Bright Lights Film Journal

Book review: Swedish Sensationsfilms, by Daniel Ekeroth

Swedish Sensationsfilms, by Daniel Ekeroth. Brooklyn: Bazillion Points Press, 2011. Trade paperback. $19.99.

Thanks to the lurid popularity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sweden has perhaps become in the popular American imagination a place where socialized medicine, beautiful people, and a stable economy offset bleak winters and brutal sexual assaults condoned by a shadowy government knee-deep in Satanic cult conspiracies. Not helping the case one bit is the country’s propensity for “black metal” and sleazy sex films. Mixing the two with bad intent (but good summarizing skills) is Daniel Ekeroth, a veteran of a slew of bands and author of the previous book Swedish Death Metal. Needless to say, it’s awesome that there’s a handsome Swede who can write somewhere up there (and who has a fine translator in Magnus Henriksson) keeping the rest of the world up to date on the artsy atrocities and titillating triumphs of his native land. Ingmar Bergman beware! Soon no one will think of you when they think of Sweden, they’ll think of Ekeroth, and a girl they call One-Eye (Christina Lindbeg gets to write her own intro section! Deservedly so! “Thriller fascinated me a lot,” she writes. She liked the challenge. What’s she up to these days? Mushrooms!)

The dynamically painted cover of Swedish Sensationsfilms announces what we can assume is the overall tone of the films — beautiful intelligent sexpot heroines and stock character sex maniac, drooling inbred vikings with ridiculous “horny” helmets. To the side, some Kung Fu and war films.

Ekeroth has a morbid sense of irony, as when discussing a 1976 film based on Kafka’s Metamorphisis called Forvandlingen: “In a curious case of fact emulating fiction, after the release of this film the director — like his protagonist — was totally neglected and ignored by audiences, critics, and the Swedish Film Institute forever.” (70). On the opposite page he discusses a film that no one has ever seen called Frander: “Since I don’t know anyone who has seen this lost film, I can’t even confirm its existence.” Damn, dude! But thanks for mentioning it! It’s that kind of loving attention to arcane detail that makes Ekeroth’s book such a page-turning must.

One continual aspect of the Sensastions film sage is the strict censors ever at odds with the cause of art, as in Dom Kallar Oss Mods (“they call us mods”), a 1968 black and white (stylistically similar to Godard’s Masculin-Feminin) true-ish documentary-style verite nouvelle vague love-in of hash, booze, and — super rare for the era — actual un-simulated sex. A hero emerges in the form of Swedish Culture minister Olof Palme, who steps in and demands the film be released with no cuts. Dom Kallar, notes Ekeroth, “remains a classic to be seen over and over again. Sadly, the protagonists never saw the film, as they were both arrested at the premiere.”

Well, good news: the whole film is on youtube! Bad news: no subtitles. Learn Swedish! Or just dig the frisson of the handheld fourth-wall documentary style and the disconnect of not knowing what the hell folks are saying (if you’re Swedish, salut! I’m all Swedish on my mother’s side).

Ekeroth has a gift — reminiscent of Psychotronic author Michael Weldon — for writing engagingly frank synopses and descriptions of audience reaction, censorship problems, longevity, and whatever else is relevant (few films get longer than 3/4 of a page; only a few like Thriller: A Cruel Picture fill the page). We get a motherlode of sexy stills. The Swedish women are, of course, jaw-droppingly beautiful in their alien Nordic splendor; all have magnificent non-augmented breasts, if you’ll pardon the expression, and there’s not enough nudity in the book to make it “adult” per se, just “natural,” albeit not for children.

But for anyone over a certain age with an interest in sexy Swedish cinema that goes beyond the leftist anarchy of I Am Curious Yellow, the innocent sex of early Bergman films like The Summer with Monika (1953, marketed in the U.S. by Kroger Babb “along the lines of a Russ Meyer picture”) and the horrific assaults and stifling air of institutionalized misogyny in the Millennium Trilogy better go get this, nowkommen! Ekertoth has dug up a million idle hours of eye-to-the-grindstone, page-turning sensation for curious readers, and they’d be doing a disservice to cinema, Sweden, and Satan, to miss it..