Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema
Disc 21, The Touch / The Serpent's Egg
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.
The 21st dual-layer disc in Criterion’s giant box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema presents the director’s two English-language films, 1971’s The Touch and 1977’s The Serpent’s Egg. The film’s are respectively presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1 and 1.66:1, both with 1080p/24hz high-definition encodes sourced from 2K restorations. The Touch’s restoration was scanned from a 35mm interpositive, The Serpent’s Egg from a 35mm duplicate negative.
Both presentations end up looking good, though I suspect the two being forced to share the same disc, limiting the amount of space for each film, has led to compression issues. I haven’t seen BFI’s disc for The Touch but comparing The Serpent’s Egg here to Arrow’s own release the problems around compression come front and center.
In general, the image for The Serpent's Egg has a strong level of detail, the image remaining sharp and stable. The restoration has cleaned up just about everything, a few minor marks and that remaining. A sequence about 38-minutes in takes on a dupier look, as though the image has been zoomed in on, but this was also present in Arrow’s presentation. The film’s colour scheme is very limited, the picture looking dreary and dark by design, but saturation is still excellent. Black levels are good, though the shadows can be a bit muddy, more than likely inherent to the photography.
There is some minor macroblocking in some of the darker areas of a handful of shots, but this also popped up to a degree in Arrow’s, so it could be in the master. Still, where the two differ (outside of the Arrow being a slight bit greener in its colours) is that Criterion’s grain is not as cleanly rendered here as it is in the Arrow’s. It looks decent enough here, but it does have a certain sharpened look to it, coming off a bit blockier. Arrow’s looks finer and cleaner, which seems to lead to their presentation being better in rendering some finer details.
Criterion’s presentation is still decent, though, it’s just that in a side-by-side Arrow’s is a little bit better.
The Touch is a brighter film, though still limited in its colours (it has more of an autumn-like palette). Because of its brighter nature it ends up offering more details, even in its darker shots, and the restoration work looks to have also been thorough. But, like The Serpent’s Egg, grain could be a bit cleaner, it coming off a little noisy in spots.
Both films come with lossless PCM 1.0 monaural soundtracks. Neither is all that dynamic, but they’re both clean and sharp, dialogue showing excellent fidelity. The Serpent’s Egg features some jazzy music numbers, both during cabaret shows in the film or as overlays, and the music does feature some surprising range. Damage is not an issue for either film.
The Touch (1971): 6/10 The Serpent's Egg (1977): 7/10
Rather disappointingly Criterion doesn’t pack a lot on here, each film only receiving one feature. The bigger surprise is that Criterion only ports one feature from the old MGM DVD for The Serpent’s Egg, and that’s the 16-minute featurette Away From Home, featuring interviews with actors David Carradine and Liv Ullmann, and author Marc Gervais. It’s a standard studio produced making-of featurette, summarizing the film’s production and release. Gervais talks a little about the influence of German Expressionism on the film and Ullmann recalls watching the film with Bergman recently and how the director has turned around on it since its production; he had disliked it initially. Again, it’s nothing mind-blowing or revelatory but it does offer a so-so overview of the film’s production and initial reception.
Missing here is the 5-minute featurette with Gervais talking about how he came around to reassessing the film, along with an audio commentary featuring Carradine. I won’t say either is really missed; the Gervais interview isn’t especially in-depth and Carradine’s commentary is a disappointment. Still, I can’t think of why Criterion wouldn’t include them outside of maybe some contractual deal with Arrow, who released an individual edition of the film, to allow Criterion to include the film in their set.
At any rate, The Touch at least comes with a significantly better supplement itself, the 55-minute documentary Ingmar Bergman, filmed by Stig Björkman during the making of The Touch. Though it features some behind-the-scenes footage and gathers interviews with others on set, like Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, and Elliott Gould, the centerpiece is an interview with Bergman himself that is edited in throughout. Here the filmmaker talks a bit about his process (intercut with footage of the director planning his current film), including collaborating with others, and what are the most important moments. It’s an interesting interview, though there’s a moment where he refers to Dreyer as an “amateur” in response to how the director was too serious, Bergman liking to keep things fun while making a film, and I’m admittedly not completely sure where he was going with that.
The 247-page booklet that comes with the set includes an essay on both films written by Karan Mahajan, who covers the production backgrounds of each film before getting into a defense for both (more so for The Touch), amusingly likening the convoluted plot of The Serpent's Egg to a Bond film.
Though the Bergman documentary is a good inclusion (and it can be found on the BFI edition for The Touch as well), it’s disappointing Criterion didn’t feel the need to explore Bergman’s two English-language films more, especially The Serpent’s Egg.
The presentations suffer from some mild compression but are otherwise fine, but the lack of features around Bergman’s two English-language films is beyond disappointing