Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Schamyl Bauman

In the beginning of The Two of Us (Vi två 1939), written and directed by Schamyl Bauman, there is a scene when the young married couple (played by Signe Hasso and Sture Lagerwall) are getting ready in the morning. He is shaving and she is taking a shower. Being in the shower she is of course naked, and this is not something the film is trying to hide. There is no sensationalism or titillation here, just two people getting ready and doing the most natural thing in the world. This scene, and the rest of the film, is a prime example of what could be called the Bauman touch, the no-nonsense, low-key engagement with the ordinary world, often in a humorous way. The Two of Us is about the young couple's efforts to have a career and make enough money to afford having a child in the early years of the Swedish welfare state, and unlike much of Swedish cinema of those years it remains fresh and relatable. (The bathroom scene is also an example of how showing breasts and naked bodies in Swedish cinema did not just appear in the 1950s.)

Bauman, who was born 1893, came early to film. During the glory days of Swedish silent cinema he worked as a translator of intertitles for foreign films into Swedish, and in 1929 he started a production company, Europa Film, together with the brothers Scheutz. In 1931 he wrote and produced Kärlek och landstorm (Love and the Home Guard), initially directed by John Lindlöf, whom Bauman replaced. In 1933 he directed his first film from scratch, Lördagskvällar (Saturday Nights). He then had a steady output, writing and directing one to two films a year. In 1939 he started yet another production/distribution company, AB Sandrew-Bauman Film, together with Anders Sandrew and continued to write and direct with the same frequency. His career lasted until 1957, when ill health forced him into retirement.  

Today he is not given much attention but he was an accomplished director, especially in directing actors, and with a good ear for dialogue. Bergman once said about Bauman that "If I had managed to create just one metre of his humane, intimate and culturally sane Swedish comedies I would cry with joy." The best of  Bauman's films were made in the 30s and notable titles besides The Two of Us are Flickorna från Gamla Sta'n (1934 The Girls in the Old Town), a comedy about artists and the working class, Career (Karriär, 1938), about aspiring theatre actors, and Wanted (Efterlyst, 1939), about the lives and loves of three young women. This was when Bauman was at his peak, artistically, and in those years he actually resembles Jean Renoir, using long takes and deep focus to show the lives of ordinary people, often artistic, and being more interested in the intimate details than the dramatic events. Although not a filmmaker or artist on the same level as Renoir, the comparison is there to be made, in style and tone.

Both Career and The Two of Us are reminiscent of films that Hasse Ekman would eventually make, and Bauman and Ekman worked closely together on several films. The most famous and most successful was Swing it, magistern! (1940, Swing It, Mr Teacher!) which Bauman and Ekman wrote the script for and Bauman directed. It is about the conflict brought about when a young girl (played by Alice Babs) tries to introduce jazz at her old-fashioned school. Here is a clip from the film, a nightclub scene with the girl singing a sad song (a song made famous more recently by Robyn).

In the last 10 years of his career Bauman primarily made comedies with the actress Sickan Carlsson. She was one of Sweden's biggest stars at the time and the type she specialised in was the sturdy and self-sufficient woman, who, although not immune to romance, had a more professional approach to love and life. In a way Carlsson was like a Swedish version of Doris Day. She and Bauman made nine films together between 1945 and 1955. Bauman had had a few weak years during the war but it could be said that he was rejuvenated by working with Carlsson, and the films were commercially successful. The critics were somewhat torn though, even if they all agreed that Sickan Carlsson was sensational, a brilliant actress and a brilliant comedienne. The Bauman/Carlsson films were almost their own genre and while not as good as the films Bauman made in the late 30s they are funny, sweet and made with a light touch.

So Bauman's importance for Swedish cinema was substantial, as a producer, writer and director, and as an influence on Bergman and Ekman. When Bauman quit filmmaking in 1957 Ekman stepped in as Sickan Carlsson's director and they made a number of films together. But that is a story for another post.

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