Sawdust and Tinsel (1953) Poster

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An under-appreciated film
TheMovieCritic_8325 June 2007
It's amazing when a film is disliked and misunderstood when released, and is then praised and labelled as a masterpiece decades later. Ingmar Bergman's 'Sawdust and Tinsel' is one of those films. I'm not exactly sure why the film was regarded so lowly, but thankfully, it is now recognised for what it is.

The film isn't quite Bergman's best, but it is certainly close. 'Sawdust and Tinsel' is a pessimistic, yet truthful study of human nature in relationships. The film's central character, Albert, is a ringmaster of a travelling circus, and is passing through the town where his wife and children are living. The pair have been separated for some time and are clearly dealing with the situation in different ways. His wife Agda has moved on. Albert is still affected and has been unfaithful to his wife, as he is travelling along with his mistress. What unfolds is an interesting character study that looks at human insecurity, disloyalty, selfishness, unhappiness and emotional strain.

It's no wonder that Ingmar Bergman is titled 'The Swedish Master'. 'Sawdust and Tinsel' is full of insight and certainly shows Bergman's talent. He does some excellent things with mirrors in certain shots and creates a lot of mood throughout the film. The highlight is, without question, one of the first scenes in which Frost, the circus clown, comes to collect his wife Alma from the ocean, where she is swimming with an army regiment. Every element works and Alma's selfishness and Frost's pain are clear in the scene, adding to the effect. Practically everything that Bergman has done in this film is excellent. The only point of criticism though, is that the cinematography is a bit hit and miss, as some scenes are too bright, giving them an overexposed look. Then again, it could be that the film has just deteriorated with age.

This is an under-appreciated film that is certainly worth viewing. It is quite hard to come by, but maybe one day, someone will do a proper release on DVD.
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There is not a wasted frame
christopher-underwood19 March 2008
I first, and probably, last saw this wonderful film over 40 years ago. It has not been easy to catch again and then I think that when the time since you have last seen a favourite gets too long you begin to have concerns as to whether it will live up to your memory of it. There was particular concern here because, although in the 60s and 70s I would bore people by going on about this film whenever talk of Bergman's more well thought of films came up, this was never considered to be one of his best. Having just watched it again I am blown away all over again. I cannot believe how much of the fantastic visuals I remembered and the extent to which the power of the film is still so affecting. There is not a wasted frame, this is pure cinema throughout. The acting is stupendous, the cinematography outstanding and the bitter sweet tale so seemingly simple, yet so devastatingly all consuming. I know Bergman has made more poetic films and more profound ones but I still think this one is hard to beat for so eloquently presenting those basic issues that matter to everyone.
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has gained a reputation as a triumph of Bergaman's pre 'Seventh Seal' period; rightfully so
MisterWhiplash17 December 2007
Sawdust and Tinsel- or The Swedish Master, or The Naked Night, take your pick on a title- is about a man who can't stand himself in his profession, but loves it so much at the same time: the low-brow sensibility of it, the wildness, the freedom to cut it loose with drink or with mad gimmicks during a show, and abandon of the rules when confronted with the law. But he also has a love whom he has his problems with, and her with him as well, leading to an infidelity drama that plays out harshly. Ingmar Bergman said this was a personal film for him, in a big sense, because of the connection to the excitement of the profession being played out against personal turmoil and trouble in professional terms (Bergman even said it was easier for a scrawny director to have a "fat actor" play the part of Arthur). It was reviled by critics and a box-office flop- one of the more expensive films, relatively to others, Bergman made up to that point.

It's a film that, seen years later now through the prism of Bergman as one of the world's true artists in the profession, also is deceptively high-brow about the world of low-brow, where experimentation filters in early on and Bergman makes one of his more distinctive marks as a director more-so than a screenwriter (usually, however much Bergman is always an absorbing and challenging director of scenes, writes like no other). The opening scenes, with the story of the sad/pathetic clown Frost (could be a distraction if overdone, but it's an interesting side-not throughout the film as a reminder of true melancholy), are shot like some crazy silent movie, where all we hear are sounds of laughter and little sound effects, brightly lit, shot and composed like some manic tale of desperation and defeat and humiliation, stylized so highly one might think a mad German too control of the reins and made it his own. It's not something all of Bergman's fans will like, but it shows him, even in 1953, trying new things, letting himself be free with the material as he sees fit.

