September 16, 2009

Naughty Netflix: I Am Curious

(Think that you can't rent movies at Netflix that contain legitimately explicit sexuality? Think again, my frustrated friend! In this special essay series, I look at a total of thirty mainstream films made over the last forty years, all of which contain scenes of such actual graphic sex acts as fellatio and penetration, reviewing them not in only in terms of the movie's quality itself but also the amount of sex it portrays, and whether this sex is any fun or not to actually watch. For more about how these movies were chosen, as well as the full list of all thirty titles, you can click here; and don't forget, these reviews are also mixed into the master list of all movies reviewed here, over at CCLaP's main movie page.)

I Am Curious

Today's movie: I Am Curious, 1967 ("Yellow") and 1968 ("Blue") (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix | Wikipedia)

The story in a nutshell: One of the first films ever to challenge and then help change the American legal definition of obscenity, thus paving the way for our modern ratings code and everything it's brought, I Am Curious produced a firestorm of controversy and protest when first shown in the US in 1969, two years after it was originally made, then just as quickly faded into obscurity after everyone saw for themselves what all the hype was about; in fact, a lot of people forget that this four-hour epic was actually released in two parts, labeled "Yellow" and "Blue" (after the colors of the Swedish flag), with "Yellow" being the half that caused all the ruckus and "Blue" barely seen by the public at all. Written and directed by Scandinavian avant-garde filmmaker Vilgot Sjoman and starring his real-life girlfriend Lena Nyman, the movie is almost more important anymore as a historical record of Sweden's countercultural movement, and successful push in the 1960s towards becoming a socialist society; because to tell the truth, there's not actually much of a storyline to speak of, a sorta strange quasi-documentary about a filmmaker named Vilgot Sjoman who hires his girlfriend Lena Nyman to narrate a documentary about Sweden's push towards becoming a socialist society. As such, then, I Am Curious also stands as one of the first postmodern "metafilms" as well, or in other words a movie that's conscious of being a movie, and which calls attention to its own artificiality whenever it can; just to mention one great example, Sjoman actually filmed one of the scenes at a very real press conference featuring Dr. Martin Luther King (who was in Sweden at the time to promote the American civil-rights movement), with Sjoman and Nyman acting out fictional dialogue from the plot in the audience while the real event takes place in the background. In this, then, you can see this movie as the sorta spiritual equivalent of the fantastic American film Medium Cool, made just one year later, another fictional movie that used real events as its backdrop, with some of its scenes actually shot right in the middle of the Chicago riots that took place during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

What I thought: Meh. Like I said, it's certainly interesting to check out at least once, if for nothing else than for the great way it accidentally captured the spirit of a specific time we'll never see again; but that said, this overlong snoozer gets awfully tedious awfully fast, with the vast majority of it actually consisting of "man on the street" interviews concerning what average random Swedish citizens thought at the time about the country possibly becoming a socialist one. Also, this being thoroughly a product of its times, there's a lot of weirdness in I Am Curious that exists simply for the sake of being weird -- jump cuts, random images, and all kinds of other annoying filmic trickery that rapidly went out of style once the countercultural era was over.

What makes it an explicit movie? According to today's standards, almost absolutely nothing; in fact, except for one brief scene where Nyman gives a friendly kiss to her lover's flaccid penis, the rest of this movie would actually be rated not even R but PG-13 if coming out today. Man, it's amazing sometimes what kinds of things would make people go apesh-t as little as forty years ago.

Is the sex actually fun to watch? Oh, for sure, but be warned: far from the sex in I Am Curious being erotic, it is instead mostly humorous, awkward and charming. And that's because the sex scenes seen here are a natural offshoot of the "modern" relationship the two main characters are supposed to have, exemplifying the youthful idea back then that sex should be fun, natural and boisterous, not the shameful frigid act that so many thought of it as before the countercultural era. And in fact, this even boils down to the physical look of the actors who get naked in this movie, with Nyman actually being kind of pudgy and plain-looking, not a tarted-up sex symbol like you would expect from a film this notorious; it's just one of the many reasons that the American public ended up so thoroughly disappointed with this movie, after it finally got past the censors and obscenity lawsuits and actually started appearing in theatres.

Strangest piece of trivia: All the way up to 1992, this remained the highest-grossing foreign film in US history.

Worth your time? If you're a fan of talky art-films, or wish to see a historical record of Sweden's countercultural period, then yes. Otherwise, probably not.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:51 PM, September 16, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |