DVD Review: Sawdust and Tinsel

The Criterion Collection
Movie ••••½ Picture ••••½ Sound •••½ Extras ••••

A friendly, tinkling carousel organ plays over images of a circus caravan, setting up a mood of escape, fun, and serenity. This lasts about 20 seconds, before ominous drumming breaks in, followed by atonal orchestra music. Thus, the stage is set for Sawdust and Tinsel, Ingmar Bergman's brilliant 1953 examination of the role and fate of artists in society, symbolically represented by an impoverished troupe of performers.

In this transfer, the striking, spotless images have a wonderfully smooth, film-like quality (stunningly so when I played the DVD upconverted on a Blu-ray Disc player). Sharp and detailed in-depth compositions are filled with deep, deep blacks, bright whites, and an enormous range of subtle grays, producing rounded figures and highly readable and textured backgrounds. Flashback scenes are purposely overexposed and overcontrasted, but the transfer handles these glaring, expressionistic images well, too. The mono sound is crisp and hiss-free, with voices full and natural.

Peter Cowie, my favorite commentator, provides lots of in-depth background information on Bergman and the production. In addition, Cowie offers his usual insightful analysis of the cinematic language the director employs to communicate complex ideas and emotions.

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