Then, after this, we get into the "typical" Bergmania; a sort of square-block played out between Arthur, who is meeting his ex-wife in the town he's at for the circus performance (the actress playing his wife, I forget her name, is brilliant at displaying just enough pragmatism to show her as the most sane of anyone in the film), and Arthur's current beau Anne is somewhat attracted to a sneaky actor named Frans, who plays a wicked game of arm wrestling and leading to a somewhat Albert and Anne, and how this casts a dark shadow on the rest of the proceedings- including through the circus performance, which becomes a daring act of do by Bergman where he makes things effective once squaring in on the 'duel' between Arthur and Frans. For those that love Bergman doing relationship drama, this is solid, if not exceptional, stuff on display. And the ending, truth be told, might just be one of the most engrossing, and completely bleak (if you could imagine that Bergmanites) that he ever made (who doesn't cry with the scene with the bear?)

It might sound like Bergman has made a depressing little tome on circus life, the sorrows of living with the filth and lice and reckless frivolity of life as vagabond entertainers. But it's also a lot of fun, as the low-brow material displays another side to Bergman, which is something close to weird, comic excess. Sometimes Bergman even mocks his own world; a scene with Albert asking Gunnar Bjornstrand's theater director (the latter always shown in low-angle, a smart choice) makes the theater come off satirically compared to Bergman's more serious treatments of the profession in his films. And, seriously, where else will we get a dwarf tossing in a work by this filmmaker? And meanwhile, he also has a great turn from his would-be Emil Jannings in Åke Grönberg, who is big and over-emotional and strung-out on his excesses of anger and resentment, mostly with himself (watch for that gun!) And Andersson, of course, is ravishing as she was- if not erotically as such- in Monika, filmed the same year.

Now finally available just a bit easier than previously thanks to Criterion, Sawdust and Tinsel is a fine spectacle of a director branching out stylistically (if not to the spectacular Felliniesque aspirations it might have as a pre La Strada or The Clowns), while keeping his feet tethered to his personal cinema. Not quite in my top 10 of Bergman's, but considering how many great films he made it's close.
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A dark, disturbing dream
Bobs-924 July 2001
It's undoubtedly true, as has been pointed out in a newsgroup review, that the characters in this film are not particularly likable. I have never been able to understand why that should necessarily work against a film's worth or effectiveness, though. Profound darkness seems to me an integral part of Bergman's work, at least the earlier films like this one. If you're looking for action, adventure, or romance, you're certainly barking up the wrong tree here, and the idea of identifying with the characters in this film scares the hell out of me. Maybe it's just not suited to some viewer's personalities.

You're not likely to come across `Sawdust and Tinsel' much these days, unless it's at an art-house, museum or festival screening, or on video. Here in the U.S., Public Television used to show Bergman films in the distant past. That time is long gone, but I can well remember seeing it on TV as a kid, and its imagery lingered in my mind like a vivid nightmare. The black and white cinematography, with wonderful use of darkness and silhouettes, makes it a very beautiful-looking film, but it is unrelentingly dark and gloomy.

Not for everybody, but it is what it is, and Bergman is Bergman. Its dream-like imagery and brutal, primal view of human nature can leave a deep impression, especially on impressionable viewers. This is undoubtedly why having seen it when growing up, I've never forgotten it. Though it doesn't seem to be particularly well-regarded these days, I regard it as great and powerful cinema in the Bergman/Nykvist tradition. At the very least, its cinematography should be well-appreciated by anyone who admires the look of films like `The Virgin Spring, ` or `The Silence.'
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The Cruelty of Mankind
claudio_carvalho20 February 2007
While traveling in caravan through the country of Sweden, one member of the decadent Alberti Circus tells the owner and ringmaster Albert Johansson (Åke Grönberg) a sad story about the clown Frost (Anders Ek): seven years ago, his wife Alma (Gudrun Brost) was surprised by him bathing naked in a lake with a regiment. When the circus arrives in the town where Albert's wife Agda (Annika Tretow) and sons live, he decides to pay a visit with his young mistress Anne (Harriet Andersson) to a famous local troupe to borrow some capes, hats and vests for their tonight show. They are humiliated by the director Mr. Sjuberg (Gunnar Björnstrand), but he lends the pieces, and the lead actor Frans (Hasse Ekman) gives an unsuccessful pass on Anne. When Albert decides to visit Agda, the jealous Anne meets Frans, who seduces her with an apparently valuable necklace, and they have a love affair. Anne finds that the necklace is actually worthless and returns to the circus. Meanwhile, Agda refuses to accept Albert back and he sees Anne leaving the theater and going to the jewelry. During the exhibition, Albert and Anne are submitted to humiliations by Frans.

