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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man who spoke through silence
**EDIT 9-27-11** The overall quality of the Blu-ray is fair, not quite as good as I had originally hoped, but it's still decent. As with most silents, the tell-tale signs of aging are still present even after the restoration, mainly age spots and vertically running scratches. But don't let this discourage you from purchasing this silent masterpiece. Although it's not...
Published on July 19, 2011 by D. Yarbrough

versus
1.0 out of 5 stars I could not get into the story and did not like the music either!
I found this very hard going. The story is complicated and never seems to end. I cannot see myself watching this again.
Published 2 months ago by John Chandler


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76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A man who spoke through silence, July 19, 2011
By 
D. Yarbrough (Decatur, AL USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
**EDIT 9-27-11** The overall quality of the Blu-ray is fair, not quite as good as I had originally hoped, but it's still decent. As with most silents, the tell-tale signs of aging are still present even after the restoration, mainly age spots and vertically running scratches. But don't let this discourage you from purchasing this silent masterpiece. Although it's not perfect, Criterion still did a good job on the restoration (as they normally do) and the overall quality is better than previous versions that I've viewed.

The Phantom Carriage is a silent Swedish film made by legendary actor/director Victor Sjöström. While Sjöström is known more for his acting performances later in life, namely as the protagonist in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, he originally made his mark as a prolific and very innovative director, beginning in the silent era and spanning into early talkies. This film is considered by many to be one of his very best and is a perfect example of how Sjöström both pioneered and refined techniques that were used for decades to come.

The film uses double exposures quite extensively. While this technique was not new, for this film it was far more advanced, consisting of multiple layers and dimensions. While the techniques may seem obvious and even primitive by today's standards, they left audiences awed and mesmerized 90 years ago. Another innovation of this film is the unique structure in which it's told. This is one of the first movies to make extensive use of flashbacks, going as far as having flashbacks within flashbacks.

I will briefly cover the plot, as to not ruin the film for someone who has never seen it before. The film opens on a dark and depressing New Year's Eve with a young Salvation Army sister named Edit lying on her deathbed. Her last wish is to see David Holm, an alcoholic she had tried to help the previous New Year's Eve. David promised Edit that he would return on this very day to show her if her prayers for him had been answered. Since he has yet to arrive, someone is sent to find him before it's too late. David (portrayed by Sjöström) is found in a local cemetery with two of his drinking buddies recalling a legend told to them by their friend Georges. The legend states that the last person to die each year has to work the following year for Death collecting souls from the dead. The irony is that after telling the legend, Georges himself died on New Year's Eve. David and his friends are drinking and laughing until an altercation occurs, leading to David's accidental death right before the stroke of midnight. His soul steps out of his body right before Death's carriage arrives revealing Georges as its driver. From here the story has a Dickens-like feel as Georges drives David around in the carriage showing him the mistakes he's made via flashbacks. The rest of the story shall remain unspoiled. . . I hope you enjoy it as much as I have over the years.

The Phantom Carriage, based on the novel "Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!" (Körkarlen) by Nobel-prize winning author Selma Lagerlöf, is an example of a somewhat modernized version of the old right vs. wrong morality tales. The main message in the film is to show how problems, such as alcoholism, can completely destroy someones life, but with a little faith and guidance, salvation is always attainable. In this, and many of his other films, Sjöström so masterfully shows the problems he saw within society, and the impact they could have on us if not resolved. . .

**Special Features and Technical Aspects - As Listed by Criterion**

-New digital restoration, done in collaboration with the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute
-Two scores, one by Swedish composer Matti Bye and the other by the experimental duo KTL
-Audio commentary featuring film historian Casper Tybjerg
-Interview with Ingmar Bergman, excerpted from the 1981 documentary Victor Sjöström: A Portrait, by Gösta Werner
-The Bergman Connection, an original visual essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie on the film's influence on Bergman
-Footage of the construction of the Räsunda studio where The Phantom Carriage was the inaugural production
-New and improved English subtitle translation
-PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by screenwriter and filmmaker Paul Mayersberg

