Monday, October 21, 2013

Criteritron #10

The Criteritron is an occasional series in which I take a look at The Criterion Collection's vast streaming offerings on HuluPlus and recommend a title to watch.

The Criteritron #10: The Magician
Sweden, 1958
Directed by Ingmar Bergman

What Is It?: A dark, moody movie that seems like it's about one thing when, really, it's about several other things as well. A traveling magician named Albert Vogler (Max von Sydow) and his medicine show ride into a town where the leading townsfolk—including the police superintendent (Taivo Pawlo), a consul (Erland Josephsen), and a doctor/politician named Vergerus (Gunnar Björnstrand)—put his magic to the test for the "good" of the citizenry. It's all stagecraft, of course... or is it? Vogler and his entourage—the mysterious, androgynous Mr. Aman (Ingrid Thulin), the potion-making Granny Vogler (Naima Wifstrand), and womanizing hype man Tubal (Åke Fridell) and coach driver Simson (Lars Ekborg)—alternately entrance and rankle the town and don't do their cause any favors, yet the mute Vogler is intent on giving the town a show they won't forget, one way or another. The whole affair is given an otherworldly quality by Gunnar Fischer's incredible cinematography, full of dark shadows, tricks of the light, and enveloping fogs.

Why Watch It?: Because it's a creepy, funny, and altogether entertaining tale with more than a hint of metatextual self-reflexiveness. Like we discussed with Persona, Bergman sometimes made movies that were, in some way, about making movies. This one clearly places Bergman as Vogler, the showman, constantly striving to top himself but also subjected to the criticisms of people who don't get the point of his shows. It's a lot harder to make "magic," cinematic or otherwise, when people keep poking holes in the emotional web you're weaving. Isn't it better, sometimes, to enjoy the show, to see the spaceships flying around without some oh-so-clever person pointing out the fishing line? But the best thing about The Magician is that, like all great films, you don't have to read it on this level or agree with this interpretation to enjoy it. The cleverness of the story and the skill of the filmmakers will take care of that on its own.

The Magician is available for purchase on DVD or Blu-ray, and both are available via Netflix's disc rental service. You can also stream The Magician on HuluPlus via any compatible device, or through the embedded player below the cut.

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