Monday 24 September 2012

From Fanfaren to St Andrews

Last week I had my Viva/defence of my thesis and it made me somewhat nostalgic over my life in film. So this blog post is more personal than usual.

I grew up in a suburb in the south of Stockholm called Farsta, and it had a cinema called Fanfaren (the Fanfare) and that is were I began my life is a cineasté, as soon as I was young enough to go alone. Because that is what I did, even in my pre-teens. While my friends wanted to go to the cinema because they wanted to do something fun together, I went to the cinema on my own because I wanted to see the films. Among the first that I saw by myself were English film versions of Enid Blyton's books about The Famous Five and, of course, Herbie Goes Bananas (1980), which I adored and discussed in some depth with my father when I came home. Not the fact that there was a mischievous cool boy of my own age in the film, instead I wanted to talk about the visual aspects of the film, and how the movie made me feel, and made me feel like I was in Mexico. (I have written about this before, here.)

Then later the "moviebox" entered my life. We did not have a VCR but at video stores you could borrow a moviebox, a VCR without the ability to record, it could only play recorded tapes, the ones you would borrow in the store. And in the afternoons and on lunch breaks I would go home to a friend and watch James Bond films because his parents had a VCR. Eventually we got one too. Then I immediately became a fixture at the two local video stores. There was one big and one small, and I probably knew where everything was in the smaller one better than those actually who worked there. As I mentioned in my recent blog post about Tony Scott, Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) had a big impact on me, and I vividly remember the sense of intoxication with the images, the rhythmic editing and the expressive use of colours. I saw it many times.

Then there was a major shift in my life. Due to rights issues five of Hitchcock's films had been unavailable for many years, until they were suddenly released in the mid-1980s, in the cinemas, on VHS, and on TV. In the autumn of 1989 Swedish Television did a retrospective of these five films. Rope (1948) was first, but I missed that one. The second one, the week after, was Rear Window (1954) and I did not miss that one. I wonder where I would have been today had I missed it because watching it immediately changed my life. It did not take long for me to realise that this was the best thing I had ever seen. Nothing came even remotely close. I was swept away, hypnotised, and in awe. It was witty, thrilling, sexy, had a marvellous soundtrack and felt like it was otherworldly. After having seen it I could not let it go. I had to write down some thoughts, and I was thinking "Who is this Hitchcock? I need to know more about him." The next day I went to the local library and investigated their selection of film books. They were very few, but among the handful was François Truffaut's interview book with Hitch. I borrowed it on the spot and read it from cover to cover. (I read all the other books on film they had as well, but they did me no favours.)

The next week's Hitchcock was The Trouble With Harry (1955), which, like Rear Window, did not feel like an ordinary film, and I loved it too. Particularly Shirley MacLaine and the extraordinary autumn leaves lovingly captured by Robert Burks's camera. The next film was The Man Who Knew too Much (1956), which I liked almost as much as Rear Window, even though it felt like a more ordinary film. But then it became complicated because the last film in the five week retro was Vertigo (1958). I did not like it at all. I was just puzzled and unsettled. My mother came in while I was watching and asked whether I liked this one too. "No. I don't understand what is happening." I said without shame. (A few years later me and my brother was watching Marnie (1964) on VCR and again my mother came into the room. It was during the flashback at the end went Marnie is re-living her childhood trauma, a brutal and bloody scene, and my mother got upset. "What ARE you watching!? Is all this violence really suitable for you?" But we were allowed to watch the rest of the film.)

After these four films everything was settled. I began exploring the classics. There was not much available, but John Ford's The Searchers (1956) was, and a few films by Akira Kurosawa, and Richard Brooks's version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). The one I liked best of those was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to the extent that I asked if I could buy it from the store. Alas, that was not allowed. I also read all film books I could get my hands on. An invaluable resource was TV3, a Swedish TV channel based in the UK which during a period in the early 1990s showed a British film from the 1940s and 1950s every weekday afternoon. I watched as many as I could, and loved almost all of them (an experience almost equal in importance to the Hitchcock retrospective in 1989). I stayed up late one night to watch Samba Traoré (1992) by Idrissa Ouedraogo, because I had never seen a film from Africa, and was eager to do so. I started going to film festivals, and I decided that when it was time to go to university I would study film history. (I was delayed one year in my plans, for complicated reasons. Suffice to say that in my first year at university I studied Czech language and literature.) I had toyed with the idea of becoming an architect, but now a career in film took over. I began working at a cinema whilst studying at university, and I also began writing for journals and such. The first piece that got published was 15 years ago in the Swedish film journal Filmrutan. The article was about Alexander Mackendrick, and I have been writing for Filmrutan ever since. And over the last decade I have worked as a film journalist, in a DVD store, at the Bergman Archives, as Bergman co-ordinator at the Swedish Institute, as tutor, as editor, as essayist, and last year also as an actor (in a Swedish film which opens for general release in January 2013). And now I have written a thesis.

Looking back over the years it is remarkable how consistent I have been in my approach to film. I have always been more interested in aesthetics than story, the how rather than the what, and I have always been on the lookout for new things, new films, new filmmakers, new countries. I have also always been amazed by the discrepancy between the large number of fascinating films and filmmakers that exist, and the much smaller number of films and filmmakers that actually get proper attention. It was not a coincidence that my first published article was about Sandy Mackendrick rather than Hitch or Kurosawa or Bergman, or that my thesis is about Hasse. Even though I owe Hitch almost everything I have never felt that he was by default superior or more interesting than any other filmmaker.

And now, what happens next? I do not know, but I do know that there is a wealth of unknown films and filmmakers to seek out. As Calvin says to Hobbes, "It's a magical world ol' buddy, let's go exploring!"