Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema
Disc 20, The Magic Flute / After the Rehearsal
In honor of Ingmar Bergman’s one-hundredth birthday, the Criterion Collection is proud to present the most comprehensive collection of his films ever released on home video. One of the most revelatory voices to emerge from the postwar explosion of international art-house cinema, Bergman was a master storyteller who startled the world with his stark intensity and naked pursuit of the most profound metaphysical and spiritual questions. The struggles of faith and morality, the nature of dreams, and the agonies and ecstasies of human relationships—Bergman explored these subjects in films ranging from comedies whose lightness and complexity belie their brooding hearts to groundbreaking formal experiments and excruciatingly intimate explorations of family life.
Arranged as a film festival with opening and closing nights bookending double features and centerpieces, this selection spans six decades and thirty-nine films—including such celebrated classics as The Seventh Seal, Persona, and Fanny and Alexander alongside previously unavailable works like Dreams, The Rite, and Brink of Life. Accompanied by a 248-page book with essays on each program, as well as by more than thirty hours of supplemental features, Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema traces themes and images across Bergman’s career, blazing trails through the master’s unequaled body of work for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
Disc 20 in Criterion’s massive box set, Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, presents two more films, both with a focus on the theater and both initially made for television: The Magic Flute and After the Rehearsal. Both films are delivered on this dual-layer disc with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes and both have been sourced from 2K restorations. The Magic Flute was scanned from a 35mm interpositive and After the Rehearsal is sourced from a 35mm positive print. The former is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 while the latter is delivered in 1.66:1. Since After the Rehearsal was made for television I’m going to assume that was not the original ratio.
Criterion has released The Magic Flute on Blu-ray individually, which is where I first saw the new presentation. Compared to the old DVD edition the improvement was an absolute night-and-day comparison, the new restoration obliterating that near-20-year-old disc. From that review:
The Blu-ray does offer a significant improvement, with colours probably being the most substantial upgrade. The colours on the DVD were, of course, nothing to write home about, with them either being washed out or too red. Here they offer better saturation and are quite a bit brighter, with reds toned down to a more acceptable level. Colour filters have also been applied to a number of sequences (blue or green in most cases), which were missing from the DVD. This version of the film has a few other differences in comparison to Criterion’s old DVD: the old DVD seemed to be using an English language print, which had an English language opening title and even an English title card for the “Intermission,” both missing here.
Outside of the improved colours the image is also sharper, though still with a bit of a haze to it, and I think that comes down to source elements. Grain is visible and looks fine, no digital issues showing up. The restoration work has also cleaned up any of the damage that was still present on the DVD: all marks, scratches and mold stains have been removed.
It still has a handful of problems (primarily detail not being what it could probably be) but it still had a filmic look
After the Rehearsal, on the other hand, ends up being a disappointment, and not just in comparison to The Magic Flute, but in comparison to just about all of the other presentations found in the set, maybe even older masters like the one used for Scenes from a Marriage. I’m not sure where the core of the problems lie exactly, whether it comes down to the fact that a far later generation print has been used, or if the digital transfer/restoration is just weak, but whatever the culprit may be this looks dreadful.
The biggest surprise to be found here is just how much damage still remains, the film appearing to have received the least amount of restoration work in the set so far (just want to stress that). Though damage isn’t rampant, there are still a lot of large scratches that appear, along with tram lines and splotches. These instances are more glaring because the film will go for a few minutes without anything popping up and then suddenly these scratches will come raining through. Tram lines pop up as well, and the left edge of the pictures is faded most (not all) of the time, which is all the more apparent since the background is so dark. The picture also has a very hazy, dupey look to it most of the time, even during its sharpest moments, and some shots can get especially bad where the image can just turn into a blur, all details smudged away.
The colour scheme to the film is pretty bland, but they are rendered rather well, with Lena Olin’s red outfit looking pretty good (everything else is brown-ish or green-ish). And black levels are decent, with them looking pretty deep and dark, but details get lost, and they get washed out on the edges of the frame.
