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4.4 out of 5 stars
The Magician [DVD]
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on 29 June 2005
This is an important work in Bergman's filmography, a historically set, metaphorical, theatrical statement before he moved on to the more intimate chamber-films of the 1960s. It would be foolish to make definite statements concerning this film, because it remains mysterious and elusive even after repeated viewing, but central themes would certainly include IB's own personal feelings on being an artist (and an 'outsider'), and fears of being 'exposed' in some way as a charlatan.
'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.
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on 20 May 2015
Unusual and interesting little film
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 November 2015
This is a comedy, but it isn't difficult to see that it could have been a much more light-hearted movie than it turns out to be. What makes it dark is the brooding presence of Vogler, the magician (Max von Sydow), who seems unusually threatened by the awareness that his audiences are becoming less responsive to the tricks of his trade -- seeing them, in effect, as trickery rather than magic -- and who will face an antagonist in the rational royal medical man Dr. Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand) who seems to want it understood that Vogler's magic is mere trickery and who is willing to hold him up to public humiliation if necessary. In this Criterion issue, the critic Peter Cowie -- and Bergman himself, in an extract from his autobiography included in the accompanying booklet -- make it clear that Vogler's anxieties reflected Bergman's own in the 1950s, when he felt that his efforts as a theater director in Malmo (1952-59) were not appreciated. The larger issue, surely, however, is Bergman's consciousness that ANY art, looked at in a certain way, can be seen to be just a matter of trickery or technique. Even poetry, with a cold eye cast upon it, can be dismissed as, or reduced (in an unsympathetic critical view) to mere rhetoric. But if one takes the effect of art -- to awaken a sense of wonder, let's say -- rather than its means as what's important, then one can see how destructive a "rationally" reductive analysis can be, for it suggests to the audience that it's all "just a trick." Vogler IS a faker, but he knows that his fakery has a value, so Vergerus's challenge is a matter of great importance to him, for reasons that go beyond ego-satisfaction or the making of a living.

I see Vogler as a true believer in wonder, and most of the other characters in the film are at least open to it, except for Vergerus, and he has to be taught that illusions have power. The lesson is duly given -- I won't give away the details of how this is managed -- but by the end there's still a question of whether or not the lesson has "taken" . . . But at least (I don't think it's going too far to say) Vogler is still in business at the end.

It's an enjoyable movie, but maybe a little too obviously schematic and allegorical. For all that, it's effectively filmed, in good-looking, and appropriate black-and-white, with appropriately creepy effects. Von Sydow and Bjornstrand are just fine as the central figures, but Naimi Wifstrand as Vogler's grandmother almost steals the show, and Bengt Ekerot (as the dying actor Spegel) and the lovely Bibi Andersson make impressions too. It's hard to take Vogler as seriously as he takes himself with all the other shenanigans going on, and that, as much as anything, contributes to the sense that the movie is, after all, a comedy.
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At present this 1955 Black and White Classic is only available on BLU RAY in the States.
But therein lies a problem for UK and European buyers…

The US issue is REGION-A LOCKED - so it WILL NOT PLAY on most UK Blu Ray players unless they're chipped to play 'all' regions (which the vast majority aren't).
Don’t confuse BLU RAY players that have multi-region capability on the 'DVD' front – that won’t help.

Until such time as someone else gives “The Magician” a REGION B and C release – check your BLU RAY player has the capacity to play REGION A – before you fork out for the pricey Criterion issue…
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on 17 April 2012
An outstanding looking, very odd mix of somewhat broad comedy, horror
film, and (of course) Bergman's metaphysical musings.

A band of traveling magicians, wanted by the law as charlatans, are
pulled in for questioning and forced to perform for some upper class
non-believers. The 'nothing-in-life is-what-it- seems' theme is strong,
but does get repetitive, and at times you can see it coming.

Also, on first viewing the elements didn't really feel like they fit
together, and I found it a bit of a bumpy ride. The comedy made the
dark side hard to take seriously, and the serious, creepy elements made
the comedy feel all the more wedged in.

