Somewhere on the shelf next to Lou Reeds "Metal Machine Music," Stephen Sondheims "Assassins," and the ceiling Yoko Ono stuck a card with the word yes on sits the twin "I Am Curious" films by Swedens Vilgot Sjoman. They are the most famous works of art that no ones really ever seen or heard.
This isnt 100% true. In 1969, after a much ballyhooed court obscenity case, the first of the two films, "I Am Curious (Yellow)" became a cause celebre. Free speech activists all went the first two weekends. And for months afterwards went dirty old men looking for hot blonde sex. The latter group probably went away perplexed. Yes, 45 minutes in there are a string of nude and sex scenes, but they can hardly be considered hot. The scenes, and the naked figure of star Lena Nyman are, in a word, common. This was the inferred decision of the judge when the film was declared non-pornographic.
Since then, despite "I Am Curious" being a benchmark for free speech and the highest grossing foreign language film in America until the 1990s, the movie vanished. Its now available for the first time, along with its companion film "I Am Curious (Blue).
So if the movies arent sexy, what are they? Sjoman, here, is the Scandinavian Jean-Luc Godard. Like Godards "Masculine-Feminine," "Le Weekend" or "La Chinoise" it examines culture from a Marxist point of view. Similarly, Sjoman chooses an episodic style thus the two films. Three act structure is out the window, but there is an arc, albeit a post modern one. Lena Nyman plays "Lena Nyman," a young actress working on a kaleidoscopic film about social issues. The character in the film-within-the film? Lena Nyman. The crutch this gives Sjoman is that whenever one of his scenes or tableaus is running out of steam and he cant think of an ending he can cut to himself (playing "Vilgot Sjoman") at his editing equipment looking pained. Its a cop out, but at the time, it must have seemed far out.
Of the two films, "Yellow" I find a bit more serious and weighty. "Blue" winks at its quasi-sequel status, making it a bit more fun. It is remarkable to watch the films back-to-back; I cant think of another experience of complete, parallel texts. The "Blue" film follows the same arc, with (mostly) the same characters, but with different scenes, few of them overlapping. Quite nifty.
In total, if you like rambling movies about people screaming about socialism, then occasionally getting naked, then screaming more about socialism, these are the movies for you.
Jordan Hoffman, a graduate of the NYU film school, is a part-time filmmaker, part-time telemarketer living in Queens, NY.