Sweden
1921
106 minutes
Black and White
1.37:1
Silent
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42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No wonder Bergman loved this film!, August 3, 2011
By 
Swifty (Culver City, CA USA) - See all my reviews
I saw The Phantom Carriage on TCM not too long ago and was enthralled. This movie is one of the gems of silent cinema, and for American audiences it's still mainly an unseen gem. I hope this Criterion release will change that. The print quality is superb; even with higher-contrast orthochromatic film there is good tonal range in this restoration. This is a boon because the lighting is often subtle. I'm not familiar with the source material, but the way Sjostrom directs his actors makes me wish he'd done a silent adaptation of Crime and Punishment; The Silent Carriage is a Dostoevskyan drama that turns the protagonist's soul inside out. It's a masterpiece of direction and restrained acting, and makes me appreciate again the sophistication Scandinavian film-makers brought to the early development of the motion picture.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Swedish Silent Classic That Shouldn't Be Missed., August 13, 2011
By 
Chip Kaufmann (Asheville, NC United States) - See all my reviews
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It delights me no end that Victor Sjostrom's THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is finally getting a Region 1 release and from Criterion no less. I have had the Region 2 version of this for a few years (complete with mislabeled discs) but now I will be able to enjoy the additional extra supplements that Criterion offers. Since it is also being offered in Blu-Ray I can assume that it has a digital upgrade from my release which is from the Swedish Film Institute and was already a decent restoration although I confess that I didn't care much for the modern KTL score. In my opinion, the Matti Bye score suits the material better. An improved English subtitle translation is always a plus as well. KORKARLEN, the film's original title and the name of the book it is taken from, translates as "The Coach Driver" and is an accurate description as the carriage and driver appear throughout and are the key symbol on which the plot hinges.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is one of those silent movies to show people who think they don't like silent movies. I have yet to meet someone that I have shown it to who was not captivated by it. Part of that is due to the similarity of the plot to a well known English property which I won't name here but a lot of it is due to the simple but creative special effects that seem perfectly natural in keeping with the story being told. Credit should also be given to the lead performances of Victor Sjostrom and Hilda Borgstrom which seem as contemporary as anything seen today. It's easy to see why Ingmar Bergman would have been attracted to and inspired by this story of a vicious alcoholic who receives his comeuppance and an unexpected shot at redemption. The dysfunctional family theme, long a staple of Scandinavian drama, also plays well today. A surprising movie that still has the power to engage and enthrall audiences 90 years later.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blu-ray: Psychological and haunting! The film that would inspire Ingmar Bergman..., December 16, 2011
This review is from: The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
A psychological film that probes into the mental anguish and misery of a character, "The Phantom Carriage" is a film that inspired filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman but also a film that would be the precursor of Bergman's probe into the psyche of his characters throughout his oeuvre.

"The Phantom Carriage" (Körkarlen) is a silent film from 1921 that is a film adaptation of the novel "They Soul Shall Bear Witness!" by Nobel-prize winning Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (the first female writer to win the prize and is best known for her children's book "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils").

The film would be directed by Victor Sjöström who would also play the lead role of the film.

Known for directing films in the U.S. during the 1920's, it's unfortunate that for a talented filmmaker and actor, the majority of his films are considered as lost. Fortunately, those that did survive are his film adaptations of Lagerlöf novels such as the "Sons of Ingmar" (1919), "Karin, Daughter of Ingmar" (1920) and "The Phantom Carriage" (1921). The latter which received restoration courtesy of the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute.

And now, "The Phantom Carriage" will receive its HD treatment on Blu-ray and also standard DVD release courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

VIDEO:

"The Phantom Carriage" is presented in High Definition, tinted color and the fact that earlier versions that many people have watched this in the past were not in the greatest condition and considering the fact that the original film elements were not fully complete, I was quite amazed to see how beautiful this film looked on Blu-ray.

The film also utilized double exposures made in the camera but used in a greater form for the film in order to create the ghost characters. A very challenging special effect for its time.

Presented as a color-tinted silent film, "The Phantom Carriage" on Blu-ray is the best version of the film to date. Is it pristine? The answer is no. You can see occasional white specks, hairs or tears on the original film element, flickering but with that being said, none of these will ruin one's viewing of the film. In fact, the fact that it's complete, not hindered by any nitrate composition or any degradation, for a film that is 90-years-old, if you are a silent film fan, you can't help but be appreciative that the film look so good and that the Criterion Collection has chosen to release this film on Blu-ray.