All of the problems with the source can still be saved, to an extent, if the digital presentation is up to snuff, but that’s not even the case. The image is incredibly grainy, more than likely because a theatrical print is probably what was used, so that isn’t a big surprise, but grain looks bad. It’s big and heavy, which wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but I found it didn’t look natural and could come off more like noise, and this comes down to either an issue with the encode or something that went wrong during the digital restoration. There are moments where the image can have a bit of a photographic look, but the grain just never looks right, like sharpening has been turned up just a tad, just enough to notice that something is off.
In the end it’s hard to say what the issue is ultimately. The source print has probably seen better days, but I think even a decent encode could have saved it and the encode here is not one of the better ones.
The Magic Flute (1975): 8/10 After the Rehearsal (1984): 6/10
Both films offer Swedish soundtracks, The Magic Flute in lossless PCM 2.0 stereo, and After the Rehearsal in PCM 1.0 monaural. After the Rehearsal is a straight-up chamber piece, very mellow with a lot of talking. That track is flat and low, but at the very least damage isn’t an issue.
The Magic Flute, a musical so to speak, has much bigger goals, and it presents one of the more aggressive sound presentations in the set, and it is vast improvement over the flat PCM track found on Criterion’s original DVD edition. From the review for the individual Blu-ray:
The Blu-ray’s audio provides an enormous upgrade over that DVD edition. The track sounds far more dynamic, with wider range between the highs and lows, and a better spread and improved movement between the speakers. A few scenes also offered some more sound effects that don’t appear on the DVD. Voices are cleaner, the music sounds terrific, and the track is free of distortion and noise. It’s the sound presentation a film like this really needs.
The Magic Flute (1975): 8/10 After the Rehearsal (1984): 6/10
While Criterion does actually load a number of supplements throughout the set, not every film receives any material, and most of it was ported over from Criterion’s individual releases for titles. After the Rehearsal doesn’t receive anything, but Criterion does include a few features for The Magic Flute, which they then carried over to their individual release.
First is a wonderful 29-minute television interview with Ingmar Bergman, which aired December 27th, 1974, a few days before The Magic Flute aired on television. Here Bergman talks about what attracted him to making this production (something he has wanted to stage in some way since he was younger), the process of casting, the set design, and the staging. He also talks about Mozart and the story behind the musical, and whether audiences at the time would enjoy something like this now. There is some behind-the-scenes footage mixed in here as well (looking to have been taken from a making-of also found on this disc).
Peter Cowie next shows up for a new interview. He covers some of the same backstory behind the production that Bergman went over in the previous interview, but Cowie talks a bit more about the backstory behind the original piece, changes Bergman made, and looks at how Bergman blends the stage and film together. He also explains some of Bergman’s fun little touches (like showing backstage during the intermission) and also talks about its airing and then theatrical release. It runs around 18-minutes.
The previous interviews do a decent job going over the film’s production, but Criterion expands on that by then providing the 65-minute making-of documentary Tystnad! Tagning! Trollflöjten! (translating to Silence! Cameras! The Magic Flute!), which aired on television a few days after the film was shown on television. Covering just about every significant point of the film’s production (from casting to round tables to costume tests to rehearsals and etcetera!) the film takes a step back and just watches the proceedings. Bergman is also pretty hands on with every aspect of the production, even down to the orchestra. It’s pretty interesting to watch him work as he is, at heart, directing a stage production, but then every once in a while he has to put on his film director cap, and work with director of photography Sven Nykvist in how to get the cameras involved. It ends up being a surprisingly engaging making-of.
The set’s 247-page book then features an essay on both films written by Alexander Chee. The material from this essay covering The Magic Flute was carried over to the individual release. Peter Cowie’s essay from the original DVD doesn’t make it over to here.
Something around After the Rehearsal would have been appreciated, but the material for The Magic Flute is great, and a nice upgrade over the previous barebones DVD edition.
After the Rehearsal offers one of the weakest presentations in the set and doesn’t receive any supplements. The Magic Flute offers a strong upgrade over the DVD both in terms of video and audio, while also offering a handful of strong supplements. One of the more “mixed-bag” discs in the set.