The Rest Of the Bergman Box, Part 1: Previous Criterions

Okay, I guess I got a little sidetracked.  Back in 2018, I got the then brand new Ingmar Bergman's Cinema 30-disc boxed set of Ingmar Bergman blu-rays from Criterion, and I quickly updated all my Bergman posts comparing the new masters.  And I did a couple others, fully intending to completely cover everything in the se, but with other new releases and interesting titles, they kind of got bumped down the list.  Then, when they weren't "new releases," they felt less important and they really got bumped down the list.  And now it's turned into a dark cloud over my head: all these remaining discs I've never gotten around to, even though I've got a bunch of alternate editions for good comparisons, and the fact that there's still some fantastic, exciting stuff in this box I'd never gotten around to.  So for these next five(!) posts, I'm just gonna power through 'em all.  I figure, at this point, these'll be pretty Low Reader Interest entries; but it's never going to stop bothering me if I just leave these hanging, so I'm knocking them out so we can all move on.

I'll start with the least interesting ones, so we can have something to build towards.  This first part is all of the remaining films in this box that Criterion had already previously released.

Update 3/13/21: Added the Artificial Eye blu-ray of Sawdust and Tinsel from their 2012 Classic Bergman collection.

1953's Summer With Monika is a bittersweet tale that dampers teenage romance with a hard dose of reality.  Harriet Andersson plays the titular Monika who elopes from her abusive father to run off with her boyfriend to an isolated cottage.  Everything's idyllic as they shed their lives of oppressive toil and indulge in their pure freedom and passion for each other.  But as time passes, the merciless demands of find them and encroach on their love.  It's kind of a sappy romance at first that seems satisfied to relish in landscapes and sunsets, but comes to dramatic life as it slowly shifts from away from your cinematic expectations towards the stakes of real life.

Tartan originally put this out on DVD in the UK as part of their Bergman collection in 2002, but I replaced that long before I started this site with Criterion's 2012 blu-ray.  That turned out to be a bit of a wasted double-dip when Criterion later included the exact same edition in their 2018 box.
2012 US Criterion BD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
I'm showing both discs since I have them, but it's pretty academic because it's the same transfer based on a 2k scan of the original camera negatives.  It's framed at 1.37:1 and looks pretty fantastic.  Blacks are deep, contrast is natural and grain is about as authentic as you can hope for on a 1080p BD.  Audio's a strong, lossless LPCM mono track with removable English subtitles.

And it's got an impressive batch of extras.  It's got an intro by Bergman from those Bergman Island sessions, an interview with Andersson, a half hour doc called Images From the Playground, with vintage behind-the-scenes footage Bergman interview clips, plus interviews with both Andersson sisters and even Martin Scorsese.  It's a more general doc not exclusively about Summer With Monika, but it's one of the films covered.  Perhaps most fun is an interview with a film scholar Eric Schaefer about how the film was edited and marketed as the trashy Monika: Story of a Bad Girl in the US.
That same year, Bergman created the far less conventional, but perhaps more what you think of when you hear "Bergman film," Sawdust & Tinsel.  Harriet Andersson stars in this one, too, the young lover of a circus ringmaster.  He tries to reconcile with his wife while she's seduced by a young aristocrat.  Meanwhile the circus is running low on money and has a confrontation with the local police.  Basically, everybody's about as low as they can get, and all their hopes are that a local theater owner (Gunnar Björnstrand) will save them.  As you can surely imagine, the circus and theater motifs give Bergman and Sven Nykvist a lot of exotic imagery to play with, though it's counter balanced by being the gloomiest damn movie you ever did see.

Criterion originally released it on DVD back in 2007.  AE released it on blu first, in 2012 as part of their Classic Bergman set... and again in 2016 for their 40th Anniversary collection.  But it was at least an HD debut in the US when Criterion released it on blu in this box.
2007 US Criterion DVD top; 2012 UK Artificial Eye BD mid;
2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
So Criterion's blu is an upgrade over its DVD both in the basic sense of an SD DVD over an HD BD and in getting a brand new 2k scan from the original camera negative.  The aspect ratio has been adjusted from 1.32 to 1.38:1, and brightness and contrast are much more nuanced and photo realistic compared to the old, washed DVD with genuine blacks and detail restored to the bright spots.  The original Swedish mono track is another LPCM with optional English subtitles.

But of course, we now have a new "middle step" to factor into the equation, AE's 2012 BD, which sits in the center in several categories.  In terms of its AR, it's 1.33:1, and it's a solid HD image that far outshines the DVD, but falls a little short of the newer edition.  In terms of detail and such, it's not too dissimilar.  The grain is definitely more distinct, actually looking a little better than Criterion in some areas, though looking a little ill-compressed in others.  I'd say it might just boil down to taste, except AE's black levels are distractingly pale (though far more evident in a side-by-side comparison here than you're likely to notice just watching the film on your television), which puts in a definite second place for me.  Plus, there's the extras to consider.

