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.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "SAWDUST AND TINSEL" FROM AMAZON
a fascinating interview supplement contained on this amazing new release by The
Criterion Collection, film historian Joseph McBride calls The Magnificent Ambersons one of the great Hollywood tragedies in
that the film we got from writer/director Orson Welles was not the one he
intended. It is widely known that RKO Radio, the studio behind the production,
deleted forty-three minutes from Welles’ final cut, reshot the ending, and
released the film their way—all
against Welles’ wishes—and then promptly destroyed the cut footage so that the
movie could never be reconstructed.
is a stolen masterpiece.
said, the film is still a great
movie. In fact, it earned Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Supporting
Actress (Agnes Moorehead), Best Cinematography (Black & White, by Stanley
Cortez), and Best Art/Interior Set Decoration (Black & White).
Ambersons, based on Booth
Tarkington’s 1918 novel (Welles claims that Tarkington was a “friend” of his
father’s), the picture was the director’s follow-up to Citizen Kane. Once again featuring some of the Mercury Players
(Joseph Cotten, Ray Collins, and Moorehead) and new casting choices (Dolores
Costello, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter), the production of Ambersons went well, with the picture going only a little over
budget. Welles delivered a 148-minute cut—and then Pearl Harbor happened.
Welles was appointed by Nelson Rockefeller to be a goodwill ambassador to Latin
America so that he could attempt to persuade South American countries from
entering the war on the Axis side.
dutifully went to Brazil and started shooting a film (It’s All True, another picture sabotaged by RKO) and was
essentially unavailable to receive notes and requests from RKO regarding Ambersons. RKO, unhappy with the film,
then took it upon themselves to change it to suit their needs, and there was
nothing Welles could do about it. The picture released in July 1942 was
88-minutes in length.
a Magnificent Ambersons that is an
hour longer be a better film than it already is? We can only assume. For one
thing, the ending was drastically different. Welles’ version was cynical, dark,
and ironic. Given the wartime climate, RKO wanted a more upbeat ending—never
mind that it really doesn’t make sense that the characters suddenly change
entire attitudes they have held throughout the film. Never mind that the final
half-hour of the movie feels choppy, rushed, and out-of-rhythm from the first
hour. The 88-minute version is what we have and must live with.
should be stated again—The Magnificent
Ambersons is still a great picture.
story concerns the wealthy Amberson family in the early 1900s Indianapolis. Beautiful
Isabel Amberson (Costello) marries Wilbur Minafer (Don Dillaway) instead of
Eugene Morgan (Cotten), but she regrets it… and she and Morgan carry torches
for each other for the remainder of their days. Enter Isabel and Wilbur’s
bratty son, George (Holt), who terrorizes the town with his bad manners,
arrogance, and boorishness. Things get complicated when he begins to woo
Morgan’s daughter Lucy (Baxter) and at the same time insult and humiliate her
father. All the while, Wilbur’s sister Fanny (Moorehead) also carries
unrequited love for Morgan and inserts herself into the already-touchy
Ambersons is about the downfall of a
respected and wealthy family to that thing called Progress—namely, the
invention and proliferation of the automobile and other industrial evolutions.
Welles makes an ecological statement with the picture (back in 1942!) which is
something else RKO was unhappy with, seeing that American industries had to
ramp up to support the war effort.
new 4K digital restoration looks marvelous, and it contains two separate audio
commentaries with scholars Robert L. Carringer and James Naremore, and critic
packaging is first-rate. The numerous and excellent supplements alone make the
product a 5-star purchase. Especially interesting and informative are the new
interviews with (previously mentioned) McBride and one with film historian
Simon Callow. Both men relate different insights into the history of the
production and the editing debacle. Director Welles appears on a 1970 segment
of The Dick Cavett Show (along with second
guest Jack Lemmon) for an often-hilarious and always-entertaining half-hour
discussion. New video essays on the cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s uncredited score (that was also chopped
up with RKO’s editing), by Francois Thomas and Christopher Husted,
respectively, are a welcome addition.
included is the silent version of Ambersons,
originally called Pampered Youth (1925),
and re-edited for the U.K. as Two to One (1927).
