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Blu-ray Review: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

David Lynch’s misunderstood Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me receives a transformative restoration that brings its tarnished beauty to life.

4.5

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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

David Lynch’s art pivots on an urge to both objectify and empathize with women, which nests in a love for America that’s itself complicated by an awareness of the country’s foundation of patriarchal rot. Lynch is drunk on archetypes, on the pure and lovely blond damsel in distress and on the dark brunette who can teach a young man the politics of sex. And he’s also drunk on the iconography of coffee, diners, neon signs, hunting, trees, and small-town banter—as well as murder-mystery conventions and the cultural aftereffects of starlets who’ve been eaten alive by the Hollywood machine.

Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) haunts Twin Peaks as an embodiment of the price that women pay for male fantasy. She’s enmeshed with seemingly every man in the town of Twin Peaks, but none of them know or want her. They yearn for the all-American homecoming queen and the sex kitten we know from too much media. They lust after the uncomplicated and smiling girl that the iconic framed picture of Laura, ready for the dance, promises. The men of this fictional Washington town want a girl who looks soft, affirming their superficial and sentimental ideas of courtly love, and who fucks like a porn star. In the original two-season run of Twin Peaks, we never learned who Laura was, as she was a MacGuffin, a device for offering a tour of societal neuroses.

In Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch reveals Laura to the audience, following her over the last week of her life. And her story’s even uglier than one might’ve presumed of someone who once occupied a show as a slain lamb. Like every other female protagonist in a Lynch film, Laura’s torn between honoring the rules of a male-driven society and satisfying an unknown element of herself. Laura sometimes enjoys her role as a sex goddess, reveling in the agency such a status accords, but this assignation is shown by Lynch to be a trap as well as an instrument of survival that was forced on her at a young age. Every man wants something from Laura, pawing and pestering her, draining her of a private essence. Life as Laura Palmer is exhausting, as even a tedious sap like James (James Marshall) seeks to possess her and define her by his own notions of how a woman should be.

Lynch undermines pleasing American iconography with perverse narrative detours or elaborate tableaux of pain; the filmmaker reveals the bugs living underneath, say, the greenest of lawns. And this is why audiences resent him, and why films such as Fire Walk with Me take time to earn their reputation. Like Twin Peaks: The Return, the film often elides the coffee, donuts, and talk of cherry pie that are fondly associated with the original series. Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), an unusually sympathetic Lynch male who’s also eaten up with ideas of female status, is largely absent from Fire Walk with Me, and his few scenes show him to be an impotent hero who has visions of Laura’s demise that are too muddy to prevent her death.

At one point, Dale has a vision of being visible from a security camera while simultaneously watching himself from a control room—a split that echoes the two Dales of Twin Peaks and anticipates the many Dales of The Return, while also forming the sort of temporal loop that governs Lynch’s work. Dale’s lost, unable to revolutionize a patriarchy that he, via the F.B.I., actually affirms. He’s bound to wind up like Special Agent Phillip Jeffries (David Bowie), who’s also split into multiple versions of himself and swallowed up by the social evil that’s symbolized by an electrically charged alternate dimension.

Dale’s premonitions compose one of Fire Walk with Me’s many temporal loops. But the film’s primary loop involves Laura’s destiny to be murdered by her father, Leland (Ray Wise), who’s controlled by BOB (Frank Silva), a demon from the other dimension. Leland rapes and kills his daughter out of a fealty to the American male urge, succumbing to the sickness that drives men to destroy women while rationalizing themselves as the victims. Laura seals her doom when she awakens and sees her rapist not as BOB, but as Leland, setting in motion events that will recur throughout the Twin Peaks universe.

The film’s set pieces—like the dinner scene in which Leland’s possession of Laura is equated to his revulsion with her fingernails—anticipate a fissure in a reality/fantasy continuum. Laura’s in danger of waking up from her drug- and sex-addled stupor of denial, and so she must die to restore order to Twin Peaks and male America at large. One of Fire Walk with Me’s final images involves old men feasting on Laura’s misery, which is symbolized by an insane and absurdist Lynchian flourish: creamed corn, a staple of Americana.

Like Twin Peaks and The Return, Fire Walk with Me isn’t as uncomplicatedly feminist as it may sound. Lynch is disgusted by Laura’s sexualizing, though he sexualizes her. In Lynch’s cinema, one impulse doesn’t simply render the other hypocritical. An artist, regardless of political mores, must honor their insanity and contradiction. Laura’s body is often lingered on in stages of undress. These images are erotic, but they’re also intentionally framed in a manner that emphasizes their own leering sense of contrivance. When Laura is about to have sex with James at their high school, ludicrously clad in only a bath towel, the camera pans to highlight her breasts. The camera’s movement is a violation that undercuts the spell of the naïvely purplish dialogue, as if Lynch is saying “you can’t catch this on television.”

Yet Lynch also truly sees Laura in her profound loneliness and helplessness, filming her face in rapturous close-ups that physicalize a fragility with which the characters refuse to reckon. In a staggering performance, Lee plays Laura’s entrapment with an operatic and heartbreaking kind of wide-eyed musicality.

