Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)

Ever since I watched Santa Sangre (1989) earlier this year, it has reawakened my fear of the circus. Back when I was in high school, my honors Biology teacher decided that in order to understand genetic abnormalities, he would show us videos of real life circus freaks and sideshows for two full weeks. Of course, some of these so-called 'freaks' were not genetically mutated at all, but they elected to alter their appearance with the help of technology or plastic surgery in order to improve their circus act.

Ingmar Bergman's Sawdust and Tinsel is not meant to be a scary circus movie, but I did find myself scared during the circus acts at the end. The movie mainly focuses on Albert Johansson, the aging ring master of a traveling circus in Sweden. In the beginning, Albert listens to an unhappy story about the clown Frost and how his wife Alma had humiliated him by bathing naked in the lake with a group of soldiers. The story ends before the circus arrives in the town where Albert left his wife Agda and three sons three years ago when he decided to leave town with the circus and replace Agda with a young mistress, Anne. Now, since he's back in town, he wants to go visit his wife and children, but Anne is strongly against the reunion. Despite Anne's pleas for him not to go, Albert goes to see his wife and children. Once there, he realizes how much he regrets ever leaving them and asks if she'll have him back. Agda refuses him back, so Albert leaves and while he's heading back to the circus area, he witnesses Anne betraying him as well. Overcome with emotion and regret, Albert goes back to the circus where he realizes he'll be stuck living the rest of his life in poverty, with no family or true love.

I was surprised to learn that Sawdust and Tinsel was originally marketed as a sex film in the U.S. It was released under the title The Naked Night. I have no idea why this movie was marketed in this fashion. This is not a film full of sex scenes, it's a film focusing on lust, desire, jealousy and regret. It's difficult to watch Albert's emotional breakdown, even though he brought it on himself. He looks utterly defeated and overwhelmed with his ghastly lifestyle. He should have realized from the beginning that his life would end up being much worse without his wife and kids in it.


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