The Film (5/5)
Ingmar Bergman has been on my short list of favorite directors since I was first introduced to his work through the Silence of God trilogy about a decade ago. I have only seen a handful of his films (maybe 10), but they have all been fantastic, and have stuck with me as both a filmmaker, and a fan of great film.
As a filmmaker, I found his work inspiring, and influential so much that when the time came to make my last short, I tried to include a homage to the priest waiting for the train to pass scene from Winter Light into the film. As a film fan, I found his work compelling from the direction, to the atmosphere, to the always wonderful performances of his cast. I feel watching a Bergman film is to not so much watch a movie, but to experience it, and to be challenged by it. His films above all make you think, while you're watching and after. This is as true of the Magician as it of his other films.
The Magician tells the story Dr. Albert Emanuel Vogler played by Bergman staple Max Von Sydow. Dr. Vogler is a mute traveling magician, and a hypnotist who claims to be able to cure people with the assistance of magnets. He leads a troupe of sideshow performers that include Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin) his protege, his speaker Tubal (Ake Fridell), his coach driver Simson (Lars Ekborg), and his witch Granny (Naima Wifstrand).
The story begins with the troupe riding in a horse drawn carriage through the woods leading to the Swedish capital. While they are passing through, they stop, and discover a dying actor off the path. They take him into their carriage, but he dies soon after. As soon as they arrive at the gates of the leading to the capital, they turn the body over to the local law enforcement, who have heard of the troupe's reputation, and have taken them in for questioning.
They are brought to the home of Consul Egerman, a member of the local council. Egerman alongside Dr. Vergerus, the local minister of health, and Starbeck the police superintendent begin to question the troupe about the reality of the show, and the miracles they say they are able to perform. At the end of the questioning it is determined, that they will stay the night at Egerman's home, and perform their show for the 3 men and their wives the following morning.
The events of the film primarily take place during that night, and chart the interactions between the 3 men, their families, servants, and the troupe. This is less of a film about story, and more a film about the characters, and their reaction to the events that are taking place around them. The troupe sort of feels like a darker, almost shadow version, of the group of traveling performers led by Mary and Joseph in Bergman's prior film the Seventh Seal. And the film while a dark piece, has a good deal of humorous to break up the dark atmosphere of the film.
In a way The Magician also feels like a Rosetta Stone of Bergman's filmography. It utilizes actors and themes that were present in his earlier films, and begins to show the direction that he will take in his future work. In a way it feels like a film that is meant to meant to simultaneously end and begin a new chapter in his career.
As usual the direction from Bergman is absolutely brilliant. He keeps the film flowing at a nice pace, that keeps the viewer interested in the characters, and their various stories. The cast is uniformly excellent throughout, and truly brings the characters, their emotions and motivations to life. Gunnar Fischer's helps provide the needed balance of light and shadow with his crisp smooth black and white cinematography. While the Magician is considered a minor film in Bergman's overall oeuvre, watching it now I wonder why. All the various elements from the writing to the direction, score and performance come together perfectly. The Magician truly is a cinematic masterpiece.
Criterion has presented Ingmar Bergman's the Magician in the films original 1:33:1 theatrical exhibition ratio. This is an absolute perfect transfer, with not a scratch, or spec to be seen anywhere on the transfer. The detail level, especially in close ups is excellent.
The audio is presented in it's original monaurual presentation. There is no background noise or distortion present on the track, dialogue, music, and audio effects are mixed nicely, and are completely audible throughout the track. Optional English subtitles are included.
Criterion has presented Ingmar Bergman's the Magician with a nice set of extras. They are broken up into 2 sections labeled on the main menu as Peter Cowie and Ingmar Bergman. The Peter Cowie section is a visual essay on the film put together by Bergman expert Cowie for this release. It is made up of stills from the film, and narrated by Cowie. It goes into detail about the film, how it uses themes from other Bergman films, and how it fits into Bergman's overall oeuvre. The Ingmar Bergman section features a short interview taped with Bergman from 1967 around the time of the release of Persona. It also features an audio interview recorded in 1990 with Bergman. Finally, Criterion has included a 33 page booket of liner notes with this release.
The Magician is considered a minor work in Ingmar Bergman's canon of films. This DVD/BD release is the first Criterion release of the film, and hopefully it helps to alter that opinion. The Magician like many of Bergman's films from this era is simply a masterpiece. Criterion have once again crafted a phenomenal DVD release. The A/V work is impeccable, and they offer a nice assortment of extra features on this disc. This DVD comes highly recommended.