• Sawdust and Tinsel is Ingmar Bergman’s second release of 1953 (Summer with Monika) and has the brief distinction of being the great Swedish master’s best film through this point in his career (an honor that will only last a few short years until 1957).
  • Like Monika, it stars Harriet Andersson (certainly Bergman’s main muse through this stretch). Åke Grönberg (playing Albert here) is the other major lead and there is a smaller role for Bergman trope regular Gunnar Björnstrand as well.

To open the film Bergman captures this traveling circus (Albert is the circus master) wagon caravan in long shot. This first shot is a stunner- similar to a shot in 1940’s The Grapes of Wrath. There is a keen photographic eye for negative space on display.

The second shot is a sublime photograph as well as Bergman bounces off the water reflection.

  • A powerful flashback anecdote/sequence (Bergman loved his flashbacks) of a clown playing the cuckhold as his wife goes skinny dipping with a regiment of soldiers.

A stunner of a low-angle shot of the play director showing off (like Welles would do) an ornate ceiling. The director eviscerates (as only Bergman’s writing could do) the ring master. “Why shouldn’t I insult you?”

  • There story is not just about Anne (Andersson) and Albert but of Albert’s wife and a suiter for Anne.

Undoubtedly, one of the superior sequences in Bergman’s oeuvre to date is the composition of the lantern on stage with Andersson at the 49-minute mark.

  • Bergman puts a focus on the background as well as foreground with Albert and Anne at the 63-minute mark in the wagon—he is foreground left and she is background right. Bergman’s talent touches Welles again here – this time with his deep focus work.

This is a depressingly dark metaphor for life- “sick of the circus” and they all look dirty, sweaty, desperate and fatigued. And all of this is before the public beating and humiliation.

  • The film has a nice formal bookend—it opens with wagons on the move—and ends with the same.
  • Many are quick to note that this is Bergman’s first collaboration with cinematographer Sven Nykvist and it may not be a coincidence that it marks Bergman’s best film at the time in 1953. Nykvist is one of two cinematographers credited here – Hilding Bladh is the other. Though that theory of Nykvist being the winner here fades a little when you realize that the film that would supplant Sawdust and Tinsel as Bergman’s best film in his career in 1957 would not have Nykvist as the cinematographer.
  • Highly Recommend / Must-See border.