"Gycklarnas Afton" is a dark and unpleasant story of the cruelty of mankind, where losers, desperate people without any perspective in life, are humiliated by the cruel human beings, reaching the lowest human condition. The clown Frost and his decadent wife Alma; the aging and tired owner of the circus trying reconciliation with his former wife to have a stable life; the mistress Anne trying to find another man to support her; all of them stuck together in a decadent circus due to the lack of perspective in life and courage of committing suicide. The cinematography in black and white is amazingly beautiful, and the introduction sequence, with the caravan moving in the dawn, is very similar to Brazilian classic "O Cangaceiro" (, of the same year. Harriet Andersson is extremely sexy and gorgeous in the role of Anne. My vote is eight.

Title (Brazil): "Noites de Circo" ("Nights of Circus")
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One of Bergman´s masterpieces
anton-614 March 2002
This is one of his earlier film productions. After have done this it did get bad critic and was no big hit at all in Sweden. But in France for example people who was interested in film saw it. So it helped Bergman to become more famous international. This film is still a masterpiece.

"You live and don´t care about how bad everything can be" is what I would call the message for this film. The opening scene is masterful and it´s a very dark(but what do you expect from Bergman?)film. The lightening and settings are very good and the cinematography is fantastic(The scenes that are filmed inside are filmed by the great Sven Nykvist). The way that the camera moves is fantastic and the way it films in to mirror´s. Also many of the actors and actress are giving their performance of their life. Today this film is a very powerful and disturbing film. I would call it a masterpiece.5/5
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Along with Summer with Monika, one of the best of Bergman's early films
TheLittleSongbird9 November 2012
While not quite one of Ingmar Bergman's best, it comes very close. It is a very professional-looking film, with many memorable images and Sven Nykvist's truly beautiful cinematography. The music also has a haunting quality to it, which fitted with the visuals perfectly. Combined with Bergman's superb direction, a pessimistic yet powerful story complete with very truthfully written and acted flashbacks, very compellingly real characters- they're not necessarily likable nor were they intended to be- and a very thought-provoking script Sawdust and Tinsel has so many good things about it. And then we have the acting, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Anders Ak, Ake Gronberg and especially Harriet Anderssen are all outstanding, Bjornstrand and Anderssen were regulars in Bergman's films and it is easy to see why. So overall, one of the best of Bergman's early films in my opinion. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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Stuck in hell.
bobsgrock31 May 2010
Ingmar Bergman has left a reputation as one of the premier cynics of the cinema. A lifelong agnostic, he always held the belief that God did not exist and this life offers little, if any condolences to counter that feeling.

After experimenting with various genres and trying to find his niche in the late 1940s, Bergman slowly began to establish himself as the finest Swedish film director ever known. This film, released in 1953, reminds me in many ways of the great Federico Fellini's 1954 film La Strada, also about a circus troupe and also focusing on the relationship between the aging circus leader and his female companion. Despite this common ground, the two great directors differ in that Fellini turns his attention to the joy and zest of performing and the difficulties that still lie within. With Bergman, troubles always abound and there is no shortage of sadness and sorrow. Indeed, none of these characters are truly happy in the way of the definition. Yet, they continuously search for some sort of satisfaction and happiness. Life is a long, sluggish journey that may never find its ultimate goal.

