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Sawdust and Tinsel

Åke Grönberg , Harriet Andersson , Ingmar Bergman    NR (Not Rated)   DVD
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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This early film by Ingmar Bergman, made before his international hits Smiles of a Summer Night and The Seventh Seal, was vilified by critics when it first came out (one referring to it as "a piece of vomit"), but with time has earned a reputation as one of the master filmmaker's first important works. Sawdust and Tinsel touches on many of Bergman's standard themes--vanishing love, godless existences, the redemptive power of theater--in its telling of a disillusioned circus owner (Åke Grönberg) and his young mistress (Harriet Andersson of Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly) as they set up for yet another performance in a small town. Both contemplate leaving the circus and each other, as Grönberg pays a visit to his now-independent wife (an exceptional Annika Tretow), and Andersson allows herself to be seduced by a local actor (Hasse Ekman), only to find herself used and humiliated. One can see traces of the melancholy Smiles of a Summer Night in the romantic roundelays that start out bright and end up bitter--the constructs may be farcical at times, but the emotions are raw and heartfelt. And stylistically, from the first frame the film evokes strong similarities to The Seventh Seal; in fact, this film marks the first collaboration of Bergman and his legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Despite some awkward dialogue and a static pace, Sawdust and Tinsel shows a young, assured Bergman finding his way to the themes and techniques that would define his later films. A must-see for Bergman aficionados. --Mark Englehart

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome Sven! Jan. 24 2002
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
This is one of my favorite early Bergman movies, if not just for the opening clown sequence, which is beautifully photographed. I think this is the first film in which Bergman collaborated with Sven Nykvist, perhaps the greatest film duo to ever come into being. Whether or not the critics loved or hated the film, or when or why they took either opinion, is of course of little consequence. Bergman himself seemed to have liked the film, or at least as much as he indicated in his autobiography: he notes, in particular, the successful blending of dream and reality that he so admired in Tarkovsky and that, he felt, he had failed to create in some of his later more ambitious projects.
A circus owner (Gronberg) arrives in his former hometown after an absence of seven years, when he left behind his wife and his two little boys. He hasn't seen them since, and has taken up a new lover: a young, coquettish, simple-minded girl who performs in his circus (Anderson). When the the circus owner decides to pay a visit to his former family, Anderson becomes intensely jealous, thinking that he is leaving her to return to his family. "Fear becomes what is feared" when, sensing abandonment, Anderson allows herself to be seduced by a young actor. Likewise, thinking that his new lover has run off, Gronberg makes a desperate attempt to reconcile with his family. A morbid and most pathetically depressing emotional climax is reached when all the cards are laid on the table at the circus's performance.
The acting/directing in this movie is Bergman at his finest; a 'spontaneous' (thoroughly coordinated) guttoral instinctiveness is pounded on like an out-of-tune piano chord: the emotional progress of the characters in the film is at once difficult to watch, for its ugliness, and strangely attractive.
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5.0 out of 5 stars AKA The Naked Night April 14 2001
Format:VHS Tape
Ingmar Bergman has called this his first true film, the first step into murky autobiographical terrain, and the coming together of his soul-searching about love, sex, faith and identity with his grasp of cinematic language. Using the metaphor of life as a travelling circus and in particular his legendary philandering, Bergman is the circus owner cuckolded by his mistress and the actor in a local theatre troupe who seduces her. The flashback which appears early in the film encapsulates Bergman's theme where the circus clown's wife strips for a legion of soldiers on the beach, while canonfire and the music of Karl-Birger Blomdahl explodes. This sequence has the starkness of a silent movie and the luridness of a peepshow flick, it's closeups as beautiful and evocative as Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Although nothing that follows matches the brilliance of this flashback, some scenes come close - the seduction of the sensual Harriet Andersson, the circus owners visit to his wife who defines the life she is glad to be free of as one of "insecurity, misery, flight, lice and sickness", and a fight in the circus ring. Bergman's rambles when the circus owner gets drunk, in his resolution, and with the theatre scenes where his coverage of the director is too respectful - he gives him a ludicrous low angle introduction, perhaps out of his own feeling of being a director for the theatre. But the use of the circus animals, in particular the cat which lives in the owner's wagon in reaction to a gun is masterly. From the performance we see given by the clowns and the smallness of their working space, I presume we are to feel the way the circus wife does about this kind of life. Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars Caustic, Amazing. It leaves one breathless.... Dec 16 2000
By A Customer
Format:VHS Tape
A new generation of Bergman viewers has begun to discover that many of the lesser-known films by the great Swedish director are among his very best, or, one should say, they speak to modern audiences in a more significant way than the "cannonical" Bergman films do. "Winter Light", "Hour of the Wolf", "Shame" and, yes, "Sawdust and Tinsel" are at LEAST as worth-watching as "Seventh Seal", "Cries and Whispers", etc. "Sawdust" is a harrowing film, even by Bergman's standards, and it's not for the faint hearted, but it is one of the most gripping films I have ever seen; it's filled with horror and humiliation (and more raw pain than a dozen other films) but it finally shows a sincere compassion for its characters, an attribute that ultimately makes it a true work of humanistic art.
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