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Blu-ray Review: Rebecca

A superlative restoration of a key film in Alfred Hitchcock’s evolution as a master explorer of sexual neuroses.

5.0

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Rebecca

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca is cloaked in a respectability for which it’s yet to be entirely forgiven. Astonishingly, it’s the only Hitchcock film to win the Academy Award for best picture, and it’s the first of the filmmaker’s collaborations with producer David O. Selznick, who insisted that Hitchcock follow Daphne du Maurier’s novel rather than more characteristically rebuilding the narrative for cinema. As underrated Hitchcock films go, it’s more glamorous for acolytes to defend Marnie and Frenzy—nasty and brilliant works that appeal mostly to true believers. After all, anyone can enjoy a classic studio-style gothic with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.

Yet Rebecca is riddled with dizzying layers of neurosis that are intensified by its very polish. The film taught Hitchcock a key lesson in dissonance and contrast, as the Selznick-ian glamour of the sets and actors heightens our awareness of what’s not being directly mentioned: the erotic suppression that drives the narrative. In his early British thrillers, Hitchcock used German expressionist tricks to conjure notions of evil and dread. After Rebecca, Hitchcock would infuse such dread in bourgeoisie comedies of manners, occasionally springing formalist tricks to highlight key emotional shifts; in this fashion, his later films are similar to those of Douglas Sirk and Nicholas Ray.

Rebecca concerns a dead woman who steals the spotlight from those left in her wake. Rebecca’s said to have drowned at sea, leaving her wealthy husband, Maxim de Winter (Olivier), adrift, aloof, and salving his presumed heartbreak at Monte Carlo. He’s a scion of a celebrity family and the head of Manderley, a Cornwall estate that’s mentioned in the novel’s classic opening line, which is awkwardly reprised here in voiceover. When Maxim meets the woman who’s to be the second Mrs. de Winter (Fontaine), she’s working as a paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates), a classic Hitchcockian matriarch who’s blinded by her snobbishness. It’s unimaginable to Van Hopper that Maxim would be interested in her beautiful companion.

Thus begins one of Rebecca’s most startling dissonances. When one considers words such as “plain” and “uncouth,” an image of Joan Fontaine doesn’t spring to mind. Gorgeous and elegant even when playing inelegance, Fontaine is an icon playing a character who’s held in contempt by the people of Manderley for violating rules that they can’t be bothered to explain. Only in such a rarefied and diseased realm could someone like a Fontaine character be deemed inadequate. This young woman’s most cardinal sin is that she isn’t the unseen Rebecca, who still haunts the estate with comic obviousness, a huge “R” adorning pillowcases and stationary, with sexual totems popping up everywhere the second Mrs. de Winter turns.

The new Mrs. de Winter faces a problem that’s familiar to women in Hitchcock’s cinema, as she’s driven to a frenzy trying to please a merciless patriarchy that’s enabled by women as well as men. There are anticipations of Vertigo and Marnie in Maxim’s relationship with his young bride, as he’s a controlling male who alternates between playing the role of abusive father and bored lover. At least the men of the later Hitchcock films knew what they wanted—a woman of their dreams, about which they were quite specific—while Maxim lashes out at his new wife for seemingly minor indiscretions, insisting that she must never grow up to become a calculating society woman, such as his sister, Beatrice (Gladys Cooper). Though Maxim also wants his wife to assume power over the domestic realms of Manderley, which are wielded by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), who moves with the hushed and surreal purpose of a phantom and retrospectively suggests a corporeal embodiment of Psycho’s Mrs. Bates, particularly in silhouette.

Much of Rebecca is devoted to the psychological torture of the second Mrs. de Winter, anticipating Gaslight and other films that would follow. Here, Hitchcock began to refine his subjective camerawork, evoking the act of thinking through space. The second Mrs. de Winter, a nameless void denied any identity apart from the people who own her, strolls through Manderley and attempts to parse the secrets of the revered Rebecca and her passive-aggressive husband.

As in Psycho, the rooms in Rebecca symbolize psychological states. When the current Mrs. de Winter enters Rebecca’s west wing chamber, Hitchcock follows her in lush tracking shots that suggest a rewinding of time, with objects—a picture of Maxim, a brush, a robe—connoting a past life as well as the ongoing presence of a specter. This sense of unnatural, ever-present past-ness is rank and overwhelming, suggesting the fruit cellar of Psycho, which represented, per Robin Wood, the true heart and mind of Norman Bates.