Despite the downbeat tone, Bergman was a fantastic cameraman and his early films show him finding his footing, foreshadowing the great films he would make later in his career. Here, his collaboration with the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist has its beginnings as we see some fantastic angles, mirror shots and uses of depth of focus and framing. The acting is terrific, particularly by Harriet Andersson, and the script supports the story well. A small gem, but nevertheless a gem from the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.
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Dark and Mesmerizing
retributionpublications9 January 2002
This is a fantastic early film made by the master of the psychological, Ingmar Bergman. This film is much easier to understand than say, Persona, Cries and Whispers, or the Seventh Seal, and therefore, I suggest this as a first-time introduction for anyone interested in learning more about his films and/or his filming technique.

This movie is quite simply, a dream. The introduction sequence is a brilliant example of Bergman's work...we see a long shot of 5 horse carriages moving across the plains at dawn, which dissolves into a reflection of a single horse & carriage in the water below a bridge, which dissolves into a series of shots...windmills, foggy paths, the carriage driver and the finally, a fade into the carriage where our protagonist, Albert Johansson, sleeps with his girlfriend Anna. Bergman is the king of the dissolve...a style he no doubt picked up from 1920's German expressionism. Bergman's mise en scene is a blend of sequences which depict a very dreamlike orientation of our immediate surrounding.The result: We are passive observers, watching the all-too-real reality of our modern world subside into something very mysterious and surreal. Bergman's style removes time from the equation of film. Time, as we know it, takes a back-seat to objects, people, and places. Real life becomes more dreamlike than any dream, and the darkest and most mysterious corner of the universe becomes the human mind.

This is a fantastic movie.
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Circus Movie of Note
barnesgene7 March 2008
Thanks to Criterion Collection for making a sparkling fresh print of this film available on DVD. Sven Nykvist's cinematography is seen as excellent as ever, especially those brooding cloudy skies. The story moves along nicely, and Bergman's women are clearly their own people (most of the time anyway). The tawdry lives of circus folk is a film cliché, but the characters do live and breathe in this movie rather more completely than we could have hoped. Special attention should be paid to the music of Swedish Modernist composer Karl-Birger Blomdahl. Those punching dissonant chords at the beginning of the film are not unlike much of his music for the outer-space opera he wrote, "Aniara." There is a recording of that work, but it's hard to come by. But you can try to find his Symphony No. 3, "Facetter", and you'll be delighted by how it grows on you. Nevertheless, Bergman pretty much left Blomdahl behind in his subsequent work, and you can see why: Much of it doesn't really fit, which is something you can say about a lot of famous composers who try their hand at film music.
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Sawdust and Tinsel of the Naked Night
G_a_l_i_n_a11 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Ingmar Bergman's "Gycklarnas Afton" aka "Sawdust and Tinsel aka "The Naked Night" (1953) is a sad tale of passion, jealousy, betrayal, and humiliation set in a shabby traveling circus in the beginning of 20Th century in Sweden. When it was originally released in 1953, the movie met the fierce controversy and misunderstanding from both the critics and the viewers. Even now, more than fifty years later, Bergman remembers what one of the critics said about "Sawdust and Tinsel", "I refuse to make an ocular inspection of Mr. Bergman's latest vomit." The master said that he's always liked the film and it was enough for me to try to find and watch it.

The story itself is not original and has been told many times - it concerns the aging circus owner who fell under the spell of his young and breathtakingly sensual mistress Anna (Harriet Anderson - God Almighty and who would not? If ever any woman could change my sexual orientation, it would've been Anderson of "Dreams", "Smiles of a Summer Night", and "Sawdust and Tinsel". Those dark deep eyes - one minute, the big and naive eyes of a little sweet girl, next second - elongated promising eyes of a natural born seductress, enchantress, and a heart breaker. Her lips, long dark hair, and the body of a dancer and a model make her the embodiment of irresistible femininity.

Filled with the images of exquisite elegance, photographed in striking black and white colors, this study of a love triangle - circus manager loses his mistress to an attractive, young but sadistic actor while trying (without a success) to reconcile with his ex-wife - leads to a powerful and devastating climax. The guns put to one's head may not fire at the end of the naked night but the feelings of despair, hopelessness, and humiliation are overwhelming and not easily shaken.

