Over the past two years, Yale Film Study Center has commissioned eight 35 mm film prints from Sweden, retranslated 12 hours of subtitles and worked with the last remaining laser-subtitling lab in the United States.
Throughout this fall, the Center will share the results of their work: eight new prints of films by 20th-century Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. The Center plans to hold four free double-feature screenings — open to both the Yale and New Haven communities — to celebrate the centenary of Bergman’s birth. The first screening took place last month. This Thursday, the Center will screen “The Seventh Seal” and “The Magician,” while the final two screenings will occur in November and December.
“The centenary of Bergman’s birth gives us an opportunity to reflect not just on his extraordinary filmmaking career but on the influence his works have had on filmmakers who followed in his footsteps,” said Archer Neilson, the Center’s program coordinator. “We at the [Center] hope this series introduces new audiences to Bergman, spurs an interest in his other films and allows people to discover the common threads linking eight very distinct works.”
All of the screenings use new 35 mm film prints commissioned by the Center from the Swedish Film Institute. “35 mm” — the format of choice until the 21st century — describes the width of the photographic film.
“This has really been the first opportunity we’ve had to commission new film prints for our collection,” said Brian Meacham, the archive and special collections manager for the Center. “It’s a pretty rare thing, in this day and age, to be making new 35 mm prints, because for a number of years [35 mm] has no longer been the default medium for film distribution.”
Though it is unusual to create these, Meacham said that obtaining the prints was easy compared to editing the subtitles.
Meacham said that the Center began the subtitle editing process by referencing materials from the Swedish Film Institute.
“We would get whatever subtitles the Swedish Film Institute had, I would look at them here, watch a DVD or a streaming version of the film, look at the subtitles that were used there and compare them,” said Meacham. “A lot of subtitles are incomplete or antiquated, or they use sentence structure and phrasing that seems off, and it’s very distracting for audiences.”
For all eight of the films the Center will show, Meacham examined the subtitles line by line.
After editing the subtitles, the Center sent the films to a film lab in Pennsylvania called Cinema Arts, the last lab in the U.S. capable of laser etching subtitles into 35 mm film. There, Meacham said, a machine laser etched subtitles into each film frame.
Meacham emphasized the Center’s mission to present films in a format as close to the original as possible.
Noting the small image and lack of detail while watching a film on a laptop, Meacham asserted that the best way to see a film is to “see a 35 mm film print projected on a white screen in a dark room with an audience.”
Meacham noted that Bergman was one of the first filmmakers to introduce American audiences to films not produced in Hollywood.
“In the 1950s when Bergman’s films started getting released here, they really were a sensation,” Meacham said. “They were from a whole different world, whether it was the issues they were dealing with or the portrayals of gender relations, of family relations — from a cultural standpoint, these films were really revolutionary for audiences in America.”
The screenings begin with introductions from faculty members. Emily Sanford Professor of Comparative Literature and English, Katie Trumpener, who has taught various classes in film studies, gave an introductory talk for September’s double screening of “Summer with Monika” and “Sawdust and Tinsel.” Like Meacham, Trumpener stressed Bergman’s “influential” role in film history.
“Bergman was a crucial part of the international art film canon, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s,” Trumpener said.
According to Trumpener, audiences at a Bergman screening can expect an intense viewing experience with “visual pleasures,” depth of acting and explorations of philosophical questions.
Meacham also highlighted the universality of Bergman’s films and the importance of screening them publicly.
“They’re films that you appreciate no matter where you are in your life and no matter what your background is,” Meacham said. “They examine the human condition in very perceptive ways, and we cherish being able to share them with an audience.”
The double screening of “The Seventh Seal” and “The Magician” will take place this Thursday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., respectively, in the Whitney Humanities Center Auditorium.
Eli Mennerick | email@example.com