Ingmar Bergman Volume One
For over 50 years, Ingmar Bergman produced ground-breaking works of cinema that established him as one of the world’s most acclaimed, enduring and influential filmmakers.
Ingmar Bergman: Volume One marks the first of a four volume celebration of the auteur’s work - available on Blu-ray for the first time in the UK - and reflects on the opening stages of Bergman’s career.
Presented over five discs, the set features 2K restorations of eight early films written or directed by Bergman. Including initial partnerships with regular collaborators (such as cinematographer Gunnar Fischer and actor Birger Malmsten), these early works exhibit his burgeoning talents, introducing themes and tones that he would continue to develop over the next five decades.
BFI's first volume of the films of Ingmar Bergman presents eight of the director's early works across five dual-layer discs: Torment (written by Bergman and directed by Alf Sjöberg), Crisis, Music in Darkness, Eva (written by Bergman and directed by Gustaf Molander), Port of Call, Prison, Thirst, and To Joy. All eight films are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode and sourced from recent 2K restorations. The discs are encoded to region B.
Four of these films (Crisis, Port of Call, Thirst, and To Joy) also appear in Criterion's massive Ingmar Bergman box set, the other films only appearing in this edition. As with the presentations in Criterion's set every title here looks exceptional (or as exceptional as can be), going well and beyond what I would have initially expected. Though portions of Prison can look a little bit noisy, the digital presentations and encodes look sharp and clean across the films, rendering each of respective film's grain structure superbly. Torment, Crisis, Eva, and Prison are all sourced from 35mm interpositives, the other four from 35mm duplicating negatives, yet all eight presentations deliver an exceptional level of detail throughout, only a couple of titles hindered a bit by the source elements. Grayscale looks sharp across all of the films and the gradients are excellent. Black levels can get pretty deep without eating away at shadow detail, and whites look strong without ever blooming. This all leads to wonderful photographic presentations.
The restorations have also managed to clean things up surprisingly well. A majority of the films all show some minor damage at the very least, a few specs or scratches here and there. The occasional tram line also pops up, but they're usually faint (this holds true to Criterion's presentations for the shared films as well). Mild flickers, some pulsing, very minor frame jumps are also not outside of the norm, but they're not intrusive. Crisis can show a bit more wear along the edges with a few more scratches here and there, but damage can get quite a bit heavier in Torment, with more obvious (and frequent) marks, including larger scratches (a notable one around 55-minutes in), along with a dupey look for some sequences, leading to a slight loss of detail and contrast. Still, Torment's presentation is a huge step up from Criterion's presentation of the film in their Early Bergman Eclipse set, and it's very clear a lot of effort has still gone into the restoration; the elements were more than likely just in the worst condition.
In general, they all look quite good and are of about the same level of quality across the board. They do all look incredible when all is said and done.
Torment (1944): 7/10 Crisis (1946): 8/10 Eva (1948): 8/10 Music in Darkness (1948): 8/10 Port of Call (1948): 8/10 Prison (1949): 7/10 Thirst (1949): 8/10 To Joy (1949): 8/10
All eight films come with lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtracks. Like the video presentations they can vary a little in quality but are generally about the same. The earlier films can come off a little flatter and deliver more background noise but they're clean and free of heavy distortion and damage. The later films, particularly To Joy and Thirst, can come off a little more dynamic thanks to music (To Joy) or background sound effects around a train (Thirst). But outside of that, range and fidelity are both still very limited for these films, yet, as with the earlier ones, damage is not an issue, faint background noise being the only notable thing.
BFI doesn't pack a lot on here rather disappointingly, all of the material found on the first disc with Torment. The bigger on-disc supplement is an audio discussion between Ingmar Bergman and scholar Peter Cowie recorded in 1982 at the NFT, running 63-minutes and playing as an alternate channel over the film. The discussion (in English) was performed during an event paying tribute to director Alf Sjöber, the director of Torment, and Bergman shares stories of his work with him in both theater and film, covering the director's interests and influences along the way. It's a great little discussion and I don't recall coming across a lot of material featuring Bergman talking about other directors, outside of some written material.
There isn't much focus on Torment to be found in it, though, and, of course, there is nothing about Bergman's other early works since the discussion was about Sjöber, but BFI fills that void (a little bit) with a new visual essay by Leigh Singer entitled Ingmar Bergman: First Cries, Early Whispers. Through the 20-minutes Singer first looks at how Torment's themes and visuals (despite Bergman not directing the film, outside of the ending) show early signs of what was yet to come from the young filmmaker, before Singer briefly looks at each film that appears in the set. It feels short for covering such a wide set of films, but it's well put together, noting a few specific moments, covering shared themes (even ones that will show up in later work), and quoting statements from the director about his work. It ends up being a decent little introduction to the director and these films.
No other features appear on any of the other discs, but BFI does include a large 96-page book featuring a collection of essays. Jan Holmberg (CEO of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation) starts things off with an overview of Bergman's pre-Summer with Monika work, which is then followed by essays focused on the indivudual films: Philip Kemp on Torment and Eva, as well as Port of Call; Geoff Andrew on Crisis; Jessica Kiang on Music in Darkness; Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on Prison; Kat Ellinger on Thirst; and Laura Hubner on To Joy. It's a wonderfully put together book featuring a number of perspectives on Bergman's work and how they'll feed into his later films.
Criterion's (region free) box set is probably the better deal in the end, yet BFI's set starts their series of releases off promisingly enough, with the bonus of featuring films not found in Criterion's set. All of the films here deliver striking presentations and are accompanied by a nicely assembled book, making it well worth picking up for admirers of Bergman's work.