Rebecca’s perversity reaches its zenith when Mrs. Danvers guides Mrs. de Winter toward Rebecca’s bed and fondles the dead socialite’s lingerie. The actors’ movements and the compression of the compositions cause us to feel as if we’re witnessing an obscene sexual act, an example of figurative necrophilia that once again anticipates Psycho and Vertigo. This bedroom is the “face” of Rebecca the public figure, and it’s contrasted with a shack by the ocean, where her heart’s private hungers were sated.

Manderley is a hall of mirrors of sexual resentment and taboo carnality, though if Rebecca lacks the hothouse intensity of Hitchcock’s later masterworks it’s because there are so many demons for Mrs. de Winter to uncover, binding the film up in gothic claptrap. Mrs. Danvers and her thwarted desire are clearly the central life forces of Manderley. Yet the film must also sort out a murder mystery (neutered by the production code) and a variety of other characters with secrets, most memorably Rebecca’s cousin, Jack (George Sanders), who speaks and moves with a smug and velvety insinuation that only Sanders can muster. Films such as Vertigo, Psycho, and Marnie refract their obsessions through a central triangle or rectangle, though Rebecca never achieves that focus. However, the film remains a key illustration of Hitchcock’s gift for fashioning emotional architecture. Every room in Manderley thrums with menace and longing that’s baked into bric-a-brac that tells many tales. It’s a pivotal work in the evolution of an artist’s poetry of sickness.

Image/Sound

This image boasts blacks that are a model of rich clarity, especially the shadows that suggest Rebecca’s ongoing presence despite her death. Textural detail is immaculate, bringing to newfound life the objects that populate the sets while heightening the impeccable soft lighting of the actors’ faces. This pristine image also underlines certain gaffes, such as the occasional shrillness of the whites and the obviousness of certain process shots, though these “flaws” are likely intentional and contribute to a highly subjective sense of suspended reality. The monaural soundtrack is impeccable, particularly its luscious rendering of Franz Waxman’s otherworldly score, which features an aluminum hum that recalls the soundtracks of 1950s sci-fi and horror films like Carnival of Souls. This transfer revitalizes Rebecca, further underlining just how well its fantastical sense of gothic cruelty has aged.

Extras

A new conversation between film critic and author Molly Haskell and scholar Patricia White focuses on Rebecca from a feminist perspective. They discuss Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick’s complicated relationships with women, resisting binary notions of misogyny and progressiveness. And a new interview with film historian Craig Barron concentrates on the subtlety of the film’s visual effects, such as a use of a process screen to black out a background setting, enveloping Joan Fontaine’s character in a foreground spotlight to visualize her discerning of key information.

The meat of this supplements package, though, is archival: A vast collection of vintage material covers Rebecca‘s production, documenting Selznick and Hitchcock’s famously prickly collaboration, their approach to adapting Daphne du Maurier’s novel, casting, and use of camera and sets. An audio commentary from 1990 with film scholar Leonard J. Leff exhaustively discusses the film’s symbolism, including its prodigious use of doubles to express sexual tension. Most fascinating to this Hitchcock devotee are the screen tests for Fontaine as well as for Vivian Leigh, Margaret Sullavan, Anne Baxter, and Loretta Young. Many of these actresses, while extraordinary, simply don’t project the self-effacement that Hitchcock sought. Fontaine’s screen test is also revealing for suggesting what she brought to the role before Hitchcock coached her; as the director has claimed, Fontaine initially overplayed the shyness of the role, though that overplaying reveals a vulnerability that’s perfect for the film.

Odds and ends, including a 2007 making-of featurette and interviews with Fontaine and Judith Anderson, offer overlapping stories of the film’s various collaborators. An interview with Hitchcock, shot for NBC’s Tomorrow in 1975, reminds one of the filmmaker’s own performative gifts as he fans the flames of his own legend while perhaps truthfully appearing to reveal hints of vulnerability. “Daphne du Maurier: In the Footsteps of Rebecca” is a 2016 French television documentary that captures the supernatural obsessiveness of the author’s writing. Three radio versions of Rebecca, from 1958, 1941, and 1950, including Orson Welles’s adaptation of the novel for the Mercury Theatre, are also included, highlighting the clear influence that Rebecca would have over Citizen Kane. A re-release theatrical trailer and a booklet, which includes an essay by critic and Selznick biographer David Thomson and selected Selznick correspondence, round out a superlative package that, if one must carp, would benefit from more new material.

