Archive for Mai Zetterling

The ’68 Comeback Special: Doktor Glas

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on November 21, 2013 by dcairns

Scout Tafoya and I are reviewing all the entries from Cannes ’68, AKA the Cannes That Wasn’t there.

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“I killed him for money and a woman. Well, I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.” So says Fred MacMurray in DOUBLE INDEMNITY, anticipating Per Oscarsson in DOKTOR GLAS, Mai Zetterling’s entry for Sweden in the abortive ’68 Cannes Film Festival.

The lanky Oscarsson, always a strange, appealing but unsettling presence, is a doctor in early 20th Century Sweden, tempted to murder by the case of a woman he’s besotted with who’s married to a man he can’t stand, the hypocritical Reverend Gregorius. Glas is initially consulted by Mrs G, who’s repulsed by her older husband and wants a medical excuse to stave off his vigorous and forceful exercising of his “marital rights,” but he starts to think that the only permanent solution is to remove the Rev from the picture altogether.

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The only previous directorial work by Zetterling I had seen was her short, WAR GAMES, which I liked a lot. This one does have some trendy stuff — ’68 may have been THE big year for fashionable stylistic excess — but it’s inflected with enough imagination and originality to diffuse any sense of ennui. The diciest choice is probably the pop song at the start, performed by The Others — quite pleasant in its own way, and an attractive music video, with everything out of focus — but is it really appropriate? Still, it ties in with a whole series of contemporary sequences in which the presumably very old Glas walks the streets of Stockholm musing on his life, filmed in a myopic blur of hand-held subjective camera. Some of the transitions, led by sound design, from period to contemporary scenes are very neat, particularly a climactic scene where the camera pans directly from 1910s to 1960s in a single take, while going into its trademark hazy unfocused state.

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Zetterling also creates a stream-of-consciousness quality by intercutting a pensive Oscarsson with fantasy images unreeling in his mind, typically set against a white studio cyclorama infinity wall — again, a little too forcefully reminding us of the sixties, but resulting in some nice graphic compositions. The cutting is at times near-subliminal, with the influence of MARIENBAD very much in the air. I suspect this movie, in addition to the brief glimpses of childbirth delivered with gouts of monochrome grue, would have been the first Cannes screening to feature close-up sexual penetration — although again these moments are blink-and-you-miss-it brief. I suspect the censor cut them everywhere outside Scandinavia anyway.

Being Swedish, there’s a fair bit of nudity, rather more than you’d expect for ’68 (which is kind of the year the nude scene was normalized, and also the year colour became the default setting for all US film — Europe obviously caught up with this a year later since Cannes featured numerous b&w movies that year). And despite being directed by a woman, the film enters the mind of Glas so thoroughly that the nudity is pretty clearly divided in purpose — the male nudes can be filed under “frankness” (the inevitable sauna) whereas the females are squarely “eroticism”. Several dream sequences show Glas fantasising about the woman he’s smitten with, and there’s a degree of menace to her oneiric provocations. We also get Glas rolling about in a quarry and other modish bits of Felliniesque peculiarity — I have a suspicion that Swedish filmmakers must have felt intimidated by the influence of Bergman so they’d scout around for other influences to plunge into. This certainly doesn’t feel anything like THE HOUR OF THE WOLF.

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’68 was probably Zetterling’s biggest year as director — she also made her feminist film FLICKORNA, aka THE GIRLS — and then didn’t direct again until ’72. Soon she was confined to UK TV or else acting again (she’s great in THE WITCHES). This fatal loss of career momentum is to be deeply regretted, and I wonder what a successful Cannes screening of DOKTOR GLAS might have meant for her.

Night Hair Alley

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2008 by dcairns

Possibly THE GREATEST MOMENT EVER CAPTURED ON CELLULOID.

12-year-old Mark “OLIVER!” Lester throwing rocks at a dead dog in a swimming pool.

It doesn’t get much better than this, people!

“Corrupt voyeuristic weirdie which has to be seen to be believed.” ~ Halliwell’s Film Guide.

It’s called NIGHT HAIR CHILD (wtf?) A.K.A. NIGHT CHILD (better, but still weird) A.K.A. CHILD OF THE NIGHT (this is starting to make sense) A.K.A. DIABOLICA MALICIA (nice!) A.K.A. DIABOLISCH (too much like DIABOLIK) A.K.A. LA TUA PRESENZA NUDA (sounds kinda smutty) A.K.A. WHAT THE PEEPER SAW (rather declassé, don’t you think?) A.K.A. DER ZEUGE HINTER DER WAND (don’t know). Whew!

I’m calling it NIGHT HAIR CHILD because that’s the (inscrutable) title I always heard, and it’s the name of the novelisation by Mai Zetterling (!) I once saw in a second-hand bookshop. It maybe “has to be seen to be believed” but it’s quite hard to see, mainly due, I suspect, to the skin-crawlingly uncomfortable pedophile leanings of the script.

