Thursday, 28 April 2011

Swedish Sensationsfilms

Although author Daniel Ekeroth gives no precise definition, sensationsfilm can broadly be understood as Swedish vernacular or exploitation cinema for the most part. It was a type of cinema that lasted around 40 years, from the early 1950s to 1990s, when industrial and other changes rendered it redundant.

A complication is that at times the sensationsfilm and the art film are difficult to distinguish, particularly in the period before the hardcore porn boom of the 1970s.

Bergman’s Summer with Monika was, after all, distributed in a shortened, dubbed, rescored version in the US as Monika: The Story of a Bad Girl while the same director’s rape-revenge horror The Virgin Spring not only famously inspired Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left but has also been identified by John Waters as the first film to feature scenes of vomiting.

Nevertheless, it is also clear that the sensationsfilm took the particular form it did due to particularities of Swedish culture and censorship. For instance, whereas male nudity in particular is a rarity in US exploitation films, it emerges as a commonplace in the sensationsfilm.

Contrariwise the Swedish censors tended to take a harder line as far as violence was concerned, with mitigating circumstances and exceptions for social engineering purposes.

Here, Ekeroth discusses the film which inaugurated the “kicker” cycle of the 1980s. This youth group got their name from their liking for kicking things, including phone booths. An official film with the intention of discouraging such activity had, perhaps predictably, the opposite effect.

An aspect of certain sensationsfilms which may be more problematic today in some territories are sexualised images of adolescents in some titles; as Ekeroth notes the child pornography laws introduced in the late 1960s were comparatively lax.

Following a useful introductory overview, Christina Lindberg (the most recognisable name, face and body associated with the genre) provides her memories of the genre. This is followed by a longer alphabetical reviews section. Each film gets a page to itself, punctuated by individual pages of black and white poster, lobby card, video box and still reproductions and colour sections. The reviews generally have the format of a synopsis followed by a commentary and points of interest, along with a typically dismissive contemporary review from a respectable critic. Ekeroth is unsurprisingly more positive, but is thankfully not blind to the considerable variations in the films’ levels of ambition and accomplishment.

The alphabetical approach has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand it makes it easier to find a particular title should it crop up somewhere. On the other hand it makes it more difficult to chart the development of particular filmmakers and performers careers, such as they were.

On balance, however, it works, thanks to a generous degree of cross-referencing and shorter sections after the reviews giving profiles and filmographies for some of the most important names (besides the aforementioned Lindberg these include US-expat Joe Sarno, whose shift from the softcore productions of the late 1960 to harder fare ten years later is characteristic, and Bo Vibenius, whose little seen Breaking Point sounds like an outrĂ© must see comparable with the likes of Alberto Cavallone) along with a listing of the top 20 sensationsfilms (also often the ones which are easiest to access internationally, including Vibenius’s Thriller: A Cruel Film, starring Lindberg)

A valuable guide to one of the hitherto uncharted areas of world exploitation that comes highly recommended. Where else would you learn about the 'Lingonberry' western or a series of five colour-referencing detective films including the pre-Bava and apparently Blood and Black Lace like Mannequin in Red?

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