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Sunday, July 27, 2008

SAWDUST AND TINSEL (1953)

Ingmar Bergman found his distinctive voice and style in this story about a traveling circus. We always hear about people who run away to join the circus, but here it’s the circus owner and his much younger mistress who'd like to run away from their treadmill lives and stay in town. The owner hopes to reconnect with the wife and sons he deserted years ago, while his mistress falls for the matinee idol at the local theater. But getting off the road isn't as easy as it sounds, and maybe they don't really want to. Structurally, the film is a series of revelations, some direct, some oblique, all pitch-perfect and memorable, thanks in no small part to Bergman’s new cinematographer, Sven Nykvist. It's their first collaboration and he's already searching out visual landscapes in faces and bringing a daringly varied approach to lighting. (Bergman would alternate between Nykvist & his previous lenser, Gunnar Fischer, thru the '50s.) From our perspective, the film is overly clinical, even a bit obvious, in its depictions of egos & ids, but refinements in action & image are already in sight. (And watch for an amazing bit of psychological cinematic legerdemain with a cat.)

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