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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Swedish PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Two scores, one by Swedish composer Matti Bye and the other by the experimental duo KTL
  • Audio commentary featuring film historian Casper Tybjerg
  • Interview with Ingmar Bergman, excerpted from the 1981 documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait, by Gösta Werner
  • The Bergman Connection, an original visual essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie on the film's influence on Bergman
  • Footage of the construction of the Räsunda studio where The Phantom Carriage was the inaugural production

The Phantom Carriage

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By:
Starring: , , Tore Svennberg
1920 | 107 Minutes | Licensor: Svensk Filmindustri

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #579
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: September 27, 2011
Review Date: September 25, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

The last person to die on New Year's Eve before the clock strikes twelve is doomed to take the reins of Death's chariot and work tirelessly collecting fresh souls for the next year. So says the legend that drives The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), directed by the father of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjöström. The story, based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, concerns an alcoholic, abusive ne'er-do-well (Sjöström himself) who is shown the error of his ways, and the pure-of-heart Salvation Army sister who believes in his redemption. This extraordinarily rich and innovative silent classic (which inspired Ingmar Bergman to make movies) is a Dickensian ghost story and a deeply moving morality tale, as well as a showcase for groundbreaking special effects.

Forum members rate this film 9.7/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage gets a lovely Blu-ray edition from Criterion who present the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The transfer is presented in 1080i/60hz, I assume because of the film’s frame rate.

Thankfully the interlaced transfer doesn’t cause any severe problems other than possibly some mild shimmering in a few sequences with some more complicated patterns. Past that there’s no ghosting, trailing, or any jagged edges that leaped out, nothing to even suggest this is an interlaced transfer.

Overall it’s a stunning looking image. The source materials unsurprisingly still show signs of damage, including fine scratches, marks, stains, and burns, and frames also appear to be missing (the transfer comes from a restoration that used two different sources.) But none of these problems are overly intrusive and can be easily overlooked. What makes the image so stunning is really just how sharp the picture is. Despite the age of the film it really just pops off the screen and there is a shocking amount of detail present, whether it be threading in clothing or the fine details in some of the furniture in the room. There are some hazy moments but they aren’t altogether that bad and still contain some crisp details.

Blacks are strong and the colour tinting, which sticks to sepia tones and blues primarily, also looks clean. Despite some of the damage that remains it really is a beautiful looking picture, one of the more impressive transfers I’ve come across for a silent feature.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film is silent but comes with two scores. The first score, by Swedish composer Matti Bye, is presented in DTS-HD MA 3.0 while the second, an experimental track by KTL, is presented in linear PCM stereo.

Both tracks are of course newer so it wasn’t surprising how crisp and clean they are, almost sounding like they’re being performed right in your room. Range is excellent and there is some decent bass, specifically in the second track.

As to which track you should go with it will come down preference. I preferred the Bye track if only because it fits more the idea of what I think a musical score for a silent is. It also suits the mood of the film better. The electronic score by KTL is interesting, and produces a rather ominous sound, but it doesn’t always seem to fit with what’s going on screen, though that is possibly beside the point.

Still I’m glad Criterion includes the option and I’m rather thrilled with the overall quality of both tracks.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

We get a decent collection of supplements starting with an audio commentary by film historian Casper Tybjerg. It’s dry and feels scripted, almost like he’s reading straight from an essay he’s done, but I still rather enjoyed it. On top of details about Sjöström and his career, the film’s production, and notes about the source story and its author Selma Lagerlöf, he examines many sequences and points out how the construction and framing of the sequences helps narrate what’s going on, pointing out some details you don’t consciously realize at first. He also places some things in the context of the time period, and also goes over its reception over the years, including the negatives such as when a critic referred to being guilty of “excessive moralizing”. Tybjerg of course defends the film against these criticisms. I don’t know if I’d say it’s a must to listen to, and there was nothing all the surprising here, but I still enjoyed it to an extent and it’s worth flipping through.

Criterion next digs out an interview with Ingmar Bergman that was filmed in 1981 for the documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait. In the 15-minute segment Bergman recalls when he first saw The Phantom Carriage and the impact it had on him. He then moves on to when he met the director/actor and then directing him in his own films, To Joy and Wild Strawberries. His fondness for him is evident, especially since he considered him a father figure. Nice interview though I’m a little surprised Criterion didn’t include the entire documentary (or any other documentary about the director.)

Peter Cowie next offers an 18-minute visual essay which he calls The Bergman Connection. In it he points out not only visuals from the film that obviously influenced Bergman’s work, which includes obvious ones like the use of Death in The Seventh Seal and ghosts in Fanny and Alexander, and the not-so-obvious ones like an emaciated horse in The Silence, but also points out the religious and psychological elements that Bergman probably lifted from it. He then talks about Sjöström and Bergman’s work together on Wild Strawberries (which carried many possible references to The Phantom Carriage, according to Cowie at least) and then Bergman’s direction of The Image Makers, which was a TV movie more or less about Sjöström working with author Lagerlöf in making The Phantom Carriage. Not a wholly fulfilling feature but it offers a decent analysis as to how the film effected Bergman.

Finally we get 5-minutes worth of silent footage covering the construction of Råsunda studios in 1919. It shows the progress from scouting land and then breaking ground all the way to the finished product. Doesn’t add much to the film but it’s an interesting inclusion none the less.

The booklet then presents a solid essay by Paul Mayersberg on the film, its visuals, and presentation of alcoholism. There’s also a note on the scores and then the restoration.

Not wholly satisfying (and it’s odd that Criterion chose to make the supplements more about Bergman than Sjöström) but I mostly enjoyed them and found them all fairly informative.

6/10

CLOSING

I guess in the end I could give or take most of the supplements but the image here is absolutely stellar. Just a wonderful overall presentation and the real selling point to this edition.


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