Thursday 30 August 2012

Sawdust and Tinsel [1953]

Sawdust and Tinsel, along with Summer with Monika (both of which released in the same year), remains as one of Bergman’s best works from his earlier (pre-The Seventh Seal) days, though, unlike the latter, it was mostly rejected by the critics and audience alike upon its release. This was a dark and brooding meditation on hopelessness, frustrations and desperations of the members of a traveling circus, whose lives are pathetically stuck in a vicious circle. The movie starts with the chronicling, in flashback, of the sadly funny tale of a mime joker, whose powdered face and clumsy attire contrast with his inner sadness, compounded by the callous cruelty of the outside world. The focus then shifts to the film’s two principal protagonists – Albert (Ake Gronberg), the circus’ world-weary boss who longs to settle down with his estranged wife and son, and his jealous mistress Anne (Harriet Andersson), a coquettish and voluptuous young girl who hopes to earn some quick buck by stupidly yielding to a sly local theatre actor. Both the leads gave excellent and nuanced turns, with Gronberg being especially explosive in his portrayal of a man who is imploding from every angle, and yet unable escape his vacuous existence. His first association with his famed long-term collaborator Sven Nykvist, the stark and expressionistic B/W photography filled the movie with a relentless sense of doom and bleakness that would farm a hallmark in a number of his more renowned later works. The script, however, veered towards excess melodrama and hysteria at times, and the near-static content and overtly gloomy nature made it quite a demanding watch.

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama
Language: Swedish
Country: Sweden


Jon said...

Harriet Andersson is very sexy in this film and gives probably her best performance from this era. I do think it's Bergman's first great film actually. Summer With Monika I watched recently for the first time and was a bit underwhelmed by it. It was good in spots. Bergman's first masterpiece though is Smiles of a Summer Night, which is better than Sawdust and Tinsel.

Sam Juliano said...

"This was a dark and brooding meditation on hopelessness, frustrations and desperations of the members of a traveling circus, whose lives are pathetically stuck in a vicious circle."

Indeed Shubhajit! Perfectly stated. In his seminal book on the director titled "Ingmar Bergman Directs" the critic John Simon asserted thjat tere were four Bergman masterpieces:

Winter Light
Smiles of a Summer Night
Sawdust and Tinsel

Celebrated critic Pauline Kael on the other hand derided SAWDUST AND TINSEL saying: "It's powerful all right....powerfully awful." I am completely with Simon on this and consider the film one of Bergman's early masterpieces. There are some arresting images, the soundtrack is lively, and it focuses on themes Bergman would encore later in his career. I agree with Jon that Harriet Andersson (one of the greatest of actresses) s superlative.

Your review is a masterpiece too Shuhajit!

David said...

Great Review,Shuhajit!

This is my personal favorite of all Bergman works I've seen.I was fascinated by the Baroque style cinematography,the mirror scene is masterful.

This is also the saddest movie by Bergman I Suppose,Albert is such a doomed and desperate character,his dignity is almost devastated in the film.

Shubhajit said...


Haha, couldn't agree with you more on your observation on Harriet Andersson - her sensuality literally oozed off the screen for me. And yes, she performed well too - brought in a lot of vulnerability into it.

I quite liked Summer with Monika, though I too wouldn't call it a masterpiece. Need to watch Smiles of a Summer Night though, and from what it seems, sooner rather than later.

Thanks Jon for sharing your views on the film.

Shubhajit said...


Thanks a lot Sam for the appreciation. You are too kind to call this humble effort a "masterpiece", that too in the same breath while speaking about Bergman masterpieces, but I'll be smart enough to accept the complements :)

On a more serious note, my views on this film probably lies somewhere in between John Simon & Pauline Kael, and more towards the former. Kael's rather unsavoury brushing down this film is quite famous (or, to be more correct, infamous), and I'm not sure why she so hated it.

But what surprises more is that John Simon found just 4 of Bergman's films as masterpieces. I would add the likes of Wild Strawberries, Cries & Whispers, Through A Glass Darkly, Autumn Sonata, and Scenes from a Marriage, too, to that list. Maybe even Fanny & Alexander too. Some would say the same about The Seventh Seal as well, but for some reasons it doesn't rank among my favourite Bergman films. But, that said, Bergman probably made more masterpieces than any other filmmaker - and that's something, his vast filmography notwithstanding.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot David.

For me, the saddest Bergman film would probably be Cries & Whispers. In fact, a number of his films, including this one, would be strong contenders for that given the series of psychologically disconcerting films he made.

But yes, the final break down of Albert, a culmination of his rejection by his wife, emotional betrayal by his mistress, public humiliation, etc., was a truly devastating moment.

Sam Juliano said...


Simon's book was published in 1971, well before the advent of CRIES AND WHISPERS, AUTUMN SONATA, SCENES and FANNY.

Shubhajit said...

Oh ok, thanks Sam for pointing that out. I ought to have googled about the book before making that faux-pas :)