Unlike Criterion’s 100 Years of Olympic Films box set this release does actually feature supplementary material across the discs, porting over a lot of it from their existing individual Bergman releases while also adding new material exclusive (as of now) to this set.
Disc one presents Smiles of a Summer Night and Criterion ports everything over that was included on both their original DVD and edition and their individual Blu-ray edition. First is a 4-minute introduction by Ingmar Bergman, filmed by director Marie Nyeröd in 2003, filmed for television as introductions for airings of his films (and Criterion has been putting these on their Bergman releases since). He briefly talks about his surprise at the film’s success, which also showed at Cannes without his knowledge (he found out about it while sitting on the toilet reading the newspaper.) In turn the film’s success, after a series of flops, led to him receiving more freedom to make the films he wanted. Not overly insightful because of its short runtime but I enjoy getting whatever interview I can with the director.
The final feature is a 17-minute discussion between film scholar Peter Cowie and writer Jörn Donner. Not the overly insightful piece I had been hoping for but it has some value. The two talk about Bergman’s career up to that point (not great) and then how this film helped him break out of Sweden, his stature amongst cinephiles cemented after The Seventh Seal, which he was able to make because of the success of Smiles of a Summer Night. Donner talks a little about Bergman’s personal life at the time, as well as problems in his professional relationships, and the two also talk about Summer Night and the film’s cast. Not bad but as the disc’s meatier supplement it’s lacking. The disc also still comes with short bios for each participant.
A 2-minute theatrical trailer then closes the disc.
Disc 2, featuring Crisis and A Ship to India, does note contain any special features.
Disc 3 next features all of the material related to the film found on it, Wild Strawberries, all carried over from the original Blu-ray edition, starting with Peter Cowie’s audio commentary, a fine if overly scholarly track. Cowie is a wealth of knowledge on the subject of Bergman and he relates how Bergman developed the script and how aspects of his life that played a part in writing/making the film. He talks about the cast and how Sjörström came to be involved in the film, deconstructs the dream sequence and how it will be played out later in the film, the symbolism found within, and talks about the look and ultimately its reception and impact on Bergman’s career. As usual it does sound as though Cowie is reading from notes and/or a script, and this can drag it out a bit, but he does offer a dense amount of information and is worth a listen. (Since it was recorded for the DVD edition Cowie does still refer to “this DVD” throughout.)
An introduction by Ingmar Bergman also makes its way over, and these pop up sporadically throughout the set. This was shot for what I assume was a TV screening of the film. For 4-minutes the director talks about the film, the personal aspects, and how he got Sjörström to star in it.
Replacing a stills gallery found on the original DVD edition, Criterion now includes Behind the Scenes Footage. Running 16-minutes the footage is silent, but we do get English narration from Jan Wengström. The footage is wonderful, offering a glimpse of the cast and crew prepping sets or getting ready for shooting, with some footage here and there of cast members talking and bonding between takes. The narration offers very little that hasn’t already been said elsewhere, but Wengström talks about the production, casting, and how the cast and crew got along on set. The footage is mostly black-and-white but the last few minutes are in colour. All of it was shot on 16mm.
Also carried over is the 90-minute documentary/conversation with Bergman filmed in 1998 called Ingmar Bergman: On Life and Work, which features filmmaker Jörn Donner talking with him. It has very little to do with Wild Strawberries and is more about his life and how it has influenced his work. He also talks about his process, and shares musings on theater, film, politics, writing, his wives, his life on Fårö, and more. It’s dense and Bergman is thankfully humourous, especially since Donner is about as dry as can be, but it can be, unfortunately, a little too clinical.
Disc 4, containing To Joy and a new restoration for the previously released Summer Interlude, does note contain any special features.
