Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks
The death of Ingmar Bergman in 2007 served as a reminder to many film enthusiasts that despite his strong influence on several generations of filmmakers, there has never been an artist in the cinema quite like Bergman in his cool but vivid embrace of the inner emotional landscape and subtle but dramatic images, and the enduring strength of his finest work hasn't been dimmed by the passage of time. Since they opened for business in 1984, The Criterion Collection have released superb editions of several of Bergman's important films for home video collectors, and Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks is a box set featuring four of the director's crucial titles -- Smiles Of A Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring. All four films appear in the same editions as they were released individually by Criterion except for The Seventh Seal, which instead is represented in a bare-bones version without bonus features. (In January 2008, Criterion posted a message on their web site stating that the no-frills version of The Seventh Seal was included with the Four Masterworks set in error, and their standard edition would be included in future shipments.) All four movies have been transferred to disc in their original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33.1, and all look strong on disc, though The Seventh Seal isn't quite as sharp as the others and the elements for the films show light damage in spots. All four features are presented in their original Swedish with optional English subtitles, though The Virgin Spring also includes an alternate soundtrack subbed into English; the audio for all four films is mastered in Dolby Digital Mono. Smiles of a Summer Night also includes a conversation between writers Peter Cowie and Jorn Donner (the latter also a friend and colleague of Bergman) as they talk about the film and its importance in the filmmaker's body of work, as well as an introduction to the film Bergman shot for a Swedish television broadcast and the picture's original trailer. Essays by Pauline Kael and John Simon are reprinted in the accompanying booklet. Cowie also appears in the bonus materials for Wild Strawberries, providing an alternate commentary track for the picture and penning an essay included in the booklet; the disc also features a gallery of production stills, and Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work, a 90-minute television interview with Bergman (conducted by Jorn Donner) which touches on both his professional and personal lives. The Virgin Spring includes audio excerpts from an talk Bergman gave to students at the American Film Institute in 1975 that deals with both the art and the practicalities of filmmaking; also featured on the disc are new interviews with cast members Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson, an introduction from filmmaker Ang Lee, and a dry but informative commentary track from film historian Birgitta Steene. The booklet features an essay from Cowie, notes from screenwriter Ulla Isaksson, a letter Bergman wrote to American censors protesting the trimming of the film's rape scene for United States release, and a translation of the Medieval ballad that was the basis of the story. Despite the presence of The Seventh Seal in a less-than-definitive edition, these are four brilliant works from one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th Century, and anyone with a serious interest in the cinema should see them; if you're a cineaste who wants to own these movies, this is a fine and convenient way to fill out your Bergman collection (and all four pictures are also available individually).