Music In Darkness Review

Riding high on the success of his first filmmaking efforts, Ingmar Bergman was however abruptly brought down to earth with the boxoffice failure of A Ship Bound For India in 1947. The director clearly still had a lot to learn about the filmmaking industry and the primary consideration at this stage of his career was that his films needed to be a commercial success. Leaving the fold of Svensk Filmindustri, Bergman went to work for an independent producer Lorens Marmstadt and his Terrafilm studio, to work on the filming of Dagmar Edqvist’s novel ‘Music In Darkness’. Bergman hated the novel, but worked with the author on the film script and was determined to keep the film entertaining in the style of his early mentor Gustaf Molander. It worked and the film was a success, consolidating Bergman’s reputation and ushering his way back to Svensk Filmindustri.

Despite its success back in 1947 as a popular entertainment, Music In Darkness doesn’t hold up quite so well today and there is scarcely anything of Bergman recognisable in the film which is a rather lightweight melodrama. The struggle to balance the melodrama with the kind of psychodrama that would become familiar in his later films is evident in the film’s opening scenes. A young army cadet, Bengt Vyldeke (Birger Malmsten), attempts to rescue a cute puppy from a firing range, only to fall under a hail of practice fire and falls into a coma where he is tormented by surreal and terrifying images. It’s the melodrama that wins out, as Bengt wakes up and finds that he has lost his sight. A talented musician, Bengt can however still play the piano and, while playing organ at the church for the funeral of her father, he meets a young peasant girl called Ingrid (Mai Zetterling). Requiring help around the house to look after the blind man, Bengt’s aunt and uncle engage Ingrid as a maid.

Struggling with the loss of his sight and the loss of his fiancée Blanche who has deserted him after his accident, Bengt however is too tormented by his fall to recognise the growing love Ingrid has for him. Coming from a wealthy family, he is nevertheless forced, when he fails to gain a place at the Royal Music Academy, to take up the only work he can obtain - working as a pianist in a cheap restaurant, where he is taken advantage of by his coarse employer and a young helper. Ingrid on the other hand is seeing her fortunes change for the better in inverse proportion to Bengt’s decline. Her youth, beauty and brightness prosper in the environment of the Schröder household, where her reading of books to Bengt has inspired her to continue learning and train to become a teacher. The tables turned, Bengt finds himself in a position where he now has to fight for the girl’s affections.

Bergman balances this contrast of darkness and light well, giving the film a strong theme, balance and structure, but it seems to lack the strength of its melodramatic convictions. Bergman is no stranger to melodrama – it’s there in his first film script for Torment and it’s almost overpowering in his final film Saraband, the director fully aware of the genre’s power to fully explore deep human emotions. At the time of making Music In Darkness however, he doesn’t seem to have the conviction or the ability to portray it effectively on the screen. No amount of dramatic lighting, staging, overacting or crashing music chords and can make up for the rather stereotypical and broadly defined characters whose inner life Bergman fails to really delve into with any great insight.

Music In Darkness is released in the UK by Tartan as part of their Bergman Collection. The DVD is in PAL format and is not region encoded.

Although there are some variations in the print quality of the titles releases in the Tartan Bergman Collection, the majority of the director’s earliest films from the 1940s and 1950s are of surprisingly good quality. Music In Darkness is certainly one of the better releases in this respect, with an excellent picture that has sharpness, detail, a beautiful luminosity and almost perfect greyscale tones. There is a little bit of grain in the image and some slight flicker in brightness levels in the early part of the film, but this scarcely registers. There are almost no marks on the print itself. The only real issue – again one that unfortunately mars a few of these Tartan Bergman titles - is some compression artefacts that cause objects to flicker and waver slightly in some scenes. For the main part of the film however - beautifully lit and photographed as it is - looks very impressive.

In contrast to the fine picture quality, the audio track is unfortunately rather poor. Background noise is kept low but, judging by the rising and falling sound levels, it is certainly dampened by noise reduction. Dialogue is consequently very harsh and crackly, with little depth of tone.

English subtitles are in a white font and are optional.

The only relevant extra features to the film itself are probably some Philip Strick film notes contained in an accompanying booklet, but these were not present with the checkdisc sent for review. On the disc itself are the now very familiar Autumn Sonata Trailer (2:22) and Persona Trailer (2:30) presented on the majority of other Bergman releases. Filmographies are also included for Ingmar Bergman, Birger Malmsten and Mai Zetterling.

In some ways, Music In Darkness is typical of Bergman’s early films from the 1940s and early 1950s, the young director struggling to find a means of expression but constrained by the melodramatic and commercial exigencies of the Swedish film industry. A lot of the melodramatic devices around the use of music and blindness are reused the following year in the Bergman scripted Eva, again starring Birger Malmsten, but directed by Gustaf Molander. Both films have a similar lack of conviction and ability to effectively deliver this material as successfully as Alf Sjöberg in his frenzied direction of Bergman’s first script Torment (1944). While the likes of Birger Malmsten and Mai Zetterling are adequate performers for the demands of the material in these early Bergman films, it would take actors on the scale of his later troupe of Harriet Andersson, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullmann, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson to bring real weight to the dark despair of internal torments and relationships that Bergman would later explore in his characters.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:41:31

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