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Blu-ray Review: Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series

The thorniest nostalgia trip in the history of television has been outfitted with a gorgeous and painstaking transfer.

5.0

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Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series

In Twin Peaks: The Return, David Lynch weaves the personal and political with the fluidity of a musical conductor, merging a spectrum of tones and narrative curlicues. The Return is as comfortable inhabiting the cosmic—as famously plumbed in “Part 8” of the series—as it is the Double R Diner and the gas station run by Big Ed (Everett McGill). Lynch tends to a knotty, country-spanning, time- and dimension-hopping narrative while forging hundreds of intimate moments of grace, redemption, and damnation.

Despite what critics have claimed, The Return has a plot and it does matter, particularly as a structure for loosely governing an overflowing variety of comic, tragic, absurdist, and terrifying incidents. Lynch revels in television’s penchant for anecdotal drama, which mirrors the pleasing rituals of our daily routines. Correspondingly, our efforts to process The Return’s blend of conspiracy theory, fantasy, and character study mirror our struggle to forge the desperate elements of our lives into an explicable whole. The complicated narrative informs the small moments of the series with an existential counterweight, a suggestion of a grand elusiveness—God, in other words—that translates religiosity into a pop-cultural language. Lynch gives the audience permission to remain trapped in the show, endlessly mulling its poetry.

The soap operatic, an enormous element of the original series, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and The Return, blows small emotions up to epic size, encapsulating the ecstatic intensity of the ordinary. Lynch offers a narrative, governed by temporal loops and numerology, that’s understood to be composed of dreams nesting within dreams, encased by a reality that’s potentially nonexistent. This framework informs the characters’ (and the audience’s) loves, triumphs, and pitiful embarrassments and failures with grandeur. This grandeur—hopeful even during moments of nearly unwatchable despair—is why Lynch’s acolytes are so devotedly obsessed by his art.

Though fueled by exploitation and murder, Twin Peaks is an idealization of America that’s rooted in small businesses that magically sustain themselves, which feel like anachronisms in our corporatized present day. At times, this folksy magic is underlined as the illusion that it is, such as when Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) is revealed to have a job in name only as receptionist for the police department, which has a computer-assisted operator hidden in the back of the building. It’s poignantly impossible to believe that Big Ed could still carve out a living running a full-service gas station, and the Double R is revealed to have become a franchise, capitalizing on the nostalgia that drives Twin Peaks. The elder generations of Twin Peaks, heartbreakingly humbled by the 26 years that have passed since we last saw them, appear to have been grandfathered into a pseudo-prosperous way of life that’s associated with the economic flush that the country enjoyed after the victory of WWII. Meanwhile, the children of these characters are bitter, disenfranchised, increasingly unhinged, and are rarely seen legally employed or moneyed.

The Return has a novelistic texture that’s unusual for Lynch’s work, and the audacious scale of it eclipses anything that recently comes to mind, recalling the televised productions of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. There’s an impression of something having gone irreparably bad in Twin Peaks, paralleling the sense of wrongness that currently permeates America. The splintering of the soul of Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) suggests a shattering of the country at large. And so Cooper’s quest to corral his various selves (notably the evil Mr. C and the naïve Dougie Jones) into a nuanced whole suggests America’s efforts to reconcile its present hopelessness with its history of atrocity, so as to proffer a salvageable vision of the future.

These subtexts are expressed by structural symmetries and carefully embedded objects, such as an ancient, well-built Ford truck (a representation of an ideal past) that a millennial killer (a harbinger of an awful present) drives. Lynch also often voices his preoccupations in straightforward fashion, such as when Dougie’s wife, Janey-E (Naomi Watts), proclaims to gangsters that she and her family are members of the 99 percent, who drive terrible cars and are tired of being screwed over by those in power. Later in the series, Dougie wistfully gazes at an American flag in a police station, seemingly searching for the meaning contained within the object, and Lynch, daringly willing to push the moment to the breaking point of obviousness, allows us to softly hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the soundtrack.

Dimmed hopes course through the sexy metallic visual sheen that’s markedly different from the Technicolored cinematography of the original series, instead recalling the industrial aesthetic of Lost Highway. This sheen is enriched by sad, playful, empty images, which connote a loneliness that’s not always devoid of pleasure. Loneliness can overtake us and affirm us with a sense of emotional robustness, jolting our senses and prompting us to savor the quotidian textures that define our lives. Lynch understands this bittersweetness, emphasizing the importance of small actions by slowing them down. When Big Ed has soup in his gas station, obsessing over Norma (Peggy Lipton), his eating is informed with a tragic ordinariness that’s worthy of the poetry of William Carlos Williams. When Dougie offers his son a potato chip, sliding it across a bedsheet, the movements of his hand are invested with quivering uncertainty. Throughout the series, the actors explode caricatures to reveal hidden passion and terror.

Passages of tranquility and empathy alternate with moments as lurid and insane as any in the Lynch canon. The Return is preoccupied with sexual violence even by the director’s standards, with prolonged scenes in which men dominate and obliterate women, which toe a fine line between empathy and masturbation. Mr. C hurts people with the casualness that one might reserve for ordering take-out, and his abuses of women are especially emphasized, such as when he beats and kills the young and pointedly scantily clad Darya (Nicole LaLiberte). Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is possibly revealed to have been ruined by rape, which might’ve imprisoned her either in a coma or within a dimension fashioned by insanity. Rape is so frequently referenced in The Return that it becomes a leitmotif.

