Disc 16 of Criterion’s large box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema presents the filmmaker’s most well-known film The Seventh Seal in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. Though the disc otherwise replicates Criterion’s original 2009 Blu-ray edition in structure (more on this in the supplements), this edition differs in a couple of ways: the menu image is different to match the design of the rest of the set, and (far more significantly) Criterion uses a newer 4K restoration performed by Svensk Filmindustri in 2018 instead of the 2K one they used for their previous edition. The restoration was sourced from the 35mm original camera negative. This is actually the only master sourced from a 4K restoration in the set, the rest all sourced from 2K or high-definition ones.
Somewhat fascinatingly this ends up being a good example of what a newer 4K restoration can do in comparison to a 2K one, and can also show just how much the high-definition format has come over the last 10 years. There is really nothing inherently wrong with the older restoration and master; revisiting it I think it has held up rather well after all this time, though some dated aspects show through in the present (and though I gave it a 9/10 at the time it’s likely that score would be lower now). The most noticeable improvement right off is grain management. It can look a bit noisy in the older presentation, maybe even sharpened a bit, while it’s better managed and cleaner here. This ends up leading to better rendering of fine-object detail so that chainmail, or even the textures on the fabrics of the costumes, come out far clearer and natural. The image is unbelievable sharp throughout, though a few scenes and transitions look softer, but this holds true to the older presentation as well
The image on the old edition is also notably darker, if by a little, and there are details here that are missing in that old presentation, which are most obvious in the cliffside in the opening. This presentation has also been cleaned up a bit more, almost to the point that there is no damage at all; there are still a few fine tram lines that pop up here and there, and there can be slight fading on the edges of the picture at times (and a stray hair here and there as well).
I still don’t feel there is anything significantly wrong with Criterion’s old Blu-ray edition for the film, but the improvements here are noticeable and surprising, and the image is stronger and more film-like in the end. In no way would I say it’s worthwhile picking up this set just to get the new restoration, but it is a nice little bonus no less. 9/10
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.
Criterion ports all on-disc content over from their previous Blu-ray edition, though are, for the most part, replicating the structure of the old disc. While this disc does present a different menu image and also uses the newer restoration, everything else is exactly the same, right down to the text for the features, which probably should be updated (the text for the included documentary Bergman Island states this is the first time it has been available on home video, though this is clearly no longer the case 10 years later). The disc also doesn’t allow you to pick up where you left off if you stop watching the film, unless you bookmark it specifically on the timeline, and this was a feature added to Criterion’s Blu-rays well after the release of their previous Blu-ray edition of the film. On that note, I should mention the bookmarks I had set for the previous Blu-ray edition also showed up here, though because the title cards that open differ in time the bookmarks were a few seconds off.
Yet again Criterion starts things of with Bergman scholar Peter Cowie’s audio commentary, which was originally recorded in 1987 for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition and has been carried through each of their incarnations. I’ve always liked this track, and usually like Cowie’s tracks in general, and if I recall correctly it’s one of the first commentary tracks I listened to. In it he offers a great analysis of the film, which did help in my understanding and appreciation of the film when I was exposed to it originally at a younger age. He also talks quite a bit about Bergman’s career as a whole, talks about various cast members, and even gets into the production details. It’s a very thorough track and comes dangerously close to being dry, but Cowie manages to keep it interesting and entertaining. If you have yet to listen to it it is definitely worthwhile, especially if you’re coming to Bergman and/or the film for the first time.
Following this is a 2003 introduction to the film by Ingmar Bergman, which was recorded while Marie Nyreröd made her three part television documentary about Bergman (which was then released theatrically as Bergman Island, a feature found on this Blu-ray). Introductions for some of his other films were also recorded and used for airings of his films on Swedish television (and these can be found throughout this box set). It’s a brief 3-minute piece where Bergman talks about the film, where the idea for it came from, and how it does rank as one of his favourites. A nice short piece, and it’s a treat seeing the director talk about his work.
A rather nice addition, though not in its complete form, is the 83-minute documentary Bergman Island, which Criterion also released on its own on DVD back in 2009 (and it was also found on the 2009 DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film). This film first appeared as a three-part series on Swedish television running about 3 hours, each part concentrating on certain aspects of his career and life, the first part focusing on his films, the second part on his theatre work, and the third on his life on Fårö Island. There was interest in distributing it as a film theatrically, but distributors were more interested in only the segments looking at his film work and his life on the island, so Nyreröd edited the film together into this 83-minute version. While both her and Bergman apparently approved of it there does feel to be a lot more and really 83-minutes isn’t enough to cover the man’s life and work. It’s especially disappointing since Bergman preferred his theatre work and considered it most important and this film version really only touches briefly on that part of his life.