Disc 5 contains Summer with Monika, which was previously released on Blu-ray by Criterion. They’ve ported all of the features over starting with a brief introduction by Ingmar Bergman. This piece was recorded by director Marie Nyreröd along with a series of other introductions back in 2004. These introductions, I believe, were used to introduce the films before they played on Swedish television. Here Bergman states that the film was actually the first one he watched in his brand-new DVD player, and that it’s still a favourite of his. He talks about the production and recalls his fond memories around the time. Not overly insightful since it’s brief but it’s charming little piece.
Following this is an interview between Harriet Andersson and film scholar Peter Cowie recorded for Criterion in early 2012. The two talk about how Andersson came to catch Bergman’s eye and be cast as Monika and she also gets into how their romantic relationship came to be. And she of course speaks fondly of the director, who was the one was able to get her out of what she considered “tits and ass” roles and lead her down the path of excellent female roles in the films. It’s a fond, engaging interview, running about 25-minutes.
Next up Criterion includes a 30-minute documentary by Stig Björkman called Images From the Playground, made for the World Cinema Foundation. It’s first introduced by Martin Scorsese, who recalls first discovering Bergman and the joy of introducing the filmmaker to younger people. The documentary itself is made up of footage shot on the set of Bergman’s various films using a 9.5mm camera. Audio interviews with the director and actors Harriet Andersson and Bibi Andersson, plays over the footage. Bergman talks about why he made these recordings on set, the joy he felt in making his films, and working with his actors, while the two Anderssons talk about their roles and working with the director, with Bibi admitting she was jealous that she never got the same types of roles Harriet did. The footage is rather fun to view and at times can be a little jarring: it’s weird to see obviously jokey tones, playful cast members, and laughing on the sets of films like Winter Light and Through a Glass Darkly, as I could only imagine them to be some of the most solemn sets in the history of filmmaking. I’m usually not fond of these types of things but this turns out to be a fairly joyful and fun little piece.
Monika Exploited! is a 13-minute piece featuring Eric Schaefner talking about the original U.S. cut of the film. The distribution rights were bought by Kroger Babb (or so he thought) and he recut the film down to just over 60-minutes and dubbed it in English, delivering it as an exploitation film. As it turns out Svensk had sold the rights to Janus films and eventually and the distributor of that version found themselves in legal trouble. Unfortunately there’s actually not a lot here about that version of the film, and we only get a couple of clips, complete with a Jazz score. Instead the piece focuses more on the exploitation films of the period and Kroger Babb’s career, including his hit Mom and Dad. I’ve never seen the alternate version of Monika and it would have been great if it could have been included here, even if just as a curiosity, but I assume either there were issues with the rights or some other condition that was out of their hands.
The supplements for disc 5 then conclude with the film’s original Swedish theatrical trailer, which makes the film look a little scandalous. Disappointingly the American trailer is nowhere to be seen.
Both Dreams and A Lesson in Love appear on disc 6. The only feature on this disc is another introduction by Bergman filmed by Nyerod, running 4-minutes. In it Bergman recalls the fear he had as to how audiences would respond to his comedy, and he was overjoyed when he heard audiences laughing.
Disc 7 presents the television version of Scenes from a Marriage, the features for which appear on the disc 8 with the television version and the sequel, Saraband.
(Note: This section will be updated as I go through the set.)
The big feature of this set, though, is a massive 247-page book, easily the most impressive one Criterion has ever put together. Outside of writings for each film in the set (either newly commissioned or writings previously commissioned by Criterion in the past), the book also features a note by Abbey Lustgarten explaining the thinking behind how the set has been put together, followed by an introduction about Bergman, his life, career, and impact, written by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie. Throughout the book you’ll also find quotes from Bergman, taken either from his essays, journals, interviews, and more. The book then closes with a guide on how to watch the films in chronological order (with indicators informing what disc the film is on) accompanied by a synopsis and credits, followed by a list of supplements found throughout the set and notes on the restorations. It’s a phenomenal book and nicely caps off things for this edition.
Grade will be updated as I go through the set 8/10