Criterion's blu doesn't cough up any new features, but it does retain the stuff from the DVD, which wasn't bad.  It has one of those Bergman Island intros by Bergman himself, plus an audio commentary by Criterion's resident Bergman scholar Peter Cowie.  AE has nothing.
Things cheer up considerably in the 1955 period comedy Smiles Of a Summer Night.  Of course, being a Bergman film, even this light, romantic comedy still has our protagonist attempting suicide.  This takes place around the turn of the 20th century, with a number of aristocrats and their servants falling in and out of love at an old matron's estate on Midsummer Night.  There's a lot of set-up in the first half that may have you doubting just how "funny" this comedy actually is, but it all pays off in a delightfully charming romp that stars a number of Bergman's greatest players, including Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Eva Dahlbeck and an early appearance by Harriet's younger sister Bibi Andersson.

Criterion first released Smiles on DVD in 2004, and then on blu in 2011.  The 2018 boxed set disc apparently carries over the same transfer as the first BD.
2004 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
The aspect ratio shifts slightly from 1.34 to 1.36:1, pulling in just a tiny bit of additional picture.  The blu is another 2k scan of the original 35mm film elements, with the DVD's over contrasty levels pulled down to a more natural tone.  The image is sharper, while grain and fine detail is distinctly clearer.  As ever, the original Swedish mono is presented in lossless LPCM with removable English subtitles.  The short package of extras hasn't changed since the first DVD: another of Bergman's intros, a conversation between Peter Cowie and Jorn Donner (a filmmaker who's directed several pieces about Bergman and even produced a couple of his films, though not Smiles of a Summer Night), and the theatrical trailer.
Next is one of Bergman's most critically celebrated works: 1957's Wild Strawberries.  The premise of an old man examining his life in retrospect as he takes in with a bunch of youngsters on his way to claim an award is exactly the combination twee and somber storytelling serious critics adore.  And to be honest, most films along those lines (most obviously Woody Allen's Deconstructing Harry, but I mean that whole inter-generational road trip of self discovery schtick) are cribbing from this film, and it does deserve pretty much all of the praise it gets.  It's got inventive, abstract dream sequences and a collection of Bergman's all-stars including Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow, with the lead role sired by To Joy's Victor Sjöström, himself a famous film director, known for the silent horror classic The Phantom Carriage from 1921.

Criterion first put this out on DVD back in 2002.  Their initial BD was in 2013, followed of course by the 2018 boxed set.
2004 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
Yes, this is another 2k scan taken from the 35mm original negatives (and no, these aren't all taken from the negs... keep your eye out for the exception).  The DVD looks so smooth, you'd never know it was taken from a film element with grain, but it's all beautifully restored on the blu.  This is a surprisingly tall and skinny AR, coming in narrower than Academy Ratio at 1.31:1 on the DVD and 1.32 on the blu.  The blu also sports deeper blacks and a much sharper, stronger image.  As ever, the Swedish mono track is presented in LPCM with optional English subtitles.

And finally, here's a case where Criterion did add a little more to their special features between the DVD and BDs.  They've always had a Peter Cowie commentary and a Donner documentary called Ingmar Bergman: His Life and Work, which as you can guess is more of a Bergman overview than anything Bergman specific.  There was also a stills gallery, which surprisingly, the blu-rays dropped.  But I'm fine with that, because in its stead, we got two new, more rewarding extras: another Bergman intro and seventeen minutes of silent, behind-the-scenes footage narrated by Jan Wengstrom of the Swedish Film Institute.
We finally reach the sixties with 1960's Academy Award winner The Virgin Spring, the adaptation of the 13th century ballad, which as we all know, would become the template for Wes Craven's controversial rape revenge tale, The Last House On the Left.  In fact, despite that this is a medieval tale with supernatural elements, the two tracks run surprisingly close together from beginning to end.  Virgin just concludes with one extra religious denouement.  Most of the cast are recurring Bergman players, but the only real star you're likely to recognize is Max von Sydow, who gives a powerful hellbent performance as a father driven to vengeance.

Criterion released their DVD edition in 2006, and didn't release it on blu until 2018, releasing the solo release just months before the box.
2006 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
The DVD's aspect ratio of 1.32:1 barely changes to 1.33:1, but the DVD was windowboxed, giving the blu a very different viewing experience on widescreen TVs.  It was also grayer, flatter, softer and duller compared to the BD's updated 2k scan of the original 35mm camera negative.  And while yes, the original Swedish audio is again presented in LPCM with removable English subtitles, this one also includes a mono English dub, which is lossy even on the blu-rays.

The extras remain consistent from the DVD through the blus, but they're pretty substantial.  First there's an audio commentary not by Cowie, but another Bergman scholar named Birgitta Steene.  Then there's an introduction by Ang Lee, a lengthy audio recording of Ingmar Bergman giving a seminar at the AFI in the 70s, and the highlight: a new (well, for the DVD) on-camera featurette interviewing cast members Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson.
Now, we jump ahead pretty far for 1975's Magic Flute, Bergman's production of Mozart's most renowned opera.  In some ways, it's "less" of a Bergman film, because it features none of his writing and rather faithfully sticks to the original texts.  But his cinematic artistry shines through in the rather unique way he adapts it for the screen, sometimes pulling back to reveal itself as a rather direct recording of a completely stagey production, but then also cutting in for close-ups and edits, the production backstage, and even at times turning the camera around to capture shots of the audience.  Still, viewers' lasting enjoyment of this film will likely hang much more on their interest in Mozart than Bergman. 