The Return is a jolting exorcism of Caucasian male rage, which exists like a stagnant well under American society. Lynch displays profound feeling for the suffering of women while sexualizing many of them anyway, often so boldly as to underline the potential contradiction in purviews. His women are as identifiable by their modern noir-ish fashion and ineffability of being as the femmes of Alfred Hitchcock; and Lynch, like Hitchcock, rues male entitlement while enjoying its fruits. Lynch embraces the conflict between his erotic hungers and his compassion, refusing to resolve it for the sake of proffering a comfortably progressive social platitude, which might embrace the current trend of pretending that we don’t see people as sexual beings. This power struggle’s evoked by the director’s on-screen appearance as F.B.I. Deputy Director Gordon Cole, who’s accompanied by Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell), an F.B.I. agent who moves with a liquid sensuality that Lynch often fetishizes. Lynch later pairs himself with Monica Belluci and Bérénice Marlohe, respectively, practically daring viewers to chastise the elaborate contrivances of his self-flattery, which is proffered with a devilish wink that somehow doesn’t cheapen the many sexual psychodramas driving the series.

Much of America is split between a realm of theoretical free enterprise and timeless love, and a reality governed by anonymous strip malls and drab houses. Cooper discovers this latter real-ish world when he attempts to undo the murder of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), an event that’s at the center of Twin Peaks’s mythology and which is therefore pivotal to Cooper’s own existence. Cooper embarks on a hero’s quest, which, as Richard Brody observed, is not dissimilar from the one driving John Ford’s The Searchers, as both are propelled by ego and a desperation for cleansing and control, as well as a yearning to turn the clocks back to an earlier and “better” time.

The Return fulfills the dreams and nightmares that must have accumulated within Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost over the last few decades, and purposefully collapses under the weight of the expectations that it refuses to gratify. The Return’s vision of community is quashed at the end, reduced to a man and woman who’re trapped in a cycle of pursuit and regret, exchanging a secret that could contain all or none of existence.

Image/Sound

The image is a stunning tapestry of color and detail, nimbly capturing The Return‘s delicate balance of pristineness and purposefully painterly vagueness. The famous Twin Peaks landscapes are impressionistically lush in color, especially the browns and greens, with a bit of softness to emphasize a sense of subjectivity. The chilly industrial landscapes, which represent the soulless modern age, are pitilessly sharp and clean, with strong blacks and a subtle medley of silver and auburn hues. The black-and-white sequences boast vibrant shadows, and micro textures—faces, clothing, household objects, and magical talismans—are painstakingly specific. The soundtrack often pushes the Lynchian sounds—electrical hums, mechanic drones, windy whistling—to the background, while Angelo Badalamenti’s melancholic score usually occupies the foreground with its light, airy notes. The result is a pleasing and immersive balance of high and low pitches that abounds in aural nuances, suggesting many worlds to exist beyond ours.

Extras

“Impressions: Journey Behind the Scenes of Twin Peaks” is a five-hour exploration of The Return‘s filming, following David Lynch as he weathers the ups and downs of directing a massive project. Obviously this intoxicating and occasionally hallucinatory documentary—which has been split into 10 episodes, resembling a series of its own—has been managed by Lynch to cultivate his reputation as an eccentric, unconventionally sexy aesthete, though it’s also a vivid portrait of filmmaking. The physical toils of directing, which requires the making of countless impromptu decisions on a daily basis, have rarely been so exactingly elucidated. Lynch scans as an articulate, empathetic and organized rascal who homes in on precise details so as to lend his vision a pleasing tactility. Lynch’s rather vague with his actors, respecting the intangibilities of their own inspirations, which is remarkable given the highly controlled unity of their performances in The Return‘s finished form. There’s also a sensuality to Lynch’s kinship with his cast, particularly when he smokes with Sherilyn Fenn while explaining Audrey’s attitude toward her husband. “Impressions” is a must-see for Lynch fans that renders this collection one of the supplements packages of the year. This set is rounded out by more ordinary odds and ends, such as footage of the Twin Peaks Comic-Con conference, and a photo gallery and various promos.

Overall

The thorniest nostalgia trip in the history of television has been outfitted with a gorgeous and painstaking transfer, with a documentary that revels in David Lynch’s majestic intuition.

Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, Richard Beymer, Gia Carides, Michael Cera, Candy Clark, Catherine E. Coulson, Eamon Farren, Sherilyn Fenn, Sky Ferreira, Robert Forster, Mark Frost, Warren Frost, Balthazar Getty, Harry Goaz, Gary Hershberger, Michael Horse, Caleb Landry Jones, Ashley Judd, David Patrick Kelly, Peggy Lipton, James Marshall, Everett McGill, Clark Middleton, Walter Olkewicz, Kimmy Robertson, Wendy Robie, Amanda Seyfried, Harry Dean Stanton, Charlotte Stewart, Russ Tamblyn, Alicia Witt, Charlyne Yi, Grace Zabriskie, Chrysta Bell, Don Murray, Richard Chamberlain, Laura Dern, David Duchovny, Miguel Ferrer, Ernie Hudson, David Lynch, Jim Belushi, Jeremy Davies, Meg Foster, Robert Knepper, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, John Savage, Amy Shiels, Tom Sizemore, Ethan Suplee, Naomi Watts, Jane Adams, Brent Briscoe, Bailey Chase, Cornelia Guest, Nicole LaLiberte, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, Bérénice Marlohe, James Morrison, Max Perlich, Tim Roth, Monica Bellucci, Al Strobel, Carel Struycken, Ray Wise, Madeline Zima, Derek Mears, Sheryl Lee Director: David Lynch Screenwriter: Mark Frost, David Lynch Distributor: CBS Home Entertainment Running Time: 1025 min Rating: TV-MA Year: 2017 Release Date: December 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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