If that wasn’t enough, we get two Mercury Theatre radio plays: the 1939
adaptation by Welles of Ambersons (with
Welles playing the role of George), and a 1938 adaptation of Seventeen, another Booth Tarkington
creation. There’s more, such as audio interviews with Welles by Peter
Bogdanovich and at an AFI symposium, and the theatrical trailer. The booklet
comes in a stapled “manuscript” that resembles a typed screenplay. It contains
essays by authors and critics (Molly Haskell, Luc Sante, Geoffrey O’Brien,
Farran Smith Nehme, and Jonathan Lethem), and excerpts from a Welles memoir.
even in its sadly truncated form,further
illustrates the genius that was Orson Welles. This Criterion release is a
Criterion has released a dual format Blu-ray/DVD edition of director Michael Mann's 1981 crime thriller Thief starring James Caan. It's a highly impressive film on many levels, especially when one considers this was Mann's big screen feature debut. He had previously directed the acclaimed 1979 TV movie The Jericho Mile, which was set in Folsom Prison. Mann was inspired by his interaction with the world of convicts and wrote the screenplay for Thief, which is credited as being based on author Frank Hohimer's novel The Home Invaders, but he maintains virtually none of the source material ended up on screen. The story centers on Frank (James Caan), a bitter man with a troubled past. As a child he was raised in state-run homes before being sent to jail for a petty crime. Inside prison, he committed violent acts in order to defend himself but this only resulted in lengthier jail terms. By the time he has been released, he has spent half of his life behind bars. While in jail, Frank befriended Okla (Willie Nelson), a older man and master thief who is doing a life sentence. He becomes Frank's mentor and father figure and teaches him the tools of the trade. When Frank is finally released, he becomes a master at his craft, which is pulling off seemingly impossible heists of cash and diamonds. Before long, he has become a legend in his field. As a cover, Frank runs a major used car dealership and a small bar. However, he realizes that his luck will certainly run out at some point and he is determined to retire after making a few more high end scores. He works with a small team consisting of two confederates (James Belushi, Willam LaValley) who are also pros in gaining access to seemingly impenetrable vaults. The headstrong Frank wants to also settle down and raise a family. He makes an awkward introduction to Jessie (Tuesday Weld), an equally head strong, down-on-her luck character who nevertheless becomes smitten by him and ends up marrying him. The couple face frustration, however, when their attempts to adopt a baby are thwarted by Frank's criminal record. Frank is ultimately approached by Leo (Robert Prosky), a local crime lord who entices him to stop working independently and pull off a high profile heist for a fortune in diamonds. Frank rejects the offer but eventually he relents, though he is reluctant to work with a new partner. Leo has managed to break through Frank's cynicism by showering him with praise the benefits of his influence, which include arranging for Frank and Jessie to illegally adopt the baby they want so desperately. The lure of being able to retire after this one huge score leads Frank to go against his better judgment and he agrees to work for Leo on this one big job. The diamonds are located in a vault so secure that it would seem to be better suited for Fort Knox. In order to break in, Frank and his team must use highly sophisticated drills and other equipment that would rival the top gear used by any branch of the military. On the verge of realizing his greatest score, however, things go terribly wrong on any number of levels. Frank, seeing his world crumble around him, goes on a violent rampage of destruction and self-destruction.
Thief is a highly stylized movie that moves at a rapid clip and features one of James Caan's strongest performances. The problem, however, is that the character of Frank is so obnoxious, he is difficult to relate to. Peckinpah, Scorsese and Coppola always had a knack for making disreputable characters seem appealing, but Frank is nasty, arrogant and self-centered. This is certainly realistic, given the bitter feelings he has toward society, but the viewer never warms to him in any meaningful way. He is only sympathetic because the people he deals with are so much worse. Nevertheless, Thief is a crackling good yarn that boasts some fine performances especially by Tuesday Weld and character actor Robert Prosky, who is brilliant in a scene-stealing role. Willie Nelson's screen time is very limited but he makes effective use of his two scenes. The film features superb cinematography by Donald E. Thorin, who made his debut here as Director of Cinematography. His night sequences on the rain-slicked streets of Chicago evoke visions of neon-lit nightmare. The film features an electronic score by Tangerine Dream, the band that provided the music for Willliam Friedkin's Sorcerer. Strangely, their score for that films holds up well but their work in Thief comes across as a bit monotonous and dated. The film's ultra-violent conclusion is exciting but rather cliched with Frank turning into yet another pissed off screen hero who decides to take down all of his enemies in an orgy of shootouts and destruction. (I know it sounds petty but I can never accept such sequences when they are set in urban neighborhoods in which no one ever seems to call the police even as houses explode and machine gun fire is sprayed all over the place.). The film excels, however, in the break-in sequences which are superbly directed and feature camerawork that make the crime scene look like an attraction from Disney World, with fireworks-like sparks filling the air.
The Criterion Blu-ray transfer is superb on every level. Extras, which are carried over to the DVD, include a commentary track by Michael Mann and James Caan that was recorded in 1995. There are also fresh video interviews with both men that are rather candid. (Caan, who has worked consistently through his career, modestly says "I was rather popular at one time" in reference to his work on the film. Mann says he is still debating in his mind whether he regrets using Tangerine Dream's score) There is also an interview with Johannes Schmoelling of the band, who discusses working with Mann to create the score. An original trailer is included as is a nicely illustrated booklet with an informative essay by film critic Nick James.