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Sawdust and Tinsel
Michael_Elliott27 March 2008
Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

A circus troupe arrives in a small town where the owner (Ake Gronberg) plans on visiting his family who he hasn't seen in three years. This sets his mistress (Harriet Andersson) into a jealous fit and she runs to a local theatre group where an actor offers her a priceless necklace in exchange for sex. This here is without question the best of the early Bergman films I've seen and I think it's the first to show the masterful director at full force. Like a lot of Bergman pictures, this film really isn't about anything yet it's about everything to the people involved. The way Bergman could settle on small characters and shine a light on their personal issues has always been one of the director's strong points and he does the story justice here. The film is mainly about jealousy and what it can lead to and Bergman creates a very moody and at times depressing look at the subject. The film is very, very dark and comes off like a bad dream that mixes fantasy with reality. Another strong point is an opening sequence where we hear the story of a clown who loses his mind when he catches his wife swimming naked with some soldiers. This sequence is filmed completely different than the rest of the film and the lightness of this segment really brings you into a different type of movie. The performances are all incredibly strong with Gronberg stealing the show as the circus owner who slowly loses his mind over a matter of hours. The actor goes through a breakdown towards the end of the film and this comes off very realistic and is at times painful to watch. Andersson is her typical brilliant self and really sells the loneliness and confession of her young character. The scene with her and the actor is charged with some dark sexuality, which just shows what a master Bergman was. The cinematography Hilding Bladh and Sven Nykvist is remarkable as is the music score by Karl-Birger Blomdahl.
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Desolation Row
wes-connors23 July 2012
A circus caravan crawls along the gloomy Swedish countryside. Inside their trailer are portly ringmaster Ake Gronberg (as Albert Johansson) and his younger lover Harriet Andersson (as Anne). After a flashback - which illustrates the film's thesis theme but seems ill-placed - we move along with Mr. Gronberg as he brings his circus to town. This stop is different. This is where his abandoned wife Annika Tretow (as Agda), a tobacco store operator, and their small sons live. Gronberg considers leaving the tired troupe and returning to his more stable family, but he may not be welcome...

Meanwhile, Ms. Andersson has been growing bored with Gronberg. Instructed to heave her bosom when the circus needs to borrow some costumes, Andersson also attracts playboy actor Hasse Ekman (as Frans). Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman went on to create unanimously applauded masterpieces, and this is clearly an artistic leap. With cinematographers Sven Nykvist and Hilding Bladh, Mr. Bergman produces some great visuals. And, he elicits peak performances from the aforementioned plus Anders Ek (as Frost) and Gudrun Brost (as Alma), the couple hopelessly trapped in life's circus.

******** Gycklarnas afton (9/14/53) Ingmar Bergman ~ Ake Gronberg, Harriet Andersson, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek
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The Cruel Truth of Human Nature
ilpohirvonen2 June 2010
The famous Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman started by making films with social messages. The Naked Night is one of them, but in it Bergman looks straightly into human's soul. His cruel vision of human nature took the shape of this wonderful piece of art. But The Naked Night didn't make the critics happy and it was also a financial flop. The cruel truth didn't please the audience.

It's a story about a touring circus group, which all members are in different ways dependent on each other and in result of that prisoners of each other. They all want to leave the circus and start a better life. But the attempts to detach and break free lead only lead to bigger embarrassments. The world around the group keeps it apart, because they keep attacking to it even more ruthless.

This situation between the world and the circus can be seen as an allegory for our world, this is where the social stand of the film stands. But it goes a lot deeper than that, researching the soul of man and the truth of human nature. It's a survey of the cruelty of man, but it's also a story about love and jealousy.

The Naked Night is European modernism, which started in the 1940's-50's. The camera-work is the best example of this. It shows true humane emotions, sweat and tears on face, anger, shame and love. The movement of the camera is also very unusual for other films of that time. Ingmar Bergman's story about the cruel truth of human nature is a true classic from the European modernistic era.
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Sawdust and Tinsel
oOoBarracuda2 September 2017
The film I selected to watch second during #SeptemBergman was Sawdust and Tinsel. Just as Summer with Monika, Sawdust and Tinsel was released in 1953, and was the second Ingmar Bergman film Woody Allen was exposed to, so I've taken the lead from him as far as beginning this project. I did not enjoy Sawdust and Tinsel nearly as much as Woody Allen did. This is going to be an entry in Ingmar Bergman's filmography that I appreciate, rather than enjoy.

