Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

HOME THEATER | A SECOND LOOK

Out soon: Bergman begins

A five-disc set of little-seen films from the great director's early career starts a new line from the Criterion Collection.

March 25, 2007|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

SEMINAL Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman had been making movies for more than a decade before he was introduced to American audiences with his 1956 masterwork, "The Seventh Seal." But until now, his early, influential works have rarely had exposure in the United States.

The five-disc set "Early Bergman," set for release Tuesday, is the first offering from Eclipse, a new DVD line of the Criterion Collection, the digital arm of the foreign and art house distribution company Janus Films. Janus first brought Bergman to our shores in the latter part of the 1950s.

Though none of the films in "Early Bergman" would rank as a masterpiece, they are assuredly directed, well acted and provocative and foreshadow the psychological themes -- including morality, faith and loneliness -- of his later classics such as "Wild Strawberries," "The Virgin Spring," "Through a Glass Darkly," "Face to Face" and "Fanny and Alexander."

Each month, Eclipse will present three to five films focusing on a particular director or theme -- scheduled for next month are the documentaries of Louis Malle.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 29 words Type of Material: Correction
Bergman actor: The "Second Look" column in Sunday's Calendar section about the early films of director Ingmar Bergman misspelled the last name of Swedish actor-director Victor Sjostrom as Sjstrom.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Bergman actor: The "Second Look" column in the March 25 Calendar section about the early films of director Ingmar Bergman misspelled the last name of Swedish actor-director Victor Sjostrom as Sjstrom.

"The idea for Eclipse emerged from the sense that we had that there were a lot of films you didn't get to see if you didn't really have a good cinematheque in your town," says Peter Becker, president of Criterion. "In the common marketplace ... you were only likely to see those classics that had been in the fixed canon."

Those are just the type of classics Criterion has been releasing on DVD.

"We were starting to get aware, after nine years into the DVD marketplace, there were a lot of great films that weren't getting seen because they didn't have that reputation, they weren't as well known, but that were in different ways really important and in some cases equally great," Becker said.

At a time when Hollywood films were firmly under the vise of the Production Code, the films emerging from Sweden were decades ahead in terms of content. Bergman frankly tackles mature and taboo Hollywood subjects such as suicide and abortion.

Bergman's first screenplay to be made into a film was 1944's "Torment," directed by Alf Sjoberg. The dark story is set in a claustrophobic boys' boarding school -- modeled on the one Bergman attended -- where seniors, especially a young man named Widgren, are terrorized by a sadistic Latin teacher. Widgren's life takes a turn for the worse when he begins to have an affair with a young woman who unbeknown to him is embroiled in a sadomasochistic relationship with the Latin teacher.

Two years later, he made his directorial debut with the melodrama "Crisis," based on Leck Fischer's 1944 play "The Maternal Heart." The plot line is pretty pokey -- the 18-year-old foster daughter of a dying piano teacher decides to leave small-town life and move to the big city when the decadent mother who abandoned her as a baby returns for her.

In his autobiographical "Images: My Life in Film," Bergman even admits that Fischer's play was "grandiose drivel." Still, it's compelling fare and features a scene-stealing performance by Stig Olin, who would become an early member of the Bergman repertory company, as the troubled lover of the mother who seduces the daughter. (Olin is the father of actress Lena Olin.)

"Port of Call," from 1948, revolves around a sensitive young woman put into a reform school by her brutal mother, who falls in love with a young sailor now working on the docks.

Nine-Christine Jonsson is heartbreaking as the troubled young Berit, who seeks solace from her hideous existence through promiscuous behavior with men. Bengt Eklund plays the sailor-turned-stevedore who falls for Berit.

"Thirst," from 1949, is an arresting psychological drama -- sort of a precursor of "Scenes From a Marriage." Told in the present and in flashback, the movie revolves around a marital squabble on a train between a man and his former ballet dancer wife.

Stig Olin headlines 1950's "To Joy" as an orchestra violinist whose unsuccessful attempts to become a successful solo artist puts a strain on his marriage to the patient, loving Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson). Bergman described the film as an "impossible melodrama" in which Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is "shamelessly exploited. I do understand the techniques used in both melodrama and soap opera quite well."

Swedish director Victor Sjstrom, who would later star in "Wild Strawberries," plays the warmly wise orchestra conductor.

susan.king@latimes.com

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|