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The Seventh Seal (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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Few films have had as large a cultural impact as Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet). Disillusioned and exhausted after a decade of battling in the Crusades; a knight (Max von Sydow) encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Much studied; imitated; even parodied; but never outdone; Bergman's stunning allegory of man's search for meaning was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America's 1950s art house heyday; pushing cinema's boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing.
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The first disc starts off with an audio commentary from the previous edition by film scholar Peter Cowie. He briefly talks about the impact that the first time he saw The Seventh Seal had on him. He points out where Bergman drew his inspiration for the look of Death. Cowie populates this track with production anecdotes along with an analysis of what we are watching as well as the film's themes.
"Afterword" is a follow-up by Cowie to the 1987 commentary he did for the Criterion Collection. He points out the film's rich humor, despite its reputation as a dark, brooding film about death. This extra gives him a chance to mention things that he failed to when he originally recorded the commentary.
"Max von Sydow Audio Interview" features excerpts of interviews Cowie conducted with the veteran actor in 1988 for a book about the man. He talks about his upbringing and his parents. He recounts his first experience with the theater and how it led to him becoming an actor.
"Woody Allen on Bergman" features a wonderful short film from Turner Classic Movies with Allen talking about his love for Bergman's films over a montage of clips from them. He says that The Seventh Seal is his favorite Bergman film. This is an eloquent tribute to the man and his films.
Also included is a trailer.
The second disc includes "Bergman Island," an impressive feature-length documentary about Bergman that was released in 2006. Bergman reflects on his life and career, coming across as a modest and humble man who tells all kinds of engaging anecdotes from his life. There are many clips from his films and excellent behind-the-scenes footage.
Finally, there is "Bergman 101," a crash course on the life and career of Bergman by Cowie. He narrates over stills and clips from the man's films. This is an excellent primer that traces Bergman's career arc and touches upon many of his films while also providing factoids and analysis.
This is just great film-making from every possible angle of evaluation. I loved the theme of the film of finding God in the least obvious places and how death comes for all of us and that although we may delay the inevitable we can never cheat it. Even when Death plays chess with the knight I get the feeling I'm watching a cat playing with a mouse before devouring its prey. It's interesting how the knight goes through so much trouble and suffering not only for himself but also for his clearly not very happy and yet fiercely loyal squire in doing what others like the corrupted seminarian tell him is the way to please and hence to know God by killing Saracens - the very people who think it pleases God to kill clearly mentally unstable women by burning them at the stake and calling them witches - this very knight is left not knowing God and feeling empty while the lowly relatively innocent and trusting lower class performer Jof not only sees the Virgin Mary and the Infant Christ but he also sees Death and hence is able to run away at least for the present from the fate of the rest. Interesting how in the Bible the Beatitudes states how blessed the pure in heart are as they will see God explaining God's favour and blessings on the simple Jof and his family as they are spared the fate of the more complex and higher class knight and his squire. The "Seventh Seal" will now also make it to my very short annual classic film viewing list.
Very rewarding viewing and a must-have in any self-respecting movie fan's video library.
Very, highly recommended!
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