Getting past that I still rather enjoyed this documentary. In it director Marie Nyreröd stayed with Bergman at his home on Fårö island over a period of a few weeks and got a collection of candid, personal interviews with the reclusive director. They talk quite a bit about his home, which he seems obviously very proud of, and they of course get into detail about his film career, and touch somewhat on his theatre career. He’s very open, talking a lot about his childhood and his parents (who were both rather strict) and how he got into filmmaking. He talks about his deep regrets including one that was a major influence on Scenes from a Marriage and gets into the many loves he had in his life. He clears up some things he had said previously about some of his films, such as a comment about how Cries & Whispers was about his mother, which he now says was a lie and something he said just to say something. He gets into his fears, which played a big influence in his work, the story around his “tax problems”, and even talks about his hope of once again seeing his last wife, Ingrid, in what may be one of the more touching moments in the film. There are plenty of charming moments in it (like a story about how he got his first Cinematograph) and funny moments, and at 83-minutes it goes by very fast.
Following that is an afterword by Cowie, which is supposed to be a video follow up to his original commentary, now over 30-years old. It’s 10 and a half minutes and Cowie adds in some things he learned after recording that original track like the fact that 95% of the film was actually shot on set, only a small portion of it being shot on location. He also touches more on Bergman’s reputation in Sweden, seeming to suggest most of the audience there couldn’t relate to his films, and that his death made them realize what a treasure they had there after the worldwide attention. The commentary track is excellent so there was obviously no need to record a new one, so this little addendum makes up for the large gap between now and the original recording.
The Max von Sydow audio interview is a 20-minute audio presentation featuring excerpts from an interview Cowie did with von Sydow back in 1988. It’s an excellent interview with the actor, who gets into his childhood and how he eventually got into theatre, film, and then working with Bergman. He attributes his success to The Seventh Seal and admits he’s not fond of his acting in his “older” films, pointing out what he considers wrong with his early performances. Nice feature and those who admire the actor and his work will definitely want to listen to it.
A rather cool little feature, if short, is Woody Allen on Bergman, taken from a Turner Classic Movie segment. It runs a little over 7-minutes and features Allen talking about his admiration for the director, how Bergman’s films influenced his own, and how every release of one of his films was a huge event to him. He also states that The Seventh Seal is his favourite of all of Bergman’s films. It’s no surprise to most that Bergman was a huge influence on Allen, and I have to acknowledge that it was Allen’s work that lead me to Bergman’s films, thanks to the many references he would put into films like Love and Death and my desire to understand them better. I don’t recall ever hearing Allen talk all that much about the films that have impacted him so this is a great little find on Criterion’s part.
Bergman 101 is an updated version of the Bergman Filmography visual essay that appeared on Criterion’s original 1998 DVD for The Seventh Seal. The feature was a quick crash course on Bergman’s career, going through a good chunk of his work and looking into his style and techniques. This was a text feature made by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie in 1987 for the original laserdisc release of that film, with photos and a couple of film clips mixed in, and on the original DVD one navigated through using their remote. It was updated to a video presentation for the previous 2009 Blu-ray and DVD editions (as well as the separate DVD edition for Bergman Island) with voice narration by Peter Cowie. In essence it’s the same as it was on the 1998 DVD, Cowie repeating a lot of his notes that appeared in that original presentation. But he does expand a lot, talking further about Bergman’s childhood, and getting into more detail about certain films and techniques (like Bergman’s use of mirrors). There are also more photos and more clips from his films. The original “visual essay” presented clips from Wild Strawberries and The Magician, with a commentary by Cowie. Those clips appear again, though slightly different (and in much better shape, looking as though they come from newer restorations, as off 2009 anyways) but this update also features includes clips from Summer Interlude, The Silence, Scenes From a Marriage, and Fanny and Alexander. The essay also includes films released after 1987, all the way up to Saraband, and then makes mention of his death. Running 35-minutes it’s an excellent expansion on the previous feature, which I considered a great introduction to the director. Most certainly worth viewing.
The disc then conclude with the film’s theatrical trailer.
The set also comes with a 247-page book featuring several essays around Bergman and his films. For The Seventh Seal the book features the same essay Gary Giddens wrote for the 2009 DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film. The essay by Peter Cowie found in the original DVD edition is still missing.
All-in-all it’s still a wonderful collection of features that probably offers the best introduction to the director while also providing an excellent scholarly analysis of Bergman’s seminal film. 10/10