Overall

A superlative restoration of a key film in Alfred Hitchcock’s evolution as a master explorer of sexual neuroses.

Cast: Joan Fontaine, Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Gladys Cooper, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Nigel Bruce, Florence Bates, Leo G. Carroll, Leonard Carey Director: Alfred Hitchcock Screenwriter: Robert E. Sherwood, Joan Harrison, Philip MacDonald, Michael Hogan Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 130 min Rating: NR Year: 1940 Release Date: September 5, 2017 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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Blu-ray Review: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour on the Criterion Collection

This unbelievably beautiful restoration is a poignant testament to the talent of an obscure artist too often taken for granted.

5

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Detour

There’s a fragility to Detour that only strengthens its spell. Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1945 film is an inventively sparse mixture of docudrama and DIY expressionism: There are no lush sets and camera pirouettes on display here, as Ulmer makes do with found settings, isolated props, and abbreviated, shaky tracking shots that are rich in authentic and incidental textures. There is tension between edits that cobble sometimes mismatched takes together, meaning that one can almost feel the work that’s necessary here to sustaining an illusion with limited means. Detour has a fly-by-night intensity, then, that’s derived by the thinning of the distance between the film’s collaborators and the audience, suggesting the fluid quality of live art, particularly theater and musical concerts, with the gutter vitality of pulp fiction at its most wrenchingly subjective.

In this context, Detour’s tricky narrative resembles an auto-critical study of how to put a scheme over with no money. Al Roberts (Tom Neal) is an aspiring musician hitchhiking from New York City to Los Angeles to see Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake), who left him to try to break into movies. In the sort of observational flourish that’s typical of Ulmer’s films, we see Al playing a piano in an empty bar, with stacked chairs in front of him in the foreground that lend compositional dynamism to the image while casually illustrating his sense of rejection. To put it bluntly, Al may always be relegated to playing after hours rather than primetime, and Sue wants to enter the center ring. Both characters are stunted artists hamstrung by a lack of resources. In the tradition of disenfranchised men in film noir, Al gets into trouble.

Detour opens on Al at a diner, tellingly arguing with a customer over a selection on the jukebox after the film’s main events have already occurred. A shadow creeps over Al, enclosing his face in darkness as he begins to narrate for us, describing how he wound up as a drifter. Ulmer and screenwriter Martin Goldsmith never allow the audience to forget that Al’s telling the story, as he’s almost certainly an unreliable narrator. Al recalls being picked up off the side of the road by Charles Haskell Jr. (Edmund MacDonald), who throws his money around before dying in circumstances so absurd as to lead us to suspect that Al is either hiding something or outright lying. After Haskell dies, Al, in a masterpiece of convenient rationalization, decides that robbing Haskell makes sense, as no one will believe that he didn’t kill the man anyway.

Driving Haskell’s car, wearing the man’s clothes and spending his money, Al gives a ride to Vera (Ann Savage), who’s hitchhiking near a gas station. In another twist so ludicrous that we doubt the veracity of Al’s story, Vera immediately discerns that Al isn’t Haskell, claiming to have recently ridden and fought with him—a development that’s foreshadowed earlier by the scratches on Haskell’s hand. Vera and Al are soon trying to sell Haskell’s car, becoming bound by desperation and sexual tension, as Vera reveals herself to be a formidable, bitter, and merciless opponent. Savage gives the film a jolt of hothouse energy, her curt, pragmatic ferocity serving as a counterpoint for Neal’s commanding recessive-ness.

Detour’s lean 69-minute running time also suggests simplification wrought by economics. Ulmer never resolves the mystery of Al’s trustworthiness, and another death, even less likely than Haskell’s, exacerbates the impression that Al’s attempting to kill his way out of a thicket of escalating crises. The audience is watching either the story of a delusional or unrepentant killer or of a man so profoundly unlucky he might earn words of sympathy from Job. This ambiguity amplifies the tension that’s been created and sustained by Ulmer’s raw yet beautiful style, while complicating the self-pity that often drives crime films.

Detour also pointedly lacks a third act, leaving Al drifting in the narrative ether. Vera tries to blackmail Al into helping her with the sort of conspiracy that drives many noirs, but this development is brutally curtailed, as is Al’s quest to find Sue. The film eats itself alive before the viewer’s eyes, post-modernly reflecting its hero’s doom, which functions as a heightened symbol for the ordinary disappointments of real life. Detour’s struggle to exist mirrors our efforts to do the same, and the film has an aversion to bullshit that’s livelier and more suggestive than anything in most contemporary cinema.