On an overcast and grim morning, the circus rolls into the town where the ringmaster's family lives. The ringmaster, Albert Johansson (Åke Grönberg) hasn't seen his wife or two sons in three years. Albert gives off the impression that he loves the nomadic life the circus offers whereas his wife, who hated that life, decided to stay behind and establish roots. Albert has since taken a mistress, Anne (Harriet Andersson) who is desperately against the idea of Albert visiting his estranged wife and sons, as she believes he will use the reunion as a way of getting out of the circus. Jealous, hurt, and looking for a way out, Anne visits another traveling group in the same town and is seduced by an actor who promises her a rich life because he is in possession of an expensive necklace. While Albert visits his wife and learns he is not welcome to return to his family, Anne finds out the necklace is worthless. Both are stuck in the same position as when the audience first meets them, broken and dejected, stuck with the circus and with each other.

Several times in Sawdust and Tinsel, Bergman uses silent film techniques which so alter the tone of the film, I struggled to get back into the narrative each time we returned to the plot advancement. Typically, I enjoy methods like this, but they didn't work in Sawdust and Tinsel. The circus metaphor--where the emotions and deepest feelings of human beings are revealed was striking. Bergman's camera got increasingly closer to each subject as more of their desires were exposed. The film is a tough watch, full of humiliation and despair where we continue to see characters humiliated and broken in a worse manner than the previous character was humiliated and broken. The symbolism was nice, and Bergman, being the talented director he was, layers the film in subtlety never losing faith in his audience.
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The Circus of Life
gbill-7487715 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
My goodness, wasn't Ingmar Bergman on fire during the 50's? While the story in Tinsel and Sawdust is less pleasant than some of his other films, focusing on the cruel side of love and the fates people are sometime locked into, he tells it beautifully, and again has a wonderful cast.

A man (Åke Grönberg) has left his wife and sons for three years to lead a traveling circus from town to town. He's having an affair with the trick horseback rider (Harriet Andersson), but tensions arise when he plans to visit his wife and family. It's not a happy troupe in general – they're short of funds and costumes, and in a very artistic flashback, we see the clown (Anders Ek) humiliated by his wife, the bear-trainer, as she frolics in the nude with a bunch of soldiers, to a large regiment's delight. Anyway, as they look to borrow costumes, Andersson is hit on by an actor from a local theater (Hasse Ekman), and at first she has the upper hand and is cruel to him, but later, with the rift with Grönberg increasing, she's duped into having sex with him. Meanwhile Grönberg's wife firmly declines his offer to come back, saying she's not willing to sacrifice her peace of mind for anyone.

Harriet Andersson is stunning in this film and turns in an excellent performance, and Grönberg, Ek, and Ekman are all great as well. It doesn't feel like an overly heavy film, but everyone does seem trapped, in cages I suppose like the circus bear, leading diminished, sometimes violent lives, and that seems to be one of the movie's messages. The circus ultimately keeps moving along despite all the mistakes they've made, and Bergman seems to be relating it to the human condition, one that's invariably tinged with cruelty, and sadness.
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This film should be categorized among Bergman's juvenalia, but there are still some memorable aspects
crculver19 July 2015
That life is a circus that one cannot escape from is the overriding theme of Ingmar Bergman's 1953 film GYCKLARNAS AFTON ("The Evening of the Clowns", but released in the English-speaking world under the titles "Sawdust and Tinsel" and "The Naked Night"). As the film opens, a circus is on its way to a provincial Swedish town in the early 20th century. In an introductory sequence, a coachman tells a story of an embarrassing episode for one of the clowns and his wife, which introduces the motif of humiliation that runs throughout the film. In the ensuing flashback scene, the characters' mouths move but we cannot hear what they are saying, a tribute to silent-era director Sergei Eisenstein.

Only then do we get to the main plot: circus director Albert (Åke Grönberg) will use the opportunity of revisiting this town to see his wife and children, whom he abandoned three years before. His mistress Anne (Harriet Andersson) gets jealous and wants to leave the circus, so she lets a local actor (Hasse Ekman) seduce her. The climax of the film comes with the circus performance, where all the tensions boil over, but not quite in the way I expected.

