Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

DVD/Blu-ray: The ‘Summer’s of Ingmar Bergman

Summer Interlude (Criterion) and Summer With Monika (Criterion), the tenth and twelfth films (respectively) directed by Ingmar Bergman, make a fine match set showing off the two sides of Bergman developing in his early years as a filmmaker.

Summer Interlude (1951), the story of a summer romance between a sunny, confident young ballet student (Maj-Britt Nilsson) and a shy scholar (Birger Malmsten) on the lush vacation islands of the Stockholm archipelago, is a memory film. The older ballerina, now emotionally cocooned in regret and loss, is sent back to those free and easy days when she  receives a handwritten diary, and she revisits the island, now a cold, foggy corpse of its summer lushness, to come to terms with her past.

Lovingly shot by Gunnar Fischer, Bergman’s first great cinematographer collaborator, the film is steeped in metaphor: a philosophical rumination on love and loss staged as a story, with characters more like archetypes in a theatre piece. Summer is the charge of youth in the idealism of eternal vacation and the innocence of young love in all its dimensions.

Summer with Monika (1953), starring Bergman’s first acknowledged muse Harriet Andersson as the impulsive, anxious, immature young Monika, is more about the complications, the rough edges, the unseen complications in a young couple after the bloom of sexual charge gives way to living in the real world.

Here, summer is less a metaphor and more of the literal time of year that allows these working teenagers to flee the city and live on the islands of the archipelago without a care. For Monika, it is an escape from the reality of the city – her family, her job, the dull life of a working class girl – and only the reality of supplies and food and the onset of autumn’s cold weather drives her back from this ambivalent self-made Eden and back to the material world of Stockholm.

Both are miniatures, studies in character and idea, small in scope and ambition, full of lovely moments and delicate performances. Bergman is finding his themes and learning to express himself and they both feature with moments of grace They don’t have the depth or the breadth or the richness of his great films, but his growth as a filmmaker is apparent in these jump between these two films. Where “Interude” is lovely but sophisticated sketch for films to come, “Monika” brings the real world into Bergman’s world and the tensions create a more powerful and resonant film.

Both debut on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion. Summer Interlude features no supplements beyond a booklet with an essay by Peter Cowie. Summer with Monika features an introduction by Ingmar Bergman (recorded in 2003), a new video interview with actress Harriet Andersson conducted by Peter Cowie, half-hour documentary Images from the Playground by Stig Björkman (featuring behind-the-scenes footage shot by Bergman), and an interview with film scholar Eric Schaefer discussing the original American release of Summer with Monika as an exploitation film, cut down and dubbed by Kroger Babb and released as Monika: Story of a Bad Girl.

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors

Streams and Channels: Free Criterion Movies on Hulu

Hulu, the streaming movies and TV service, has an exclusive deal for the Criterion catalogue, a collection that also features a number of titles that Criterion has yet to release on DVD.

This week, for a limited time, Hulu is making a small selection of “Midnight Movies,” cult films, and rarities available to stream for free, with limited commercial interruption.

There are ten titles in all, including the influential Japanese horror classic Jigoku (1960) from Nobuo Nakagawa, George Franju’s lyrical, haunting, and poetically horrifying Eyes Without a Face (1960) from France, the American indie horror classic Carnival of Souls (1962) (as of this writing, the link on the Criterion front page goes to the 1998 remake, which is to be avoided, but you can search for the 1962 version easy enough), and the utterly gonzo Japanese haunted house/high school romp/demon killer/surreal fantasy film House (1977), which has to be seen to be believed.

These are all very cool and well worth the time, but the more exciting opportunity in this offer has to do with a collection of titles not currently available on DVD or Blu-ray in the U.S., Criterion or otherwise. These include the quiet, insidious thriller Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) from Britain (previously available on Home Vision DVD, long out of print), the fabulous female coming of age psycho-drama fantasy Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) from Jaromil Jires (released on DVD by Facets, now hard to find), and a pair of Japanese films I’ve not had the pleasure to see yet: Kateo Shindo’s The Naked Island (1960) and Kon Ichikawa’s Princess From the Moon (1987).

That’s only eight, I know. I saved the final two titles for last because they are neither genre films nor “Midnight Movies” in the conventional sense. They are simply classics by any measure.

A Man Escaped (1956), Robert Bresson’s adaptation of Andre Devigny’s memoir, transforms the French Resistance fighter’s capture, imprisonment, and escape from the Gestapo during the German occupation in acetic film of documentary detail. Less acted than “modeled” with impassive restraint, accompanied by an uninflected narration and built up with an obsessive attention to minute details (Bresson shot on location at the actual prison in Lyon), this resolutely Bressonian film is also a gripping thriller, albeit a severe, controlled one. He denies us everything outside of his perspective and elements extraneous to his purpose. In such austerity the tiniest of details take on a monumental significance. This has been on DVD before, from New Yorker, but it’s been out of print for a long time.

And seeing it as part of the Criterion library on Hulu does give me hope of a future Criterion Blu-ray and DVD release.

Continue reading at Videodrone

Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

Modern Times, Night of the Hunter and The Elia Kazan Collection – DVDs of the Week

An embarrassment of riches and due to combination of late arrivals, a weekend without movies, a pesky head cold and a time-consuming website upgrade, I had less time with them than I would have liked and and my coverage is late. Thus, a major box from a seminal American director (released November 9) and two previously available essentials getting the Criterion treatment on DVD and debuting on Blu-ray (released on November 16). Submitted for your approval.

The Elia Kazan Collection (Fox)

To call this exhaustive box set a labor of love from Martin Scorsese risks understating its importance to Scorsese. The filmmaker cineaste and film preservation activist is overflowing with labors of love. And while in some ways this is a celebration of one director’s tremendous legacy in the American cinema, it’s also a gift from a child of the fifties to a man he identifies as a father figure solely because of his cinema.

Elia Kazan

Along with the fifteen films in the set, Scorsese contributes a personal tribute to the director with a new documentary. The hour-long A Letter to Elia, written and directed by Scorsese and Kent Jones and narrated by Scorsese, is not a conventional survey of the director and his work or a simple tribute from another admiring director. This is a first-person reflection on the films and the creator, a mix of history, biography and aesthetic appreciation informed by the personal connection that one can have with films. Scorsese explores the powerful connection he made with Kazan’s art and vision, especially On the Waterfront, which Scorsese remarks was set in the urban New York world he lived in, and East of Eden, two formative films in Scorsese’s coming-of-age as an artist and a person: “It spoke to me in a way that no one else I knew in my life seemed to be able to,” he says of Eden. “The more I saw the picture, the more I became aware of the presence of an artist behind the picture.”

Read More “Modern Times, Night of the Hunter and The Elia Kazan Collection – DVDs of the Week”