Criterion's first release of The Magic Flute is the oldest DVD in this post, dating back to 2000.  They never released it on blu before the boxed set, though in 2019, they did issue a stand-alone BD.
2000 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
The blu widens the aspect ratio from 1.33:1 to 1.37, revealing some slivers of extra picture.  I mentioned an exception to all the negative scans, and unfortunately, here it is.  This is another 2k scan, but only of the 35mm interpositive.  Grain is light and patchy at best, but the overall image is still a massive upgrade over the old DVD, which is super soft.  Background detail that was smeared away and indistinguishable comes to life on the blu, which has also had substantial color correction, making very broad changes in many shots.  This is one of the most obvious upgrades in this post even before factoring in the colors, which in addition then make it look almost like two completely different films.  The original Swedish audio is again in LPCM with removable English subs.

And this is also the biggest leap forward in terms of extras.  The original DVD was completely barebones, but they turned it into a nice special edition for the set.  Rather than a full commentary, Peter Cowie keeps his thoughts concise in a new eighteen minute on-camera interview.  But better to here it in the maestro's own words, so also included is a half hour television interview with Bergman all about The Magic Flute that was made to air before the film's original broadcast.  And best of all, there's a full behind-the-scenes documentary.  Even if you're a bit iffy on The Magic Flute because of how it doesn't fit in with the rest of his work and all, any Bergman fan should be fascinated to see him crafting this work.  For some, it could be more crucial viewing than the opera itself.
Finally, we end in 1982 with Bergman's epic Fanny & Alexander.  Like Scenes From a Marriage and Best Intentions, this was originally created as a Swedish television miniseries and later edited down to a theatrical version.  And like those previous examples, I don't know why you'd bother with the abridged edit when the richer, uncut version is an option, but Criterion consistently goes the extra mile to give us both versions anyway.  As one of Bergman's greatest masterpieces, you can't argue it doesn't deserve it.  This was originally intended to be Bergman's final film, a sort of autobiographical summary of both his childhood and life's work (although he of course went on to make more films after), reuniting him with as many of his former cast members as possible: Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson who makes a surprisingly heroic turn and Scenes' Jan Malmsjö becomes one of Bergman's most chilling villains.  Other noteworthy appearances include Catherine Breillait's sister Marie and Lena Olin; and Sven Nykvist's photography is exceptionally elegant even by his own standards.

Criterion released Fanny & Alexander as a hefty 5-disc DVD set in 2004.  In 2011, this was condensed and upgraded into a 3-disc 2011 BD set.  And it was also given 3 discs in the 2018 boxed set.
1) 2004 US Criterion DVD series; 2) 2018 US Criterion BD series;
3) 2004 US Criterion DVD theatrical;
4) 2018 US Criterion BD theatrical.
The two DVDs are clearly using the same master, and the two blus are clearly using the same new transfer, which the book tells us us a 2k scan of the 35mm original camera negative.  I've included shots of both the theatrical cut and full series for the sake of being definitive, but there's really no difference between them in either case.  Of course, the difference between the DVDs and blus, on the other hand, are boldly evident.  The framing just slightly shifts, with the AR going from 1.67:1 to 1.66.  But the clarity and colors are hugely boosted in this shift to HD.  The new saturation actually seems a bit high, reminding me of Criterion's first Cries and Whispers blu-ray, before they made it more natural with their subsequent 2018 remaster.  But whether I'm right or wrong about the colors, there's no question the blu blows away the old DVDs, which look murky and heavily compressed by comparison.  Both cuts feature the original Swedish mono track in LPCM with removable English subtitles, but the theatrical cut also includes a lossy English dub (on both the DVD and blu).

As a 5-disc set, you can imagine the DVDs were pretty loaded, and indeed they were.  Most notably, the theatrical cut featured an audio commentary by Cowie, and there was a feature length making documentary.  There was also an hour long vintage interview with Bergman as he looked back on his career (again, at the time he thought this was his curtain call), some brief footage of the set models, a pair of stills galleries and the trailer.  The fifth disc included a bunch (all?) of Bergman's Bergman Island intros for other films plus a trailer gallery.  The blus kept everything, with that fifth disc of stuff, of course, spread out across the 2018 set to live with their corresponding films.  But the blu-rays added something more, too, a third half-hour documentary called A Bergman Tapestry, where Criterion rounded up a number of key players for a first class retrospective.
So there you go: seven more reasons to be excited about Criterion's massive box, with even more still to come.  It also has to be said that, as ever, all of those older DVDs and blus had inserts with essays and notes, essentially all of which has been transferred to the hefty 248-page book included in the box.  And there's also a bonus disc of additional features, which I'll be covering in detail in the final part of this series.  So stay tuned for Part 2, where we'll be looking at the Winter Light trilogy, followed by some of the more obscure imports and rarities.

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