A moment Britt probably doesn’t talk about much these days.

This is not, I should stress, actual child porn. Really, it’s not. But this movie would certainly not be made in any English-speaking country today, not for reasons of legality but for reasons of taste. The tale of a perverted 12-year-old and his decidedly off-kilter family relations, it’s the kind of thing that could only happen in the ’70s, when the questioning of society’s traditional morals and mores had gone about as far as it was going to…

“Now, you’re going to be hearing a lot of talk about panties.”

Mark Lester, aged about twelve in real life and now no longer cute at all (“I always found Mark Lester creepy,” says my friend David Wingrove, and it’s like the scales have been lifted from my eyes) plays, ineptly, an eerie rich kid called Marcus who may have killed his mum and may be planning on killing his new stepmum, Britt Ekland, after he’s finished watching her bedroom “acrobatics” with Dad, Hardy Kruger. Britt finds her new charge somewhat alarming, especially when he grabs her britts as she’s on the phone to hubby. Investigating, she finds evidence of (1) his pathological lying (2) his thieving (3) his truancy (4) his peeping (5) his animal mutilation. To get him to tell her about his mother’s death, she agrees to strip for him. One has to question her parenting skills at this point.

The filmmakers appear to have stepped in here to protect their star’s innocence and replaced Mark Lester with either an older stand-in (a dwarf? Kenny Baker in a fright wig?) or possibly a mannequin.

This is all (1) strange (2) creepy, in a BAD way (3) somewhat badly put together, in a GOOD way. Since the dialogue is weak, and poor Britt is acting in a vacuum (Hardy is oddly disconnected, perhaps trying to mentally disassociate himself from the sleaze around him, Lester is simultaneously wooden and repellent, like a mahogany pustule), bizarre narrative leaps and ellipses and baffling unmotivated behaviour actually make it a lot more interesting to watch. At one point, the camera tilts up from Britt in bed and simply looks at the ceiling. Why? Cut to Britt going upstairs to the attic. “Ah, the camera was following her thoughts,” explained Fiona. “That seems a risky strategy, following Britt Ekland’s thoughts,” I mused. “I wonder how many cameras they lost.”

(But this is unfair as Britt is good in this film, with her odd Swedish line readings working quite well in the name of naturalism. For her more intimate scenes with Little Markie, she either deserves a medal for bravery or a short prison sentence.)

Even after it’s over, it’s not 100% clear what was going on some of the time, or why. The ending, a double-twist in the LES DIABOLIQUES tradition, is very nice, but that’s the only generic bit that works.

The other stuff is at its most effective when totally confusing, like the long psychiatric hospital sequence where Britt is trundled about in a wheelchair by a nurse who’s trying very hard not to look at the camera (Fiona says: “Yeah, she needs a wheelchair because when you’re mental you can’t walk, apparently.”) having visions — flashbacks? fantasies? delusions? — of attempted murder, attempted pedophilia, and attempted something-or-other involving a dog. I really wasn’t sure what I was seeing by now. She’s sent there, incidentally, by a very assured and well-preserved Lilli Palmer, one of those movie shrinks with an office full of primitive art. Or at least, I think that’s what the weird crash-test dummy in the corner must be. It’s giving a livelier performance than Mark Lester.

But one has to feel sorry for the lad. This is one disturbing film. Either it destroyed his career, or he made it because his career was already destroyed. Either way, what a horrible way to make a living. No wonder he’s now befriended Michael Jackson…

I suppose there’s nothing in this film as questionable as the child sexuality in THE TIN DRUM (which I doubt you could make nowadays, without changing a few scenes) but this seems much more upsetting and sleazy. It’s just a big, brimming flagon of wrong. While the filmmakers undoubtedly know that this stuff is taboo, and that it’ll make the audience uncomfortable, it’s not clear whether they’re aware HOW taboo it is, or why they’re even doing it. Just when things are getting TOO WEIRD TO LIVE, there’ll be some new piece of terrifying ’70s leisurewear modelled by Mr. Kruger, or some new lounge version of the (great) theme tune by Stelvio Cipriani, or Britt will disrobe again in a new and ever more uncomfortable scenario (she’s at her skinniest here, yet looking impossibly sexy when clothed) or there’ll be an abrupt scene change before we’ve worked out what the last scene was about, and somebody will be doing something unexplained.

Ah, the ’70s! Age of loud shirts and kiddie-fiddling.

Just about worth seeing, but be warned, there may be moments when your eyeballs start singing “La la la, I’m not looking!” and your brain tries to shut itself down by scraping itself raw against the inside of your skull. Other than that, it’s quite diverting.

Make it a Fever Dream Double Feature with: BABY LOVE, in which a fifteen-year-old Linda Hayden infiltrates and then shags her way through Keith Barron’s entire family.