the title of bergman's "sawdust and tinsel" lends much to its overarching and tawdry undertwisting themes. we might add to the list: mirrors, humiliation, clowns, leering onlookers, the circus of unhappy marriage, hypnotism, and other high wire acts. when the movie was first released it was met with a cool and critical reception, called "bergman's vomit" by one critic that he quotes in an interview that is also included on the criterion dvd. but though bergman's is a pessimistic view emphasizing the inherent cruelty in human sexual relationships, the film sparkles and sizzles at every turn.
how can you not love this kind of talk between the equestrian and the sadistic, opportunistic thespian who seduces her : she: "i can ride great geldings bareback at a full gallop holding on with only my thighs."
he: "you smell of stables, cheap perfume and sweat, but i'll lick you clean like a dog."
at one point they arm wrestle to settle who's the stronger.
and the scene that takes place in the tiny trailer between the heavily inebriated frost the clown, the equally intoxicated albert the cuckholded ringmaster, and his gun is amazing. the tragic and grotesque expressions that pass across frost the clown's face are maybe the most unforgettable part.