According to the Criterion Collection, the restoration of "The Phantom Carriage" was undertaken by the Archival Film Collections of the Swedish Film Institute. A new film master was created from two source elements, an incomplete black-and-white nitrate print with Swedish intertitles and an incomplete color-tinted nitrate with print with English intertitles. From these source elements, a new black-and-white duplicate negative with Swedish intertitles was completed in 1975. New 35 mm polyester viewing prints were then struck from this restored negative, using the color-tinted nitrate print as a color reference.

Criterion Collection also pointed out that the new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the new duplicate negative, at the Chimney Pot in Stokcholm, using the same color-tinted print from the Swedish Film Institute as reference. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system while Digital Vision's Phoenix system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

"The Phantom Carriage " is presented with two scores. One by Swedish composer Matti Bye and the other by the experimental duo KTL.

The original 1998 Matti Bye composition used on this Blu-ray release is absolutely beautiful. Presented in DTS-HD MA, the music with its piano, horns and strings does a great job of enhancing my appreciation of the film. The music is coordinated just right to the scenes of the film and for the most part, is a wonderful score which sounds great via lossless.

As for the KTL soundtrack is presented in LPCM 2.0 and the experimental music makes this film feel quite dark and menacing. It stays that way throughout the whole film and the sound is quite eery. The score of course is subjective to the listener but listening to the score and watching the film, it gives you the feel of a horror film.

So, overall, I preferred the Matti Bye soundtrack because it is more emotional and upbeat compared to the KTL experimental score.

The film is presented with Swedish intertitles in English and special features with English subtitles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"The Phantom Carriage - The Criterion Collection #579' on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

Audio Commentary-featuring an in-depth audio commentary by film historian Casper Tybjerg who helps explain the film but also the sentiments of the viewers watching the film at the time.
Ingmar Bergman - (15:19) An interview with Ingmar Bergman, excerpted from the 1981 documentary "Victor Sjöström: A Portrait", by Gösta Werner
The Bergman Connection - (18:12) An original visual essay by film historian and Bergman scholar Peter Cowie on the film's influence on Bergman.
Construction of the Räsunda Studio -(4:43) Short footage of where "The Phantom Carriage" was the inaugural production.

EXTRAS:

"The Phantom Carriage - The Criterion Collection #579' comes with an 20-page booklet. The essay "Phantom Forms" by Paul Mayersberg is included plus information on the two scores included on this Blu-ray release.

JUDGMENT CALL:

We often hear from filmmakers in America who talk about the American filmmakers and films that inspired them to pursue a career in the industry.

In Sweden, filmmaker Ingmar Bergman who was only a 1-year-old when "The Phantom Carriage" came out, would later become inspired by Victor Sjöström's work and how his exploration of the human psyche, their melancholy, a character being miserable and the emotional pain that they harbor inside..these are things that are a big part of Bergman's oeuvre.

As Bergman is known as the filmmaker to capture human suffering, for Bergman it began with Victor Sjöström who would go on to introduce his style of filmmaking in America and showcase the mental anguish of a person in "He Who Gets Slapped" (1924), "The Scarlet Letter" (1926) and "The Wind" (1928). And while many historians have always recommended Sjöström's "The Wind" (as it is one of Lillian Gish's finest acting performances), "The Phantom Carriage" was definitely a film which is a product of its time that does have its relevance today.

We have seen how alcoholism affected a person, especially a father and his family in film. This is nothing new. But in 1921, alcoholism was never fully explored, nor its ramifications. Tuberculosis is still a problem today, but even moreso back then. It was a bold film to take on such a subject of how an alcoholic can hurt his family and others, but also lead to one's death. And yes, there is a little introduction to how those who submitted to God have changed for the best, but for those who frown upon preachy religious films, this is not one of them.

If anything, one can easily call this a psychological thriller mixed with drama. The film for its time can be seen as dark as it showcased human suffering and interesting enough, Stanley Kubrick's film "The Shining" which has a famous axe scene is quite similar to the axe scene found in this film. Granted, this is not a horror film but compared to other silent horror films that I have seen (which are not too scary), I can only imagine how audiences reacted when they first watched this film. It's definitely not a happy upbeat film but it does manage to work itself out in the end and I guess, one can say the film is not all tragic.

