The other films here - Port of Call (1948), Thirst (1949), and To Joy (1949) - are all filled with characters who are just as desperate, self-loathing, and suicidal as they wander in and out of each other's lives, beds, and private hells. But Bergman's technique and confidence as a filmmaker systematically improves - especially with the help of his new visually creative partner, cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, whom he continued to work with on 17 other films until switching to Sven Nykvist. Starting with the neo-realist style of Port of Call, these three movies demonstrate a progression to the Bergman hallmarks: the complex in-depth compositions filled with diagonally interlocking and conflicting planes, the incredible extreme long shots with figures lost in the landscapes, and the brilliantly juxtaposed big close-ups. Everything's already here, just in a less stylized way than in his 1950s and '60s films.
The Criterion Collection has released the set under its new Eclipse label, which offers such less-celebrated films by master directors in low-priced (i.e. no extras) packages. However, whether due to the keep-it-cheap approach or to the fact that source materials from early films of a then-unknown director wouldn't be treated so well, the pictures in these films are not up to Criterion's usual high standards. There is occasional damage and chemical staining at the edge of the frame in several of the films. Clarity is good in daytime exterior scenes, with lots of detail in brickwork, a nice range of grays in streets, and no shimmer on cobblestones or fences. But in darker scenes, there's sometimes a veil of artifacts, as if the contrast had been overpumped to overcome the gloom in deteriorating negatives and thereby produce the deep blacks and bright whites. This also reduces detail - not only in the darker areas but also in the extreme highlights, which can get burned out.
The mono sound has clear dialogue and atmospheric effects - such as the clanking of boats, and the crunching unloading of ships in Port of Call - that are full and convincing. Hiss is generally absent, though it becomes noticeable on the music in Crisis, which is also a bit shrill and thin.
It would have been worth a higher price to have the type of commentaries and other features that Criterion is famed for. Still, this is a logical strategy for making these films available to people with a mild curiosity about the director's first attempts to conquer the seventh art. And it's most welcome for dedicated fans who have longed to see them on DVD. So many such gems have been eclipsed by the artist's major works that we're fortunate to have these at all. Accordingly, Criterion is once again to be heartily commended. All: [NR] Swedish, Dolby Digital mono; full frame (1.33:1); five dual-layer discs.
Copyright © 2013 Bonnier Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.