That said they are a some amazing sequences that I know will stick with
me, and I do feel haunted by the film. Many call it a masterpiece or
close, and I'll certainly see it again.
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on 24 October 2001
'The Magician' tends to get overlooked, due in part to its proximity to 'The Seventh Seal' and 'Wild Strawberries'. And yet I think it stands the test of time in some ways better than the latter film. While that more famous work contains some rather obvious expressionist symbolism that even in 1957 was seen by some as a little cliched, 'The Magician' has a perfectly rendered expressionist asesthetics that doesn't try too hard to wring existential meaning at every turn, and which instead lets a perfectly wedded narrative and thematic tapestry unfold by way of strikingly wrought images. The setting of those images is also reminiscent of 'Seventh Seal's middle-ages grime as well as its baroque lighting, and 'The Magician' was unfairly compared to that film for these reasons.
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.
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VINE VOICEon 22 May 2009
The Magician is a magical early 50's film from Bergman. He opposes to the magic of Vogler's Magnetic Health Theatre, the cold rationalism of Dr. Vergerus and the other government officials, the chief of police and the consul. In 1846 the travelling troupe are on the run and are heavily disguised. Ingrid Thulin acts as a male assistant to her husband Dr. Vogler, who is himself disguised behind a false hair and beard. They have a director of the Co. who sells their act to new customers. The old woman with them, a witch, sells love potions. Is Vogler a charlatan or a man with supernatural powers? Vogler's face in disguise as a mute is messianic. He represents to Vergerus "what cannot be explained". However science can penetrate all mysteries. Vogler and his troupe are submitted to questions in such a humiliating manner to unmask their fraud.

They have been invited to stay at the inn where they are to perform. There are elements of fairy tale and horror show,ghosts, dying and dead actors. In one of the acts the chief of police's wife reveals he's a fraud. Another man, a driver, attempts to kill Vogler to escape his power. Vogler enacts a terrible revenge on Dr. Vergerus. In this little allegory Bergman was drawing on his theatrical experiences: the duality of artists in a closed world of illusions and the ambiguous relationship with the world outside. He had to beguile the audience.Filmic art represented the longing for pure artistry(the dying actor expresses this). Bergman's true target was a film critic married at the time to Thulin. This film is a perfect example of the best of his early work. Von Sydow's illusionist is related to the wordless actress Vogler (L.Ullman ) in Persona.
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on 25 June 2011
This film has everything nad has you gripped from beginning to end. Great acting from a wonderful cast and the usual high quality of production. A true classic which will live on for ever. Grab it while you can.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 7 September 2011
Vogler's Magnetic Health Theater rolls into town and is promptly summoned for a meet with the town big wigs. Hoping to expose all involved in the theatre as charlatans, the disbelievers request a personal show before allowing the show to go public. With very interesting results.

There is a belief amongst many Ingmar Begman fans that Ansiktet {The Magician} is far too accessible a piece to be considered one of his greatest pieces. And whilst it does find Bergman more easy to understand for the casual viewer, it's however still complex enough to thrill and niggle the mind in equal measure. Taking two factors that he very much adored, masks and magic, Bergman threads them off into various directions, and in the process testing us the audience as to just what to expect from the story. The mysterious wonder of it all is naturally aided by Bergman's use of light and shadowy trickery, symbols loom heavy without dampening the theme on offer, with nothing of course actually quite being as it seems.

As is normally the case under the master director, the cast are uniform-ally strong. With Gunnar Bjornstrand and Ingrid Thulin particularly standing out. But really this is all about tricks and ideas relating to magic and its blending in with reality. So much so that with the end comes an awakening that we the audience are indeed props in one of Bergman's shows, and that can never be a bad or even an accessible thing.

A fascinating picture from a very fascinating director. 8/10
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on 3 February 2012
Some reviewers have set themselves out to compare The Magician squarely against Ingmar's previous two masterpieces, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and mark The Magician down, unfairly. It almost cannot be possible to attain the dizzy heights of adulation of those two and as such, we are treated something lighter and possibly, more enjoyable.

Mr Bergman, in his long illustrious career covered many types of subjects. Starting with straightforward and rather dull dramas, through kitchen-sink (Ikea style?!!) and onto the darker shades of human psychology. And beyond, sometimes.

The Seventh Seal succeeded due to its extraordinary storytelling and imagery - along with just about everything else. Wild Strawberries due to its poignancy and leading performances that resonated with a sense of recognition and support in its audience. Other titles offer dark, deep blackly brooding death obsessed monologues that brush against exquisite period dramas of superb detail and cinematography.

The Magician, though has always been one of my favourites. Neither comedy nor horror film but light, often humorous drama that touches upon the Wonder in us all. We all want to see behind a master of illusion and the mixture of nostalgia, set in the comparatively fairytale setting of Scandinavia. I almost find it more akin to Conan Doyle than the witch- hunting or almost unfathomable symbolisms found in many other Bergman's.

As Bergman is one of my favourite directors of all time, warts and all and have 47 of his films I'd say this has much to offer, both to fans such as myself as well being good family entertainment that strengthens his cinematic arsenal, not weakens it.
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