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The Phantom Carriage(1921)
At New Year's Eve, the tuberculous sister of the Salvation Army, Edit, asks her mother and her colleague, Maria, to call David Holm to visit her on her deathbed. Meanwhile, David (an alcoholic) is recounting the Legend of "The Phantom Coach and his coachmen" to two other drunkards in the cemetery. In accordance with the legend, the last sinner to die on the turn of the New Year becomes the soul collector, gathering souls in his coach. When David refuses to visit Edit, his friends have an argument with him, they fight and David dies. When the coachman arrives, he recognizes his friend Georges, who died at the end of the last year. George revisits parts of David's obnoxious life and in flashbacks, he shows how mean and selfish David was...
For more about The Phantom Carriage and the The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray release, see the The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on October 6, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Hilda Borgström, Victor Sjöström, Astrid Holm, Concordia Selander, Lisa Lundholm, Tore Svennberg
Director: Victor Sjöström
» See full cast & crew
The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 6, 2011
Victor Sjostrom's "Korkarlen" a.k.a "The Phantom Carriage" (1921) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an exclusive audio commentary by Danish film historian Casper Tyberg; video essay by film scholar Peter Cowie; and an archival video interview with Ingmar Bergman. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring featuring Paul Mayersberg's essay "Phantom Forms". With Swedish intertitles and optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
It is New Year's Eve. The young and beautiful Edit (Astrid Holm, Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages) is slowly dying in her bed from tuberculosis. Sensing that Death is near, she begs her mother (Concordia Selander, Sir Anre's Treasure) to find and bring home David Holm (Victor Sjöström, Wild Strawberries), a man she once met. Edit wants to see him one last time before she closes her eyes forever.
Having refused to see Edit, David is in a nearby cemetery, drinking together with two of his best friends. As the clock approaches midnight, one of the drunkards mentions an old legend: If a man dies exactly at midnight on New Year's Eve, he will be summoned to drive the Phantom Carriage and become Death's assistant for a year, gathering the souls of those who are heading to Hell.
David laughs at his friend's story and the two begin arguing. Then they begin fighting. The third drunkard also joins the fight and David is struck dead.
It is midnight.
Suddenly, out of the darkness the Phantom Carriage appears. The driver slowly approaches David, who cannot believe his eyes – but it is too late. The driver then releases David's soul from his body and orders it to follow him back to the Phantom Carriage. Shortly after, David is forced to recall his life.
What follows up is a series of long flashbacks from David's life revealing why he is on his way to Hell. We learn that he has forced his wife (Hilda Borgström, Ingeborg Holm) to run away from him together with their two children. We also learn how he and Edit met, why she is dying from tuberculosis, and why she wanted to see him one last time before she dies.
Based on the famous novel by Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf, Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage is a masterpiece of silent cinema. It is also the film that inspired Ingmar Bergman to become a director (Bergman apparently saw The Phantom Carriage more than 100 times).
The film is divided into five episodes, each imbued with heavy gothic flavor and boasting striking visuals. With the exception of the finale, the atmosphere is incredibly tense, at times even seriously depressing. Despite the excellent gothic shadow effects and groundbreaking image overlappings, however, there is a strong sense of realism that permeates the entire film, which is achieved primarily through a series of terrific close-ups during which the camera studies the faces of the main protagonists. Their feelings and fears are incredibly easy to understand, and ultimately relate to, because they are remarkably simple and natural.
Criterion's Blu-ray release of The Phantom Carriage features two fantastic scores. The first, and more traditional one, was written for chamber orchestra by Swedish composer Matti Bye and first performed live at a screening of the film at Cinemateket in Stockholm in March 1998. The second score was composed and produced in 2007 by the experimental duo KTL (computer programmer and innovator Peter Rehberg and guitarist Stephen O'Malley). It is a truly groundbreaking, enormously dark score which blends stylish electronica, dub and ambient rock, and literally transforms the identity of the film.
The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 and granted a 1080i transfer, Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The restoration of The Phantom Carriage presented here was originally 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 print with English intertitles. From these source elements, a new black-and-white duplicate negative with Swedish intertitles was completed in 1975. New 35mm polyester viewing prints were then struck from this restored negative, using the color-tinted nitrate print as a color reference.
This new digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner in 2K resolution from the new duplicate negative, as the Chimney Pot in Stockholm, 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.
Original restoration supervisor: Inga Adolfsson/Swedish Film Institute, Stockholm.
Original telecine transfer, color grading, and printing: Nils Melander, Bjorn Selander/FilmTeknik, Stockholm (formerly Nordisk Film Post Production).
Telecine colorist: Lee Kline."
I am beyond impressed with how The Phantom Carriage looks in high-definition. I ran a few quick comparisons with my R2 DVD, which Tartan produced quite some ago, and everything looks substantially better on Criterion's Blu-ray, from detail and clarity to contrast and color reproduction. The various artifacts and macroblocking patterns have also been eliminated. Now the only visible limitations are the ones inherited from the two elements the restorers worked with to create the duplicate negative. In other words, the few damage marks that occasionally pop up here and there could not have been removed without affecting irreversibly the integrity of the film. Additionally, some image stabilizations have been performed. As a result, all of the flicker around the edges present on the R2 DVD is gone. The tinted footage also looks richer and more vibrant. All in all, this is a fabulous presentation, which I am convinced will be regarded as the definitive presentation of The Phantom Carriage for years to come. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 and LPCM 2.0. The former is used for Matti Bye's chamber score, while the latter is used for KTL's experimental score. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the Swedish intertitles.
I prefer KTL's experimental score. It is by far the very best score done for a silent film (considering even the ones done by Maxence Cyrin). It is indescribably dark and intense, blending electronic and ambient sounds in a way that perfectly enhance the terrific visuals. Fortunately, the LPCM 2.0 track has a very good dynamic amplitude and handles the score exceptionally well. The wailing guitars, the surprising screeching, and unique electronic solos sound great.
Matti Bye's chamber score will appeal primarily to those who prefer traditional orchestration over experimental and/or contemporary scores. The DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 track handles the compact sound rather well, and the strings in particular. The clarinet solos, however, occasionally feel pushed back a bit.
The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Phantom Carriage Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Swedish director Victor Sjostrom's The Phantom Carriage is a deeply moving, incredibly atmospheric silent film that inspired Ingmar Bergman to become a director and prompted Charlie Chaplin to state that it was the best film he'd ever seen. Luckily for us, its transition to Blu-ray is beyond impressive - the film looks excellent, certainly the best it ever has, and sounds terrific (I urge you to view it with KTL's experimental score). I believe that this is an essential film to see and own, and one of the year's best releases. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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