With its elaborate, occasionally expressionistic sets and its feel of a scrupulously re-enacted nightmare, The Magician is reminiscent at times of Poe or even The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. However, the "below stairs" characters--including Ake Fridell's ebullient Master of Ceremonies and a host of giggling wenches--add comic energy to what is otherwise a startling and sombre reflection of the nature of art and life. It would prove a turning point in Bergman's career as he moved away from his early, "romantic" period.
On the DVD: Presented in the original academy ratio, the mix of soft light and harsh shade for which credit should go to photographer Gunnar Fischer, is well-restored here. In notes from his memoirs included here, Bergman relates how his adventures and privations as part of a theatre company in Malmo provided inspiration for The Magician, while critic Ronald Bergman's notes talk of "the ability of the artist to find truth in both fact and fantasy". --David Stubbs
'The Magician' doesn't have many slapstick gags or zany one liners, and it retains the doom-laden, oppressive atmosphere of 'The Seventh Seal', so don't come to 'The Magician' if you are in the mood for Chevy Chase. If you are exploring Bergman's work, though, this should be a priority buy, ahead of the minor works of the 40s which Tartan are now releasing, as it is a fascinating and important film. As ever, Max von Sydow is majestic.
I would have preferred to see this released as 'The Face', which is the actual translation of the Swedish title and the proper UK title, rather than the American title Tartan have gone with. This is a minor gripe though and the print of the film is excellent. All in all, highly recommended.
But here we have a quite different tale indeed, which quite brilliantly puts both 'superstitious' belief and Enlightenment 'reason' to the test, only to find both are basically a performance - the alpha strut of human mastery over a universe than cannot be known or accounted for by any system, whether made up of old-world 'mumbo jumbo' or the 'objectivity' of science.
The film is probably in part less popular than Bergman's other works of this period because its main characters are rather cold and uninviting. The closest here to Bergman's 1950s life-affirming figure is (again) Bibi Andersson's character, but compared to earlier films she is mainly a playful side-performer in the main game. The spotlight is on more grim figures that don't have the time for her frivolities: Max von Sydow is the magician, and his enigmatic assistant/lover is played by Ingrid Thulin. Together they move like paranoid mannequins or ghosts from another age, acting like they are always under risk of oppression. Gunnar Bjornstrand plays the cold voice of Enlightenment reason with excrutiatingly cold visciousness.
The relative sympathy offered to the superstition-peddling duo compared to our secular hero by the film may initially suggest Bergman is clearly rooting for one team. Yet as always, he plays out all the options with devastating severity, offering a complex take on the various conceptual world-views. The reason for the apparent bias, I would argue, is that it assits Bergman to more effectively hilight the devastatingly basic similarity between what we would consider a 'mythically' oriented belief system and a much more 'truth'-related one. By putting our own paradigm so harshly under critical examination, and then its mirror-style comparison with the clearly anachronistic investments of magic, Bergman starts off with a just slightly evened ledger so as to more powerfully challenge the assumptions a modern viewer will usually bring to the film, allowing their initial dismissal of the magician to impact upon a reflexive critique of our modern reason.
Belief - in both its only apparently opposite guises - turns out to be a thin veil behind which lies scared, small humans looking for answers and sureties in a universe which will always deny them. The magician may turn out to be a charlatan, and the interogator may turn out to be a scardy-cat when confronted with the slightest experience that cannot be accounted for by his religion of science.
Hence lies the beauty of the work, one of the finest black comedies ever made, in which so much about humanity's obsession with explanations and fear of openness is beautifully rendered. And the DVD is on its way soon.
This product's forum
Active discussions in related forums
Search Customer Discussions