Image/Sound

This new 4K restoration, the result of over a decade of research, is awesomely pristine, rich, and detailed. To those who first came to Detour through subpar VHS editions and online streams and have come to associate it with a lurid crumminess that suggests the film equivalent of a beat-up E.C. comic, the transfer will likely look and sound too beautiful. But one quickly adjusts, as this Criterion edition honors Ulmer’s artistry, emphasizing the beauty he conjured even with a few thousand dollars and a week-long shooting schedule. Close-ups are vivid, revealing people’s wrinkles and creases, and clothing textures are shown to be pivotal illustrations of character. Above all, there’s a silkiness to the image, a velvety sheen that honors its aesthetic virtuosity. Meanwhile, the soundtrack gracefully oscillates between the various sounds of the road and diners and hotels, offering a subtle aural portrait of down-and-out life that contrasts with the dynamic mythmaking of the score. The hisses and pops of prior editions are gone, and so the film sounds as great as it looks.

Extras

Edgar G. Ulmer: The Man Off-Screen, a feature-length 2004 documentary, and a new interview with film scholar Noah Isenberg, author of Edgar G. Ulmer: A Filmmaker at the Margins, cover overlapping ground but are each worthwhile. Both supplements discuss Ulmer’s background as an immigrant from the Czech Republic—though he, like many directors in America who hailed from that part of Europe, claimed to be from the more cosmopolitan Vienna—as well as Ulmer’s early working relationships with legends like F.W. Murnau and legends in the making like Billy Wilder. And both pieces attempt to explain how Ulmer, an intelligent, talented, and cultivated man, failed to achieve the recognition that was enjoyed by, say, Wilder. (Ulmer’s stunning The Black Cat figures into each account.)

The Man Off-Screen offers an appealingly wandering account of Ulmer’s life, with guests like Joe Dante, John Landis, and collaborator Ann Savage celebrating the filmmaker’s inventiveness. Meanwhile, Isenberg offers a concise examination of Ulmer’s aesthetic, suggesting that the filmmaker’s unsatisfied quest for mainstream success benefitted his art. Robert Polito’s essay, included with this disc’s accompanying booklet, examines the creation of Detour with exhilarating precision, while contextualizing the film within the crime genre at large, on the screen as well as on the page. The theatrical trailer and a supplement detailing the origin of Criterion’s extraordinary restoration round out a slim but nourishing package.

Overall

This unbelievably beautiful restoration is a triumph of preservation as well as a poignant testament to the talent of an obscure artist too often taken for granted.

Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage, Claudia Drake, Edmund MacDonald, Tim Ryan, Pat Gleason Director: Edgar G. Ulmer Screenwriter: Martin Goldsmith Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 69 min Rating: NR Year: 1945 Release Date: March 19, 2019 Buy: Video

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Review: Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue on Shout! Factory Blu-ray

The film is a prescient vision of a modern world defined by media oversaturation and social media validation.

4

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Perfect Blue

Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue is a prescient vision of a modern world defined by media oversaturation and social media validation. In the film, Mimi (Junko Iwao), a J-pop girl-group singer who decides to give up music for acting, finds herself targeted by a stalker who threatens to ruin her if she doesn’t return to her old gig. More than just a stalker thriller, however, Perfect Blue unfolds as an extended study of Mimi’s fraying mental health as she begins to question her own identity as more and more crimes happen around her, with evidence pegging her as a suspect.

One avenue in which Mimi’s sense of self is undermined is, of course, the internet. Early on in Perfect Blue, she’s pointed to a website where she supposedly keeps a diary for her fans. Yet Mimi, who can barely even operate a computer, didn’t write the site’s entries, and she panics over the false confessions being posted on the web under her name. In the film, the internet is amusingly shown in its early days; URLs are absurdly long jumbles of letters and numbers, and sites are mostly text-based with maybe a background image added for flavor. Even here, however, the power of the web to enable false identities to propagate and be taken as legitimate is shown to be considerable, and Mimi is helpless to counter the lies put out by whomever has control of “her” site.

