The Ingmar Bergman classic, of course. (Celebrate with our double dose of poster art: New & traditional.) One of those films everyone knows, but perhaps haven’t actually seen. And the surprise of it, after decades of presuming it a pretentious, intellectual bore from some college intro-to-film-as-art course, is what a witty, entertaining work hides behind the forbidding reputation. Not everything holds up after six decades, the noisy variations on the famous Dies Irae melody (one of the oldest in Western culture) can sound overblown, and some of Gunnar Fischer’s lighting (largely a high contrast wonder) use more ‘fill’ on interiors than you’d see today. But little else shows its age or begs stylistic apology. Right from its quick-start opening, the images as death makes a courtesy chess call on Max Von Sydow’s noble knight, back from wasted years in The Crusades, are famous for a reason: once seen, they are impossible to forget. And the series of encounters for knight & his more earthly squire* may be dark, but never dreary, often touched with verbal exchanges that are, by turns, comic, humane or legitimately puzzling. All of it, turned out by Bergman with effortless economy in gesture & storytelling concision. Try the fine new transfer on Criterion; surprise yourself.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *While there’s an inevitable Don Quixote/Pancho Sancho vibe to the film’s Knight & Squire, there’s an even more personal Bergman connection to ‘Jof,’ one of the traveling players who come under the knight’s protection, as he seems a direct link with Bergman’s Papagano from his film version of Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE/’75.
DOUBLE-BILL: Bergman’s penultimate shot, with a circling dance of death in the background, might have come out of Abel Gance’s LA ROUE/’23 which also ends with a circle dance on a mountain. But there, it’s a dance that rejects death’s call. (See LA ROUE in the remarkable 2008 restoration from Lobster DVD.)