Gycklarnas Afton

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(The Naked Night; Sawdust and Tinsel)

Sweden, 1953

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Production: Sandrews for Svensk Filmindustri; black and white, 35mm; running time: 92 minutes; length: 2520 meters. Released 14 September 1953, Sweden. Filmed early summer 1953 in Sandrews studios in Stockholm; and exteriors shot in Arild, Sweden.

Producer: Rune Waldekranz; screenplay: Ingmar Bergman; photography: Hilding Bladh, Göran Strindberg, and Sven Nykvist; editor: Carl-Olav Skeppstedt; art director: Bibi Lindström; music: Karl-Birger Blomdahl; costume designer: Mago.

Cast: Harriet Andersson (Anne); Ake Grönberg (Albert Johansson); Hasse Ekman (Frans); Anders Ek (Frost); Gudrun Brost (Alma); Annika Tretow (Agda, Albert's wife); Gunnar Björnstrand (Mr. Sjuberg); Erik Strandmark (Jens); Kiki (Dwarf); Ake Fridell (Officer); Majken Torkeli (Mrs. Ekberg); Vanjek Hedberg (Ekberg's son); Curt Löwgren (Blom).



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The films of Ingmar Bergman have been considered by commercial distributors as "intellectual" films rather than simple entertainment. The themes Bergman has chosen to present in his work—death, fate, love, loneliness—are thought to have only intellectual appeal. The Naked Night exhibits many typical Bergman themes and has been selected by some critics as his best film. However, this favorable acceptance of the film does not reflect the initial popular reaction.

The Naked Night was the first of Bergman's films to be given a wide release in the United States (although it was his eighteenth film as a director). A few of his early films had a limited distribution here, but they were mainly exploited for their nudity as soft-core pornography. The Naked Night was also publicized in this manner, as evidenced by the American title. A more literal translation of Gycklarnas Afton is "twilight of the jugglers." France released the film as Night of the Clowns and England released the film as Sawdust and Tinsel. Only the American version was labeled with a suggestive title.

As in many of Bergman's films, the main theme of The Naked Night is the idea of fate. Fate dictates the kind of lives the characters must lead and they cannot escape their destinies. Their attempts to do so only make their lives more miserable. For example, Albert, the owner of a travelling circus, seeks a more secure life in the traditional family unit. When he tries to make amends with his estranged wife, she rejects him and even thanks him for having left her in the first place. Albert's visit to his wife prompts his mistress, Anne, to have an affair with a local actor. The actor later humiliates Albert in public by bragging about his new conquest. Albert's humiliation leads him to attempt suicide, but he cannot escape his fate and the attempt fails. This string of events eventually comes full circle, until Albert once again sets out on the road with Anne, following the only choice fate allows him.

The Naked Night, not surprisingly, considering the subject matter, does not have a happy ending. Obviously 1953 audiences were not ready for this kind of film as it was quite unsuccessful, not just financially but critically. The film was also unsuccessful in Sweden, as well as in most foreign markets. Critics termed the film too "complex" and "depressing." The failure of The Naked Night affected Bergman deeply. He knew he would have to make changes if he was going to continue to find financial backing for his films. As a result, Bergman's next three pictures were comedies (A Lesson in Love, Dreams, and Smiles of a Summer Night). These films continued to address the issues of his earlier work (fate, love, etc.), but in a lighter vein. This new approach made his films more popular and critically recognized. The change in the reaction to his films encouraged Bergman to turn toward "serious" films again, such as Persona and Cries and Whispers. In the mid-1960s critics rediscovered Gycklarnas Afton, regarding it in a new, more positive light as one of the most significant films of his career.

—Linda J. Obalil