Criterion Collection has upgraded to Blu-ray their earlier DVD release of
Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 feature, Sawdust
and Tinsel (titled The Naked Night when
the picture was first released theatrically in the U.S.). The visual quality
has improved with a new 2K digital restoration that looks razor sharp with gorgeous
contrasting black and white imagery, and it comes with an uncompressed monaural
Sawdust was a major step
forward in the evolution of Bergman’s filmography, although it was not
well-received by Swedish audiences at the time of release. It was most likely
deemed too disturbing for what appeared to be a movie about a traveling circus.
Note that this was before Bergman’s international breakthrough, which would
occur a couple of years later with Smiles
of a Summer Night. At the time of Sawdust
and Tinsel, Bergman was mostly known just in his native country and at the
various film festivals around the world where his work had been submitted.
first several pictures in Bergman’s oeuvre,
especially in the late 1940s,were
often melodramatic tales of entanglement, lost love, betrayal, and working-class
misfits struggling to enrich their lives. It wasn’t until Summer Interlude, in 1951, that a singular stylistic and thematic voice
emerged that can now be identified as Bergman-esque. Earlier in 1953, Summer with Monika was released, and
that caused something of a sensation with its frank portrayal of what the U.S.
distributor called “The Story of a Bad Girl.” That one made a star out of
Harriet Andersson, who would work on several other pictures with Bergman over
the next four decades.
Sawdust and Tinsel was a very different
picture from Monika. Taking place in
the early 1900s, the story concerns a poor, shoddy traveling circus that barely
supports itself. It is run by Albert (Åke Grönberg),
a middle-aged man who left his wife and sons in a small town in order to be a
ringmaster. His mistress, Anne (Harriet Andersson), is the bareback rider,
younger and yearning for something better. Frost the Clown (Anders Ek) and his
wife Alma (Gudrun Brost), who has an act with a sickly bear, are oddballs and constant
thorns in Albert’s side. When the circus sets up near the town where Albert’s
family lives, he decides to go for a visit. First, though, the troupe must
borrow costumes from the local theater run by creepy manager Sjuberg (played by
Bergman stalwart Gunnar Björnstrand). There,
Anne meets the mysterious actor, Frans (Hasse Ekman), who seduces her away from
sound like a good time at the cinema? Hogwash. This is a fascinating and haunting
battle of the sexes—a typical Bergman theme—but the carnival milieu is so
unique to the director that Sawdust and
Tinsel is immediately visually striking with its dreamlike photography (it
was the first collaboration between Bergman and longtime cinematographer Sven
Nykvist), its colorful and eccentric characters, and its moody and often
the story’s core is a treatise on how human beings react to humiliation. The
opening scene, in which Frost must rescue his wife from the taunting of the
Swedish military performing exercises near the beach, is a nightmarish, nearly silent
mime show of anguish and terror (and the facial contortions that Ek’s Frost
makes are worth a study in skin elasticity!). The meat of the picture is how the
ultimate shattering of both Albert’s and Anne’s dreams force them to re-examine
their lots in life.
all powerful stuff.
on the disk include an audio commentary from 2007 by Bergman scholar Peter
Cowie, a video introduction from 2003 by Bergman himself, and an essay in the
booklet by critic John Simon.
For those of you looking for the sold-out boxed set retrospective of Bergman’s
career that was released in November, Ingmar
Bergman’s Cinema, new copies will be available February 26, 2019.
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