Resentment of Mimi’s abandonment of pop drives Perfect Blue’s violence, which befalls those helping the star’s pivot to acting. Kon’s depiction of violence is brutal, delivering a lot of ripped flesh and gushing blood. At one point, a photographer is stabbed in the eye with a screwdriver, while the climactic confrontation ends with so much blood that it seeps out of the victim’s body in a thick wall of sludge. Kon is circumspect only when it comes to the true source of the film’s crimes—obscuring, misdirecting, and withholding the identity of the killer at almost every turn. Throughout, we only see the murderer’s hands wielding weapons, and no clues are offered by the blurred, scrambled perspectives of the dying victims.

Kon also uses this disjointed perspective to illustrate how Mimi’s sense of self slips away from her, not only from the paranoia mounting around her, but also from the regular degradations that the entertainment industry foists on her. Having left the world of pop and its machinations behind her, Mimi finds herself now at the hands of the masculine world of film. Her aspirations to be a serious actress lead her to taking the role of a rape victim in a production called Double Blind, and soon she’s suffering through uncomfortable scenes where she feels violated by the aggressiveness of the film’s scenarios. (She also gets booked with shocking speed for a nude photo shoot to emphasize she’s no longer a “good girl.”)

Much of Perfect Blue’s turmoil comes not from Mimi struggling to clear her name of murder accusations, but from her attempt to control her own narrative, to put forward an image that isn’t co-opted, as much by the killer as the normal power players in show business. Her inability to decide what kind of person she wants to be is as disturbing as the bloodletting that occurs all around her, and is one facet of what’s allowed Perfect Blue to endure as a masterful articulation of powerlessness in the age of media saturation.

Image/Sound

Shout! Factory’s release of Perfect Blue comes with a remastered presentation of the film, and comparing it to the old, standard-def version (also included here) reveals that the new transfer boasts richer color depth and sharper contrast. Yet the integrity of Satoshi Kon’s most minute aesthetic choices, like the way the grimy backgrounds and deliberately fuzzy line details contribute to the film’s hallucinatory edge, have not been compromised. The surround sound remix for both the English and Japanese language tracks ably distribute the dissonant sounds of violence (glass shattering, blood spurting) and Masahiro Ikuni’s score of unnerving drones and frenetic breakbeat production across the channels into a suffocating cacophony.

Extras

The most substantial feature included here is a 40-minute lecture on the film given by Kon himself, and in which he offers his interpretation of the material and insights into his filming process. Elsewhere, there are brief interviews with both the Japanese- and English-language cast in which they give their thoughts on the film, and both a recording session and ad hoc music video for the “Angel of Your Heart” song that plays during the photographer’s murder.

Overall

Perfect Blue looks excellent on Shout’s disc, though it retains the grimy, slightly indefinite features that contribute the film’s brilliant depiction of blurred reality and illusion.

Cast: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuji, Masaaki Ōkura, Yōsuke Akimoto Director: Satoshi Kon Screenwriter: Sadayuki Murai Distributor: Shout! Factory Running Time: 81 min Rating: R Year: 1997 Buy: Video, Soundtrack, Book

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Blu-ray Review: Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute on the Criterion Collection

Criterion’s new release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute is a vast improvement over the studio’s 2000 DVD.

3.5

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The Magic Flute

With his uncharacteristically cheerful The Magic Flute, Ingmar Bergman managed the challenging task of preventing his brooding existential musings from coloring the proceedings, while also fusing the seeming incompatabilities of opera and cinema in a way that pays respect to both art forms. By embracing the pure artifice of opera while employing rhythmic editing, an abundance of his typically expressive close-ups, and Sven Nykvist’s especially nimble camerawork, Bergman transfigures the stage space into something truly cinematic, spinning a yarn with all the joy and warmth of a fairy tale, and with little more than the bare essentials that a typical theater would have provided him.

Filming exclusively on a full replica of Stockholm’s famed Drottningholm Court Theatre, Bergman relies on a purely theatrical set design full of painted backdrops, rudimentary yet meticulously handmade felt costumes for various animals, and elaborate paper scrolls with lyrics written on them which occasionally pop up in front of the actors as they sing their lines directly to the camera. Such techniques help to bring a charming and amusing meta-textual layer to the film that pays homage to the stagecraft of opera and is part and parcel of a whimsical aesthetic that helps The Magic Flute unfold in storybook fashion.

