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  Sawdust and Tinsel Life Is A Circus
Year: 1953
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Åke Grönberg, Harriet Andersson, Hasse Ekman, Anders Ek, Gudrun Brost, Annika Tretow, Erik Strandmark, Gunnar Björnstrand, Curt Löwgren, Kiki
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Albert Johansson (Åke Grönberg) is the owner of a travelling circus, but times are hard. As he sits on one of the carriages on the journey to their next location, he is told the story of Frost the Clown (Anders Ek) who a while ago, in another town, had heard that his wife had been bathing naked with a regiment of soldiers who were on exercises. Frost was horrified, although his fellow circus folk thought it hilarious, and he marched down to the seaside to put a stop to it. He waded into the sea after her, but someone hid their clothes, and Frost was forced to carry his naked wife back barefoot over sharp stones. People stopped laughing then and simply grew embarrassed, and although Albert doesn't know it, he's heading for a similar downfall...

For some, Ingmar Bergman who wrote and directed here will always be ridiculously miserable in his film work, and it's films like Sawdust and Tinsel, or Gycklarnas Afton as it was called in Swedish, that they're thinking of when they regard him so. Amusingly, the film was renamed The Naked Night in America as if to play up the sexual angle because in those days films from Europe were hoped to mean something racy, with the glimpse of nudity high on the wish list. Anyone seeking to get off on this production would be singularly disappointed; there is a sexual angle, but like the rest of the film it's tied into the way love and lust invariably lead to humiliation.

Or at least it does here. This isn't The Greatest Show on Earth as you'll probably notice, and the life of an entertainer, specifically a circus entertainer, is illustrated in the most downbeat manner possible. There's nothing glamorous about showbusiness as it is depicted here, simply lives of austerity and desperation that make the show they put on all the more hollow. Albert is married, and the town the troupe are headed for is where his wife lives with their sons, but he hasn't seen them in three years and has taken up with the younger Anne (Harriet Andersson), one of the resident showgirls. Although he is happy with Anne, he still pines for a life of stability with his family, a life he has no chance of regaining.

Once they reach town, they don't have their costumes with them due to the hardship they've suffered on the road, so Albert and Anne have to go begging to the local theatre where they are looked down on by the director in the most withering fashion. Over and over again, the characters are put into compromising positions by others, leaving them humbled and bitter, their hopes dashed. Anne takes the lead actor of the theatre down a peg or two, but he has his revenge when he persuades her to sleep with him for a trinket she is led to believe is worth far more than it is. And worse is to come when the circus is finally held, with Albert, rejected by his wife who enjoys her new independence, proving that what the crowd really want to see is humiliation, not only the jokiness of the clowns, but a tawdry fight in the ring. Sven Nykvist was one of the cinematographers so the film at least looks great, but the general wallowing in self-destruction can be wearing. Music by Karl-Birger Blomdahl.

[Tartan's Region 2 DVD has no extras except for a couple of trailers - for other Bergman films.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Ingmar Bergman  (1918 - 2007)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of cinema, Ingmar Bergman was often accused of being too depressing as his subjects covered the existence (or otherwise) of God and deep-seated marital problems (he himself was married five times), but he always approached them with a sympathetic eye. Among his most memorable films were Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal (with its unforgettable chess game with Death), Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for Last House on the Left), Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander. He also made international stars of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson.

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