Criterion's re-release of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, with its stark black and white compositions and famous chess game between Death and a returned crusader (played by Max von Sydow), will likely cause many to reconsider this classic film. Dennis Lim's review ("A Second Look: 'the Seventh Seal'") suggests that it still has power despite its many parodies and campily serious tone:
A heavily symbolic allegory of faith and doubt set in plague-ridden medieval Sweden, this seminal movie was the height of midcentury existentialist chic and ground zero for the cinephile golden age. It gave the cultural intelligentsia permission to take film seriously.
"The Seventh Seal" has since fallen victim to changing tastes and to its own popularity. (If anything, it is now more middlebrow emblem than highbrow badge of honor.) And it is precisely its unabashed seriousness, once so seductive, that has contributed to its somewhat diminished reputation.
Many of the film's images have passed into cinematic immortality, none more so than the recurring motif of a brooding knight locked in a mortal chess game with Death, assuming the form of a cowled, white-faced ghoul, and the final hilltop danse macabre, led by the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper. But the hooded figure of Death also has proved spoofable, popping up in such places as Bergman mega-fan Woody Allen's "Love and Death," Monty Python skits and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey."
It might not be possible to liberate "The Seventh Seal," reissued in a new two-disc edition this week by the Criterion Collection in both standard definition and Blu-ray, from the historical baggage that surrounds it. But first-time viewers, and those revisiting it after many years, might be surprised to find a movie that feels at once dated and timeless: Its deadly earnest sensibility harks back to another era, but its stark iconographic power is undimmed, stubbornly resistant to parody. Read the rest online>