Scandinavian Blue: The Erotic Cinema of Sweden and Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s, by Jack Stevenson. Trade paperback, 304pp. $49.95. 2010. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Sweden and Denmark are the obvious starting points for much of what would bloom internationally in the two prime decades of the counterculture. From Sweden, in 1951, came the “naturist” arthouse classic One Summer of Happiness in 1951. In 1967, Denmark boldly rejected censorship for written material, and two years later did the same for visual material (including films and magazines). Both these countries had a history of more bucolic fare and lightweight comedies that, as documented by Stevenson, morphed into more daring works that incorporated — sometimes in major ways, sometimes in minor dabs, and sometimes gratuitously — images of naked, bouncing Scandinavians. Initially the films were set in natural locales like the seashore; later they would take place in more urban environments and invade every genre and feature every imaginable degree of sexual frankness, from gauzy softcore to experimental works to hardcore fetishism.
Stevenson (who, full disclosure, has contributed a few articles to Bright Lights over the years) structures the main narrative around individual films, with detailed descriptions (drawing on rare sources in the contemporaneous Swedish and Danish press) of the films, the people who created and acted in them, the production circumstances, budgets, and critical and popular reaction. Within these vignettes he includes sociological background, archival information, and references other films being released at the time. The result is a thorough account of a vibrant moment in cultural and social history.
Some of the films here have obvious interest sociologically (I Am Curious Yellow) or as part of the oeuvre of a noted auteur (Bergman’s Summer with Monika or The Silence, the latter noted in the book for its famous female masturbation scene). Others, like The Sinful Dwarf, are legendary as examples of the over-the-top grossness that would run alongside the more “wholesome” and “liberated” films. Still others, such as I, A Woman, have significance as precursors of the soft-core art film a la Radley Metzger. But what’s surprising in the book’s revelations are the breadth and sheer ambitiousness of some of the Swedish and Danish films made during this time. For example, in 1963, 28-year-old Mogens Vemmer made Street without End, a seamy tale of prostitution that presaged the Dogme movement with an amateur cast (the lead actress was a prostitute), location shooting, and syched sound. According to Stevenson, Vemmer often used hidden microphones and cameras, and had to race with crew and camera in and out of locations to avoid being caught.
Scandinavian Blue includes several appendices, one of which traces the intriguing history of a much-discussed hard-core film that, sad to say, was never made, The Sex Life of Jesus. The obvious cause would be the seemingly incendiary subject matter (though a similar film, Jesus Is in the House, was in fact made in 1975 though it seems impossible to find), but Stevenson shows how the eccentricities of the man who proposed the project, Jens Jorgen Thorsen, played as big a role as appalled Christians in its failure to be made. Other appendices cover Ole Ege, the “gentleman pornographer” responsible for the infamous bestiality film Bodil, a Summer Day in 1970; the Wet Dream Festival; and a series of short biographies of key figures of this loose movement. Numerous photographs, many of them rare, as well as a detailed index enhance the text.
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