The Magic Flute

Movie Information

The Magic Flute, part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World, will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday, May 22, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville. Info: 273-3332.
Score:

Genre: Comic/Fantasy Opera
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Starring: Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urrila, Håkan Hagegård, Elisabeth Erikson
Rated: G

You can probably bump Ingmar Bergman’s film of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1975) up a half star if you happen to like the opera. I have to admit that I’m not fond of it, and that prevents me from fully enjoying this unquestionably brilliant film of the work. It does not prevent me from admiring Bergman’s handling of the material, or marveling at the cinematic playfulness on display. Bergman’s decision to present the opera as if it were indeed taking place onstage—and a period stage at that—is fascinating, especially because he only adheres to the concept as long as it suits his purpose. The opera never opens up in the sense that it leaves the confines of its theater, but the size and shape of the theater itself is hardly constrained to the cramped stage on which it’s supposedly being performed. (It would have to be a remarkably labyrinthian structure to present anything like the production Bergman gives us.)

Cheating the theatrical approach at every turn is not without its point. What Bergman does is to convey the actual magic of theater at its best. He conveys the sense of being transported into the world of the story being presented—a world in which the theatrical artifice melts away. While the film is certainly more light-hearted than most of the filmmaker’s work—even its darker aspects are only playing at being dark (spooky would be a better word)—it’s very much a Bergman film in its look. His tendency to stage shots in his unique way is unmistakable, and it’s impossible to miss similarities to his other more “serious” films. Very much worthwhile—even more so if you like the opera The Magic Flute.

SHARE
About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

6 thoughts on “The Magic Flute

  1. Sean Williams

    I have to admit that I’m not fond of it, and that prevents me from fully enjoying this unquestionably brilliant film of the work.

    I’ve just never felt engaged in the characters, which for me rather undercuts the mythic grandeur of the story.

    Every time I see an adaptation of The Magic Flute — Bergman or Russell — I feel like I should be more enthused about it than I actually am. Give me Wagner any day.

  2. Ken Hanke

    I don’t think there is a Russell Magic Flute, but in any case, I’d rather have Wagner — bombast, dubious philosophy and all.

  3. Susan Wozniak

    Gentleman, since I learned that Wagner set out to destroy Mendolssohn because Mendolssohn was a Jew, I can not enjoy Wagner’s operas.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Gentleman, since I learned that Wagner set out to destroy Mendolssohn because Mendolssohn was a Jew, I can not enjoy Wagner’s operas.

    There is much that is pretty repellent about Wagner the person — much more than the business about Felix Mendelssohn. But it might be nearer the mark to say that Wagner’s jealousy of Mendelssohn (Wagner thought Mendelssohn’s “Hebrides” overture the most perfect piece of music ever written) was a prime factor in forming his anti-Semitism. (It’s also worth noting that Mendelssohn was already dead when Wagner published his horrifying pamphlet “The Jew in Music.”) That’s a simplification, of course, since there are other factors, notably another Jewish composer, Giacomo Meyerbeer.

    I’m not making a case for Wagner the man, though I might make one for Wagner the artist. I’m merely pointing out that it’s a more complex situation than it might seem.

Leave a Reply