Other self-aware touches are less successful, such as the periodic backstage scenes and the repeated cuts to close-ups of a young girl (Helene Friberg) who, eyes full of wonder as she gazes at the stage, functions as a kind of saccharine surrogate for Bergman himself, who was drawn to Mozart’s opera in his youth. But these superfluous intrusions are primarily mitigated by uniformly stunning renditions of Mozart’s music and an abundance of dynamic performances. And Bergman’s unique capacity for capturing the ebbs and flows of people’s inner states lends the characters and their travails a palpable emotional weight that nicely complements the droll comedic touches that dominate the film.

While the first half of The Magic Flute is as light-hearted as anything Bergman ever made, the second half plays a bit more to his strengths, allowing for more expressionistic flourishes in the cinematography and more direct conflict between the darker impulses hinted at early on. From the fiery dungeon where Monostatos and his minions intimidate and terrify Princess Pamina (Irma Urrila) after kidnapping her and Sarastro’s (Ulrik Cold) cult-like and red-clad brotherhood, to the Queen of the Night’s (Birgit Nordin) terrifying rendition of the song bearing her name, Bergman and Nykvist move toward a more complex lighting, staging, and blocking that’s more cinematic than operatic as the drama begins to crescendo.

Yet while the story’s more foreboding elements are more in line with Bergman’s traditional thematic concerns, such as the shifting power imbalances between men and women, it’s the increasingly absurd foibles of Pagageno (Håkån Hagegård), who’s tireless in his search for true love in the form of an imagined Papagena, that’s most lovingly rendered here. Playing out alongside the more prevalent rescue-adventure narrative, Pagageno’s undying quest reveals him as something of a Shakespearean fool whose dopiness is only that much more apparent when contrasted by the suave and handsome Prince Tamino (Josef Köstlinger), whom Papageno is tasked with accompanying to save Pamina.

With precise comic timing, Hagegård brilliantly captures Papageno in all his ungainly glory as he stumbles in and out of humorous and dangerous ordeals. But as aimless and clueless as Papageno often seems, Bergman sees him as a wounded yet pure soul worthy of compassion. “Love brings relief in pain and sorrow. It soothes a soul in misery,” Papageno sings toward the end of the film. And in a rare happy ending for Bergman, albeit one already written for him, The Magic Flute goes out on a sweet, touching note that sings of love transcending all.

Image/Sound

Considering that the Criterion Collection’s 2000 DVD of The Magic Flute has often been deemed one of the distributor’s weaker image transfers, there was much room for improvement with this new release. And the 2K restoration the film on display here certainly delivers, boasting more well-balanced colors that bring a heretofore unseen richness to the costumes and backdrops. Skin tones have lost the orange hue of the earlier transfer and now appear more natural, and with a slight warmth to them, something that’s especially welcome given the film’s preponderance of close-ups. But the image still appears soft throughout, though that’s mostly noticeable in the wide shots. The sound, however, is practically flawless, with the uncompressed stereo track boasting effective channel separation that dynamically captures the beauty and raw power of the musical performances.

Extras

Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten!, or Lights! Camera! The Magic Flute, is an hour-long behind-the-scenes feature made for Swedish television that provides a peek into everything from the various steps of the casting process to engineers and other craftsmen designing and constructing the replica stage upon which the film plays out. Certain snippets, like Bergman working with the orchestra or artists painting the elaborate backdrops featured in the film, are intriguing, but the documentary as a whole lacks focus. A 30-minute interview with Bergman, recorded just before the release of The Magic Flute, touches on many of the same topics already covered in Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten!, though the director’s discussion of why he finds opera to be an essential, and still relevant, art form, coupled with his stories of his lifelong fascination with Mozart’s opera, sheds light into why he wanted to make this film. The interview with Bergman scholar Peter Cowie is regrettably the shortest of the three features, but his thoughts on Bergman and Nykvist’s aesthetic tactics are both detailed and insightful. The package is completed with a fold-out booklet with an essay by author Alexander Chee.

Overall

Criterion’s new release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute is a vast improvement over the studio’s 2000 DVD, but don’t come to the show expecting a bounty of extras.

Cast: Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urrila, Håkan Hagegård, Ulrik Cold, Birgit Nordin, Ragnar Ulfung, Elisabeth Erikson, Erik Sædén, Britt-Marie Aruhn, Kirsten Vaupel, Birgitta Smiding, Helene Friberg Director: Ingmar Bergman Screenwriter: Ingmar Bergman, Emanuel Schikaneder Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 138 min Rating: G Year: 1975 Release Date: March 12, 2019 Buy: Video

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