This is not a mature Bergman film. Anyone expecting the great depths of his later efforts, those powerful meditations on God and interpersonal relationships, will probably be disappointed by this fairly straightforward melodrama. The symbolism is too heavy-handed and even with a mere 90-minute running time, the film seems too long for what it has to offer. I never expected to get from Bergman a long, drawn-out scene where a overstressed character sweats and swoons for what seems like forever... and then that same kind of scene is repeated again later.

Nonetheless, there are some things to enjoy here. Anders Ek's performance is the most memorable here. His supporting role is as a clown with very distinctive physical gestures. It's a huge contrast to the severe priests he went on to play in two later Bergman films. One wonders if his funny way of moving his mouth inspired the buck-teethed drunks of Saturday Night Live's "Bill Brasky" skits. The music for the film was composed by Karl-Birger Blomdahl, who ultimately gained a reputation as Sweden's most controversial avant-garde composer, but here offering a score rather in the vein of Hindemith, full of references to popular dances that capture the riotous and vulgar fun of the circus performers and townspeople.

Before Criterion released this DVD, the film was unavailable in the United States and known only for its original run in cinemas, where the American distributor sold it as a salacious smut film. I'm frankly baffled by this, and the 1950s must have been a very repressed era. While Harriet Andersson plays a sex kitten as times, and her entire role comes down to her looks, the eroticism is not that intense.
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I wanted to like the film more
atari-38 August 2013
The owner and ringmaster of a bankrupt, downtrodden circus visits his ex-wife when it stops in his home town. While away, his girlfriend, who rides a horse in the traveling show, has a sexual encounter with an actor in a local theater troupe. He gets a tearful confession after threatening her later the same day in their caravan, then contemplates suicide. Instead, he takes it out on the sickly circus bear and the show goes on as planned. When the actor shows up for the performance that night it leads to a brawl. There is not a happy character or relationship to be found anywhere in this bleak, disturbing circus show. It starts with a surreal flashback that threatens to overshadow everything that follows. The gun play is unsettling as is the violence shown towards circus animals, although the worst occurs off screen. I wanted to like the film more, and the cinematography by Sven Nykvist is peerless, his first work with Bergman, but my tolerance for violence towards animals is rather low and impeded my enjoyment.
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High Art and Low Art
dlesage-110-2950932 May 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This 1953 Ingmar Bergman vehicle perhaps fails to reach the same heights as his later masterpieces but it still has interesting moments and some unique cinematography.

The film depicts the transient life of a traveling circus troupe and the cost such a life has on their relationships. It also explores the relationships between different forms of art.

Although it is unfashionable in academic circles to make distinctions between "high" and "low" art forms at the moment, the film does analyse the contrast between different art forms and attempts to dramatise the rivalry and power struggles between different sets of performers.

The stark lighting and use of close-ups are the most interesting aspect of this production but the story itself is as banal as any circus act, with slow pacing and uninspiring characters, it proves to be a rare failure on the part of Bergman.

The attempts at comedy fail and the usual bleak, austere settings so typical of Bergman's work do not work well in this case. Perhaps he was trying to subvert the usual expectations of a circus performance by showing the bleak, emotionally and financially impoverished lives of the performers but this does not really come across effectively. The film simply seems dismal and, ironically enough, by the end one feels that they would have better spent their time watching a real circus performance, irrespective of how low culture it is, than this film.
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Even mixed Bergman is worth seeing
runamokprods12 April 2012
Less beloved by many critics than much of Bergman's best known work and I can understand why. The overly melodramatic main story of love and betrayal in a small-time circus is pretty banal stuff.

But for me the film was saved by the beautiful images of the first Bergman/Sven Nyqvist teaming, and the short prologue piece – far braver and more experimental than the main body of the film itself – of a clown from the same circus and his humiliating love for an aging diva, It's so much more interesting than the very similarly themed main story that the device sort of backfires.