There are life changing moments and for the most part, "The Phantom Carriage" is a pre-cursor of the human suffering type of films that Victor Sjöström would create several years later and a theme that would have its impact on Ingmar Bergman's work.

So, "The Phantom Carriage" does have its place as an important film not only to Swedish cinema but also for its darker theme that was not as prevalent in 1921. But as many people are discovering Ingmar Bergman's films through the new releases on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection, the company has been good in showing films in which these filmmakers were inspired from.

So, this is one important film that fans of Bergman's work can really enjoy. So, as Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo were an inspiration to future French filmmakers, Victor Sjöström was the same as he inspired Swedish filmmakers, specifically Ingmar Bergman. And for Bergman, he had watched this film over 100 times and has said that from the first time he had watched the film, he would eventually watch it every year since then.

"The Phantom Carriage" was a big impact on his life and to know Bergman's work and why he is so enamored with human suffering, you need to look past Bergman and watch a Victor Sjöström film.

"The Phantom Carriage" is recommended!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN INNOVATIVE, INFLUENTIAL SILENT CLASSIC, November 2, 2011
By 
Casey62 (Chicago, Illinois) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921), while not as popularly known today as other masterworks from the era, is nonetheless as important to the development of cinema as are any of those more famous films.

The last person to die on New Year's Eve before the stroke of midnight must drive Death's chariot, collecting the souls of those who die throughout the next year. Sjostrom himself plays David, an abusive alcoholic who becomes the chariot rider's successor and is shown the harm and misery he brought to others.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE is an atmospheric masterpiece. Told in what was then an innovative flashback format, the film utilizes double and even multiple exposures in ways previously unseen to simulate the spectral, horse driven carriage and its doomed rider. The film is also noteworthy for some of the earliest night for night photography ever attempted in a motion picture. This remarkably moving parable of a film was a huge influence on the work of Ingmar Bergman, especially THE SEVENTH SEAL and WILD STRAWBERRIES, both from 1957.

Criterion's exceptional Blu-ray was transferred from a restored duplicate negative derived from two prints; a black and white nitrate and a color tinted nitrate. Two optional scores are included; a chamber orchestral work and an experimental, computer composition. The special features give us an absorbing commentary by historian Casper Tybjerg, a 1981 interview with Ingmar Bergman, an essay by Peter Cowie on the film's influence on Bergman, some footage of the construction of Rasunda studio where THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE was shot, and a booklet by Paul Mayersberg discussing the film's importance.

As usual, Criterion has done a beautiful job in putting this edition together, and it does ample justice to an extraordinary film that deserves wider recognition. Its haunting quality is unforgettable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ahead of its time and out of this world, October 22, 2012
By 
shaxper (Lakewood, OH) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
There's simply no way to reduce this film to a category.

Perhaps the best reference point to use in explaining what this film is and does is to compare it to The Seventh Seal, the Ingmar Bergman classic that was heavily inspired by this work that predated it by more than thirty years. Both films use the supernatural as a strange and stylistic vehicle for conveying a morality tale about average, ordinary existence. In both cases, an embodiment of death provides an opportunity for reckoning and, ultimately, redemption for the everyman.

And, in both cases, while the visuals are delicious in their execution, the direction and camerawork remain restrained, never showing off for the sake of showing off, and never delighting in the supernatural for the sheer sake of spectacle. These are films about the everyman, his sins and his divinity. In the Phantom Carriage, director Victor Sjöström (also starring in the film) never allows the film to waver from this point, even as the narrative seems to tease and drift many times before revealing its full focus and momentum towards the end.