Laura’s descent into hell is foreshadowed by many harbingers of doom, especially Fire Walk with Me’s Pink Room sequence, a riotous explosion of lurid color, accompanied by music that suggests a sexually frenzied funeral dirge. Angelo Badalamenti’s sonorous horns accompany images that’re dotted with youthful female nudity that’s uncomfortably and poignantly sleazy. At this point, we couldn’t be farther away from the romanticism of Twin Peaks at its sweetest. When Laura sits at a booth topless, entertaining piggish men, even the horniest audiences should feel her exploitation and vulnerability. When Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) sees Laura, the horns of the soundtrack underline the inevitability of tragedy. Viewers of Twin Peaks know Ronette as one of the last people to see Laura alive.

Laura’s death scene is framed as a brutal act of release. Lynch splinters the murder into religious shards of blood, strobe light and smeared makeup, as Leland pummels Laura, sending her to the Black Lodge as a resigned and benign prisoner who will observe Twin Peak’s continuing evil from a theoretically safe distance. An angel by her side, Laura may finally know peace. Though even this qualified settlement, representative of a life a woman might be able to carve out for herself in a male universe, is disrupted by a man 25 years later. And Laura senses this intervention.

In the second-season finale of Twin Peaks, Laura told Dale in the Black Lodge that they weren’t done. In The Return, Dale can’t accept his limitations, as he has his own version of Laura, the eternally rescuable victim, to guard. Dale’s actions may or may not lead to the obliteration of Twin Peaks, which may or may not be a happy ending—a casting out of the mythology that America uses to paper over its legacy of atrocity. Fire Walk with Me is also an act of exorcism, as Lynch turns a MacGuffin into a human casualty, plumbing the recesses of his id and art to create one of his greatest films.

Image/Sound

I’ve been watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me for 25 years, primarily on beat-up VHS tapes and DVDs, and it’s never looked as beautiful as it does on Criterion’s 4K restoration, which was overseen by David Lynch. (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the film’s presentation on Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery.) While I had a suspicion of what I was missing, I had no clue that the film was even supposed to look this beautiful. The colors that Lynch so often favors in his filmography—rose red, blue-velvet blue, auburn, and deep black—look as lush here as they do in any other Lynch film. Image texture is also now extravagantly detailed from the ridiculous woodwork of a redneck sheriff’s office to the sensual and heartbreaking skin tones of Laura Palmer and Ronette Pulaski. And Laura’s eyes have never been so vivid, so pristine and bottomless. Two soundtracks have been included, and, if you have the speakers, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround is a knock out that suggests an immersive concerto in hell, particularly in the Pink Room sequence, which resounds with intricate horns, distortions, and other bass-rich nuances. The 2.0 mix might be better for purists and those with a less intricate sound system, and also boasts a superb soundstage that honors every minute detail of Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti’s aural universe.

Extras

Criterion’s inclusion of “The Missing Pieces” is good news for those who already owned a box set of Twin Peaks and weren’t ready to double dip with Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, where this material originally surfaced in 2014. “The Missing Pieces” amounts to more than simply 90 minutes of extended and deleted scenes from Fire Walk with Me, as Lynch supervised the editing of this supplement himself, sculpting it into a modal sketchbook that’s pure Lynch straight from the tap. There’s quite a bit more footage of the original Twin Peaks cast, further underlining the town’s willed obliviousness to Laura’s misery, and, though strong, this material might’ve diluted Fire Walk with Me‘s relentlessly singular focus. There’s also an unmooring scene with Phillip Jeffries that should’ve found its way into the film’s final cut, and more about the demonic caste system of the Black Lodge, including references to a convenience-store hideout that would eventually be used for Twin Peaks: The Return. This featurette-as-alternate-film is a must for Lynch acolytes.

A 2014 interview between Lynch and actors Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, and Sheryl Lee is an informal affair that’s of interest primarily for the charisma of the participants, though revealing information emerges. Zabriskie says that other directors frequently ask her about her collaborations with Lynch, and she tells them that Lynch is open to the variables of collaboration, enjoying and using what he sees each day on the set, rather than imposing a pre-calculated vision. This account is complemented by a new interview with Badalamenti, who discusses, with refreshing specificity, how Lynch directs his composing. Lynch is open to various ideas, trusting his instincts to guide him toward the heart of any given film, and many of Fire Walk with Me‘s most memorable musical riffs were fashioned nearly on a whim. The new interview with Lee isn’t as detailed, partially because she’s understandably uncomfortable discussing the film’s most intense and intimate scenes, but she offers a moving glimpse of the challenges of keeping oneself emotionally open as an actor. Lee remembers being in a store after the filming of Twin Peaks had wrapped and feeling as if she could have her own thoughts again, rather than those of the doomed Laura. Rounding out the package is an excerpt from Chris Rodley’s interview book, Lynch on Lynch.

Overall

David Lynch’s misunderstood masterpiece receives a transformative restoration that brings its tarnished beauty to life.

Cast: Sheryl Lee, Chris Isaak, Ray Wise, Moira Kelly, Kyle MacLachlan, Kiefer Sutherland, Mädchen Amick, Dana Ashbrook, Phoebe Augustine, David Bowie, Eric Da Re, Miguel Ferrer, Pamela Gidley, Heather Graham, Peggy Lipton, David Lynch, James Marshall, Jürgen Prochnow, Harry Dean Stanton, Grace Zabriskie, Frances Bay, Catherine E. Coulson, Michael J. Anderson, Frank Silva, Walter Olkewicz, Al Strobel, Gary Hershberger Director: David Lynch Screenwriter: David Lynch, Robert Engels Distributor: The Criterion Collection Running Time: 135 min Rating: R Year: 1992 Release Date: October 17, 2017 Buy: Video

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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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