Still, this is full enough with bravery, images and ideas, that it can compensate for its heavy- handed or over-the-top moments.
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zetes23 July 2012
Another one of Ingmar Bergman's best films, this one involves a shoddy, flea-bitten circus early in the 20th Century. Ake Gronberg is the ringleader and Harriet Andersson his young, beautiful second wife. The failing circus arrives in the town where Gronberg left his first wife, who has since become a successful shop owner, and two sons. While he's away visiting them, Andersson, who (rightly) believes he is trying to dump her for a comfortable home life, sneaks off to the local theater, hoping she can hook up with an actor and leave the circus herself. This film is a constant stream of humiliation - but, as cruel as it gets, it never feels like Bergman is mocking these characters. They are quite likable, as pathetic as they are, and you suffer along with them. It's pretty much a perfect film. Shot for shot, I am in awe of it. And each performance is one for the ages. Anders Ek in particular is memorable as a rubber-faced, alcoholic clown. A flashback near the beginning of the film where he humiliates himself to protect his wife from the leering of soldiers (which she gladly invites) is one of the most gruelling sequences in the cinema - and yet it's only the beginning.
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The emperor CAN be naked... VERY naked indeed!
ozjeppe27 December 2012
Silly, boisterous and badly outdated story of a traveling circus in turn-of-the-century southern Sweden and the demise of its owner/ringmaster (Grönberg) as he comes back from a 3-year tour abroad. Intriguing circus setting, very similar to Fellini's "La Strada" but this is not even remotely close to that film's masterful emotional quality and character/story development. Here, it's just so cheaply and sloppily executed that almost nothing works in terms of dialog (the scenes between diva actor Ekman and Andersson are terribly unconvincing), coherence (the final 20 minutes are just embarrassing: messy, loud, melodramatic and annoyingly overacted) and character motivation - particularly from Grönberg's mistress Andersson. Grönberg himself IS memorable and the bit where he visits his wife at the tobacco store, stirs up interest momentarily... but this is easily the crappiest piece of Bergman I've seen so far. Stark, moody cinematography is among its few virtues.

To illustrate my disappointment: the opening sequence with the tale of the clown Frost's wife taking a nude swim in front of a military squad relates to absolutely nothing that follows (and again, ridiculously overacted), so what exactly is the point of including it in the first place? So, Bergman aficionados: the emperor CAN be naked... VERY naked indeed!

2 out of 10 from Ozjeppe.
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one of Bergman's "lesser" films
MartinHafer6 January 2006
This is not a bad film, though it certainly isn't exactly up to the standards of much of Ingmar Bergman's work. While I really liked the juxtaposition of the two plots (the mistress seeking out a new lover while her old lover was seeking a reconciliation with his wife), much of the story seemed rather muddled and uninteresting. It's hard to imagine a story about the circus being dull, but from time to time it sure felt that way. In fact, at one point one of the leads threatened to kill himself and I was actually hoping he would--just to give this movie a little more life. This isn't to say that I dislike Bergman's older films--several of them were quite magical--just not this one.

While you may enjoy the film, there are certainly other Bergman films that are far more interesting, such as Wild Strawberries, The 7th Sign, Monika and Autumn Sonata, just to name a few.
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And on It Goes
Hitchcoc14 March 2015
Bergman can deflate you faster than a ten penny nail in a cheap tire. This is the story of people who have made decisions that have consequences way beyond their control. A two bit circus makes its way to a small town. They have lost half of their property in order to survive. Many have not been paid and the chances of performing a marketable show are diminished considerably. The ringmaster and his very young concubine are incredibly dependent on one another, but the age difference is really a negating factor. The two go to a local theatrical group to borrow costumes so they can perform. The Director makes them grovel but agrees. Albert, the ringmaster, once lived in this town and left his rather drab wife with his two sons to set out on the road. He stops to see her and begs to be let back in but no soap. Meanwhile, Anne, his young mistress set out on her own to see an actor who has tried to seduce her earlier. What ensues is one of the blackest scenes in all of cinema. But like Mother Courage lifting the poles to pull her wagon, we see that the human spirit, even when dipped in the quagmire, somehow can resurface and hope to make it to the next stop.
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Strong and Powerful Storytelling
andrew_hawkins3 January 2009
Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel is a strong and powerful film. Focusing on characters this film explores the emotions of sorrow, hopelessness, and despair. The story concerns the members of a traveling circus that have fallen on hard times. Police, Soldiers, and an Acting Troupe provide supporting story and conflict. A strong character development follows each of the individuals portrayed. The film's climax will move audiences and provoke thought on man's capability of reason. Highly recommended for fans of The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and admirers of Ingmar Bergman and/or Werner Herzog.
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