This is a brilliant film, absolutely worth viewing and savoring so long as you are looking for more than a simplistic horror tale about the recently dead being forced to drive Death's carriage. This film is far too complex and mature to be accurately captured by a publisher's blurb. It's pensive and artistic -- true and masterful arthouse long before there was an arthouse.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lesson to be learned, January 20, 2012
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Excellent tale of "appreciate what you've got or you may lose it!" There are so many touching and bitter moments in this film and Victor Sjostrom not only masterfully portrays the lead character but delivers an astounding example of what good direction should be. He even influenced Ingmar Bergman with this one. Can you imagine? Well worth 5 stars and beyond. Definition and special effects are wonderful considering it was filmed in 1920. This film really pokes my soul. I'll not forget it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "It is no ordinary driver who holds the reins, for he's in the service of a strict master named Death.", September 10, 2013
By 
H. Bala "Me Too Can Read" (Recently moved back to Carson, California, or as I call it... the center of the universe) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Phantom Carriage (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
If you'd ever been in Sweden, maybe you'd heard the locals trying to drum up scare with the urban myth about the phantom carriage. Word to the wise, take care on New Year's Eve. For the last soul to perish on New Year's Eve must drive Death's carriage and collect and transport newly expired souls. And in this supernatural office, a single night is as long as a hundred years on Earth. The Phantom Carriage (originally titled Körkarlen or "Driver") fleshes out this tale of doom.

It's a Swedish silent motion picture from 1921 and provides English sub-titles for those who prefer it that way. "Once there was a poor Salvation Army sister at death's door," the title card kicks it off. And so we meet Sister Edit (Astrid Holm) on New Year's Eve, moments away from gasping her last, wracked with the galloping consumption (or if you prefer Doogie Howser's terminology: "tuberculosis"). Her one dying wish is to see one last time this guy, David Holm. Cue the hue and cry and the search for David Holm. Only, he can't be found.

It's because David Holm is hanging out at the cemetery with his drinking cronies. David Holm is, without a doubt, a mean drunkard and a stone-cold reprobate. It's here that David regales his homies with that one ghost story. Comes the local bobby to inform him of the dying sister's request and David's heartless refusal and his kinder cronies trying to convince him to go. There's a scuffle and there's David Holm on the ground, his head bashed in. And there's the stroke of midnight. And there's the spooky carriage come rolling up.

Raise your hand if you know who Victor Sjöström is. If you only recognize him as the old man in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, then you're doing him a disservice. Victor Sjöström, who may have abused his limit of the usage of the umlaut, was a noted Swedish director as well as the occasional actor. Other than Wild Strawberries, his most celebrated work has to be The Phantom Carriage, a fantasy film groundbreaking enough that Bergman lifted the image of Death for The Seventh Seal. Heck, it may even have inspired that door-chopping scene in Kubrick's The Shining. The special effects here are spectacular for its time, the specters' transparent effects realized thru meticulous double exposures made in the camera.

Sjöström proves that he's capable in front of - as well as behind - the camera. He etches with great expressiveness a character that is reprehensible and lost and, frankly, hard to like. It's a film rife with flashback sequences, and, thanks to these comprehensive jump cuts down memory lane, we're made privy to the tragic events that transformed David Holm from decent family man to uncaring scoundrel to conveyer of souls. This movie isn't for everyone. It's as much a melancholy character study as it is a haunting supernatural narrative. Can David Holm find it in himself to be redeemed? Isn't it already too late?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific movie. A must-have for collectors of great Silent films!, August 27, 2013
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Terrific, engrossing movie, that features superb, compelling performances, a dark, haunting, at times otherworldly, mood and look, and that, despite having been made over ninety years ago, dates extremely well. The picture quality is excellent for a film of this vintage, and two recent-years musical score options are available. The multiple included extras are excellent and interesting. This Criterion release is a definite winner!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectre of Despair, January 2, 2013
By 
C McGhee (Hutchinson, Ks.) - See all my reviews
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THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921) This is a dark morality play that can't
help but bring thoughts of A Christmas CAROL to mind yet there is no
happy ending. Directed & lead acted by Victor Sjostrom the man that
inspired Ingmar Bergman to become a director it is a Swedish folktale
as were many Swedish movies of the time. It revolves around the story
of a relationship between a Salvation Army Worker (female) & her
attempt to help an alcoholic bum who only has negative affects on the
lives of those around him. It's a truly dark movie in all aspects with
hard lessons for everyone. Intentions are definitely shown here but the
story is about actual effects.

The FX of the carriage itself are startling & better than you'd believe
for such an early movie. My copy was a Criterion Edition & I can only
recommend that restoration as I've seen no other. This is a 10/10 for
me. It is available in Criterion Blu-Ray also & is 107 mins long, which
is the full original Swedish version. English subtitles are included.
One both my wife & I are happy to own.
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