Sunday, June 28, 2009


A couple of years ago, I reviewed the re-release of Bob Dylan: Don't Look Back, the influential and iconic chronicle of his 1965 British tour. The new boxed set was called the 65 Tour Deluxe Edition and it featured a new film by director D.A. Pennebaker called Bob Dylan 65 Revisited. Essentially, Pennebaker did look back, digging into his archives and pulling out unseen footage from the same trip and making a new movie out of it. While exciting at the time I first watched it, this new documentary doesn't really measure up to its more famous older brother. Fine, sure, as a DVD extra, but given that I can't remember hardly anything about it, there is no way it stands alone as a companion or as a sequel or anything of the kind. Really, it's just scraps, and trying to determine whether or not they deserved to be scraps is a little too much like trying to get the egg back into its shell after the omelet has already been seasoned. Though I haven't watched it yet, I understand that the Maysles pulling a similar move with The Beales of Grey Gardens has yielded similar results. Whatever instincts led them the right way the first time should have been trusted.

Though Vilgot Sjöman put his two versions of I Am Curious together at the same time, turning one four-hour film into two films half that size, it's obvious that Yellow [review here] got all the best bits, and Blue the leftovers. Maybe I'd think differently if I had seen them in the other order, Blue would be the trailblazer and Yellow the mentally deficient little brother running to catch up, but I doubt it. I Am Curious - Blue doesn't just lack the surprise of Yellow, but the structure and the purpose, as well. These are the scraps.

Continuing to borrow from Godard's playbook, Sjöman opens I Am Curious - Blue with talking head interviews with women discussing their sex lives and what gives them pleasure, bringing to mind the relationship talk of Masculin féminin. These are part of the interviews that our heroine, Lena Nyman, began in Yellow, though now rather than just asking about class issues, she will talk about sex and religion, as well. Blue relies more heavily on these public studies, sending Lena on a road trip where she meets new lovers and new interview subjects. We learn a little more about her history--what bearded creep of a college professor did she screw? who did her mother screw and where did she go?--and we see her fall into the same intellectual traps she had supposedly already learned her lesson from. Yet, while Yellow had a point, Blue does not.

In fact, I'd say Blue almost goes out of its way not to make a point, but only if I were feeling more kind. The passion for genuine information, no matter how misguided or rhetorical, has been replaced by an off-putting smugness. Lena's sense of rightness borders on entitlement, and it is hard to swallow after her failed quest in Yellow. Haven't we watched a character arc already where her liberal naïveté comes down with a case of scabies? Well, Sjöman is attempting to turn back the clock, seemingly weaving around the scenes in his other movie, even taking us back to the casting of Lena and Börje. The latter never really adopts his character in Blue, he's always the actor, timid and lecherous, never the Crown Prince or the boyfriend. Like everything else, the metafictional elements, the movie behind the movie/within the movie, has over ripened. We've been here, and coming back to it teaches us nothing new. Neither do meeting the swinging couple who gave Lena her scabies or the constant references to the "Socialist Itch" make up for the fact that we end up in exactly the same place we ended up last time, but lacking the same emotional investment. What with Börje being a non character, and Lena's new relationships fleeting, and her epiphany of failure being so effective in Yellow, what here are we meant to glom on to? Especially when the more fun stuff, like playing with on-screen text, is all but absent.

I Am Curious - Blue actually stops dead more than once. A scene where Lena debates Christian morality goes on way too long and its ideas are pretty worn out for 2009. A tryst between Lena and creep-beard professor (Hands Hellberg) at the top of a phallic tower, its elevator car rising up and down in time with their pelvic thrusts, is vulgar in its obviousness, both for the comic editing and for the blunt satire of the old liberal being impotent. No surprise, then, that he resorts to violence later. Maybe had Sjöman given more time to the story of Lena's abandonment by her mother and the possible reunion, there would have been a better emotional counterpoint to stack against this disconnect from her "intellectual father." It would have also played nicely with Lena befriending the young single mother, Sonja Lindgren. Instead, it's a footnote that becomes an easy out with an ending that is too lazy to even be manipulative.

Rather than the color differentiation in the titles, Vilgot Sjöman could have played off of I Am Curious a little more, make the titles fit together. Like, given how this one was so much of the same, it could have been a duo of I Am Curious and But Not Surprised. Or, I am Curious and But Not Very Interesting. I Am Shamefully Predictable. I Am Too Shallow for Two Movies. I Have Already Found Out Everything I Will Ever Find.

I Am Curious but I Am Out of Ideas.

1 comment:

David Blakeslee said...

This explains Criterion's wise decision to sell both films together as a set rather than individually. :)