the only other film MGM had the rights to?  Or maybe Marc Gervais felt this was the final chapter in a little recognized Ingenting pentalogy.  Who knows?  Anyway, this is a unique film in Bergman's body of work.  It was made during the brief time he was in Germany, and this time he signed up with Dino De Laurentiis who gave him big time studio money and production values.  The Serpent's Egg is Bergman's ode to German expressionism, and with Dino's money he was able to build entire street sets full of period cars and hundreds of extras.  It stars David Carradine as a down and out circus performer arriving at 1920's Berlin.  He meets Liv Ullmann, who's as destitute as he is, and gets caught up in some dark, Kafka-esque conspiracy.  This is a great film, where Bergman perfectly captures everything aspect of the dark psychological thriller and nightmarish world, while still holding onto enough freedom to explore his more interior fascinations.
2004 MGM DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Another widescreen film, and again MGM is not anamorphic; yuck!  At least their aspect ratio is slightly more accurate at 1.65:1, which is pretty close to Criterion's 1.66, though you can see extra picture around all the sides.  MGM's still too red, but not as bad as Passion... or maybe that's just because this film is so consistently dark and drab, it's harder to notice a shift in palette.  Either way, Criterion fixes it nicely.  This one's a 2k scan of the duplicate negative, and you can see the difference between a duplicate neg and the original, because this film winds up looking fairly soft most of the time.  But of course compared to the blu-ray, which is even lower res than SD being non-anamorphic, it's a vast improvement.

This film actually is in English (see? an outlier for Bergman for sure), so both films feature the original English mono but still have optional English subs, too.  MGM again has additional French and Spanish subs, and the blu is lossless.
Here's where things get really interesting.  MGM mainly sticks to its extras formula, but it has the best commentary of all by far, because it's by David Carradine, who has a lot to share.  He's also in the featurette.  The interview clip this time is more with Gervais; and there's another trailer, gallery and insert.  And Criterion?  They actually carry over the featurette from the DVD!  It's actually a little bit shorter, because they cut Gervais out, but the bulk of it's here.  Not the commentary or anything else, though.  Not even the trailer.  Karan Mahajan writes an essay on The Serpent's Egg and The Touch for their book, and you get the shorter featurette, and that's it.

I should also pause to quickly point out here that, roughly at the same time Criterion was putting out their massive box, Arrow put out their own edition of The Serpent's Egg (ouch, poor timing Arrow!).  Their edition includes all of the MGM stuff, including the commentary.  And they also have a new, additional featurette with their own expert.  Honestly, it's the edition I would've gotten except I was getting the Criterion box for the other 29 discs already anyway, so yeah.
But wait, there's more!  All these MGM discs were sold separately, but if you got the boxed set, you also got an additional, exclusive bonus disc of more extras.  And no, none of those extras are in the Criterion box either.  So, what are they?  Well, there's a new (for the time) Bergman interview that runs almost 40 minutes, plus a vintage one from 1970, which we've seen clips of in other features and docs, in both the MGM and Criterion boxes.  Then, there's a fifteen minute featurette on Faro Island, which also interviews Liv Ullmann.  It's alright, but if you've got the Criterion box, you've already seen so much content about that damn island, you won't want another 15 minutes covering the same ground.  And finally, there's a brief featurette on Sven Nykvist, which is nice because they get Andersson, Ullmann and Josephson to talk about their memories with him.

So bottom line?  We lost a bunch of extras in Criterion's box, and while not all of it is such a tremendous loss, it does leave a couple of films that really scream for extras, disappointingly barren.  So I would say, of course you need the Criterion box in your life, and then, yes, it's also worth double-dipping to pick up at least some of these older DVDs for the extras.  Persona and Shame, not so much.  Also don't worry about that MGM bonus disc.  But it's really worth it for Hour Of the Wolf, The Passion Of Anna, The Serpent's Egg and don't forget Saraband.  And while the box set seems to be somewhat hard to find and pricey these days, those individual DVDs can be bought online super cheap.  For example, as of this writing, The Passion Of Anna is on Amazon used for 45 cents.  You should definitely order that to supplement Ingmar Bergman's Cinema, and turn those barebones discs into fleshed out special editions.

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