The Magician (Criterion Collection) – DVD Review

We are in a golden age of a lot of things, but with cinema we’re experiencing one right now. It’s certainly not in product being produced, but with special effects technology: what you can do now is certainly much more profound than what’s been able to have been accomplished in the past. Now we are in a golden age of DVD releases; everything that gets into theatres gets into stores, films that go direct to DVD sometimes can have an impressively high quality and classics from the past are now being released en masse for a whole new audience. Once destined for revival showings, and the odd copy on VHS or (very rarely) on DVD nearly impossible to find except for the most ardent searcher, first rate transfers are now available on DVD of classics from half a century ago nearly every month. Case in point: Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician.

Partially inspired by the play “Magic”, which Bergman staged in Swedish at one point, was one of the eleven collaborations between Bergman and Max Von Sydow. The third film with the combination, coming after The Seventh Seal which established the two in international circles and the lesser known (but better film) Wild Strawberries, the duo continued their mentor/student relationship with The Magician.

Jon Finch is a magician coming into another town when those in charge ask for a preview demonstration beforehand. Trying to expose them as charlatans, Vogler has a handful of tricks at his disposal to try and prove them otherwise. With a cast of characters aiding him, Vogler has to survive amongst a group of skeptics to his “magic” powers as he tries to further his career. All isn’t what it seems to be, though, as Vogler’s night of survival proves to be more complicated than he had thought.

It may have been early in both of their cinematic careers but Von Sydow and Bergman have an inherent chemistry as actor/director (respectively) that comes through immediately. Bergman has an ability to frame his shot around Von Sydow and get exactly what the role needs for the film to succeed. Most of the film Von Sydow spends as a mute and it takes a certain level of actor and director to be able to make it succeed. There’s a level of intensity that Von Sydow brings to the film without words that makes up for any dialogue he could’ve had throughout the film; it takes a great director to be able to harness this and Bergman showed then that the first two films in their collaborations weren’t a fluke. No one could get that level of performance, and showcase it, like he could.

A mix of mystery and musings on the nature of reality amid a battle of wits, The Magician is a classic that’s finally been properly released for the world to see.

Presented in black and white in a full screen presentation, with a monaural audio presentation, this has been cleaned up from its prior incarnations by Criterion like many of Bergman’s other classics. This is a remarkably better presentation than before, cleaned up significantly and removed of any grain that many films of this era have.

There’s a 33 page Booklet that covers the film in quite a lot of detail, with an analysis from Geoff Andrew providing and in depth and interesting look at the film.

Bergman scholar Peter Cowie provides an Essay on the film.

An Interview from 1967 with the director is included as well as an Audio Interview from 1990 in English with Bergman.

Before this month it would’ve taken considerable time and effort to track this film down in a quality level that wasn’t embarrassing. Thankfully Criterion has the resources to give this film the release it deserves.

Criterion presents The Magician . Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Max Von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Naima Wifstrand. Running time: 97 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD and Blu-ray: October 12, 2010.

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