Written by: John White on April 16th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Sweden, 1958
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max Von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Erland Josephson, Naima Wifstrand
DVD released: September 24, 2001
Approximate running time: 100 mins
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Tartan Video
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99
A travelling troupe calling itself the Vogler Magnetic Theatre is arrested and taken to the house of Consul Egerman. Once there, Vogler is subject to a humiliating examination from the scientific Dr Vergerius and sneering from the police commissioner. The troupe is requested to perform for their interregators and becomes subject to the fears and hopes of the Egerman household. When performing, the troupe is further humiliated and Vogler plots his revenge beginning with indiscretion from the Commissioner’s wife and an elaborate trick on Vergerius. When Vogler reveals himself the household does not appreciate his showmanship and defeat for his troupe seems inevitable until he is asked to perform the King.
Before the Faith Trilogy, Bergman’s trademark films were theatrical pieces with a large cast and poetic cinematography from Gunnar Fischer. Films like the Seventh Seal are heightened as examples of film drama with striking images and have their roots in Bergman’s background as a director in theatre. The Magician aka The Face comes from this period.
The Magician is a tale about superstition, faith, the artist as showman or creator, and the audience. The Troupe led by Von Sydow is a motley crew of a charlatan, a magical old woman, the believing Thulin and the faithless Von Sydow. The troupe is tired of their audience and sick of the demands their viewers placed on them, for Vogler this has driven him to the artifice of showmanship and tricks, and for Thulin she longs for when they were real magicians. Tubal the charlatan is looking to get out and Granny has visions which come true.
When the Troupe is examined by the Commissioner, the awful Vergerius, and the empty Egerman, they are subjected to having their “magic” exposed and being forcibly examined. Vergerius will not be satisfied until he has dissected Vogler and had Thulin. Vergerius is apparrently based on a real critic of Bergman’s who was married to Thulin at the time of this film. If so his representation here is savage and when Vogler fakes his death to give Vergerius a body, the dark revenge is richly deserved. But even this revenge is mere showmanship and Vogler vainly pleads to be paid for the show he has given his frightened uncomprehending audience. It is interesting that the critic’s scalpel can only fall on a dead drunken actor who longs to be picked clean, unlike the living private Bergman.
Unlike later Bergman, there is a degree of hope for belief in this film. Thulin still believes in what the troupe used to do and the purely scientific Vergerius is forced to accept that he can believe the “inexplicable” even if he can rationalise it away. Above all, the seemigly inevitable disintegration of the troupe is forestalled when the troupe is required to perform for the King. Bergman often gives his characters an escape or at least a moment of hope in these early films.
The Magician mixes dark humour, elements of horror and great theatrical flair. It is a fine film which places Bergman’s two best male leads, Bjornstrand and Von Sydow, in opposition and lets the audience enjoy the riches which come from their confrontation. Mightily recommended.
Tartan video have quite a poor repuation for their DVD releases borne out of very poor transfers for their first entries in their AsianExtreme strand. With regard to Bergman though they have done very well and The Magician is no exception. The print here has very occasional damage and occasional pops on the soundtrack , but overall this is an excellent sharp transfer with fine sound. The contrast levels are superb and the power of shadows in the film is amply represented. The 4:3 transfer is in keeping with the original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The English subtitles are excellent.
The disc comes with Bergman’s thoughts on the film and film notes, along with a brief Tartan showreel of their other Bergman films.
For some reason this is the only DVD release available of this film I can find so it’s safe to say this is the way to go to own this fine work.