– Spring 2008

Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia? I Am Curious (Yellow)

Marta Kuzma

Cover of Evergreen Review, no.56, July 1968.

Cover of Evergreen Review, no.56, July 1968.

Men have landed on the moon, but to many, I Am Curious (Yellow),
I Am Curious (Blue) will be the event of 1969.1

Such read the headlines appearing in American newspapers when the film directed by Swedish director Vilgot Sjöman was seized by customs officials upon its arrival in the United States in 1968, with a subsequent highly visible trial around allegedly obscene content. The film, primarily political in content but containing scenes with full frontal nudity, was billed within the American media as a pornographic film. Rejecting the indictment, Sjöman argued that it was the films explicit male nudity that troubled US Customs censors, underscoring the ironic regard of male nudity as less permissible than the overt female nudity prevalent within film and advertising at the time.

I am Curious (Yellow) and its companion film I am Curious (Blue), released in Sweden in 1966, were intended to be one integrated film. Sjöman amassed substantial footage and decided to create two versions of the same film (Blue) developed into a sober film about state, church, prison camps and other aspects of Swedish society. (Yellow), the more sensational counterpart, unfolds around Lena Nyman, a radical student activist who engages in a public inquiry about social, political and sexual questions relevant to Swedes at the time. The film evolves ambiguously, never resolving whether the real-life Nyman has been cast to play herself or a role created by the director. In this way, Sjöman further complicates the reading of the film as either documentary or staged, while posing sexual encounters as a set of intimate relations involving distrust, anger, envy and betrayal, rather than offering a

  1. 1 Vincent Canby, I Am Curious (Yellow) from Sweden, The New York Times, 11 March 1969.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, Boston: Beacon Press, 1969, p.8.

  4. H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, Boston: Beacon Press, 1966, p.xxi.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid., pp.198-99.

  7. Rosset similarly salvaged Andy Warhol's Blue Movie (originally titled Fuck, 1969) from obscurity. The film had been seized by police following its screening at the Garrick Theater on Bleecker Street, New York in 1969, and declared hardcore pornography by a court shortly after. Grove Press responded to the court ruling by publishing the film as a book containing all the film dialogue accompanied by film stills. Starring Viva and Louis Walden, Warhol's film dramatised sex as an act of political protest, noting in the screening programme that Blue Movie is a film about the Vietnam War and what we can do about it. See Vincent Canby, 'Screen: Andy Warhol's Blue Movie', The New York Times, 22 July 1969.

  8. V. Canby, I Am Curious (Yellow) from Sweden, op. cit.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Excerpts From Panel's Majority Report, Dissenting Opinions and Other Views, The New York Times, 1 October 1970.

  11. H. Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, op. cit., p.9.

  12. The report said that sexually explicit materials served to increase and facilitate constructive communication about sexual matters within marriage, and that the most frequent purchaser of explicit sexual materials was a college-educated, married male in his thirties and forties, above average socioeconomic status. Quoted in David Allyn, Make Love, Not War. The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2000, p.185.

  13. H. Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, op. cit., p.12.

  14. H. Marcuse, Counter-Revolution and Revolt, Boston: Beacon Press, 1972, p.76.

  15. V. Canby, 'The Blue Movie Blues', The New York Times, 10 May 1970.

  16. Patricia Mark, 'Curious, Sjman Has Some Answers', The New York Times, 11 May 1969.

  17. This is one of the scenes cited by the film censors in their report.

  18. This image was an advertisement for the artists show at Paula Cooper Gallery, published in the November 1974 issue of Artforum as a comment on the macho posturing of minimalist and postminimalist artists. The intervention was famously attacked in the following issue by Lawrence Alloway, Max Kozloff, Rosalind Krauss, Joseph Masheck and Annette Michelson, then associate editors of Artforum, as exploitative and brutalising. See Artforum, December 1974, p.9.

  19. C.L. Sulzberger, Foreign Affairs: Sex and Sense, The New York Times, 5 December 1969.

  20. The book told the story of Lilian, a 19-year-old woman incapable of reaching an orgasm with her boyfriend, who is helped by Dr. Peterson, a sex specialist who instructs her in exercises to enable her to achieve her goal. In 1967, the author was convicted in the Norwegian Supreme Court for having written an immoral/obscene novel - the last book in Norway to have been indicted on such grounds. The Danish director Annelise Meineche later produced the film version of the book, a sex comedy released internationally in 1970 under the title Without a Stitch.

  21. Werner Wiskash, Rejoinder to Swedens Critics, The New York Times, 23 October 1960.

  22. 'Eisenhower Talk Arouses Sweden: Comment on Socialist State Is Interpreted as Attack Country Unnamed', The New York Times, 29 July 1960.

  23. Ibid.

  24. H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, op. cit., p.22.

  25. See Doris H. Linder, Crusader for Sex Education: Elise Ottesen Jensen in Scandinavia International Scene, Lanham: University Press of America, 1996, p.21.

  26. Quoted in Jacqueline Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision, London: Verso, 2005, p.6.

  27. The way we live as ideas the necessary laws of human society is not so much conscious as unconscious the particular task of psychoanalysis is to decipher how we acquire our heritage of the ideas and laws of human society within the unconscious mind, or, to put it another way, the unconscious mind is the way we acquire these laws where Marxist theory explains the historical and economic situation, psychoanalysis, in conjunction with the notions of ideology already gained by dialectical materialism, is the way into understanding ideology and sexuality. Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, London: Allen Lane, 1974, pp.xvi.

  28. J. Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision, op. cit., p.7.

  29. Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Revolution: Toward a Self Governing Character Structure, New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1971, p.9.

  30. 30 See Myron Sharaf, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich, New York: Da

  31. Capo Press, 1994, p.229.

  32. 31 W. Reich, The Sexual Revolution, op. cit., p.6.

  33. 32 H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, op. cit., p.239.

  34. 33 Ibid.

  35. 34 Ibid., p.xxiii.

  36. 35 Ibid., pp.3738.

  37. 36 See Ibid., pp.3941.

  38. 37 J. Rose, Sexuality in the Field of Vision, op. cit., p.36.

  39. 38 John Lahr, Sex and Politics: An Interview with Vilgot Sjman, Evergreen Review,

  40. no.56, July 1968.

  41. 39 The participants were Dr. Sture Cullhed, a Swedish gynecologist; Dr. Maj-Brigt

  42. Bergstrom Walan, a Swedish psychologist-educator; and Inge and Sten Hegelar,

  43. Danish psychologists.

  44. 40 This is the film that Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) takes Cybill

  45. Shepherd to watch on their first date in Martin Scorseses Taxi Driver (1976).

  46. 41 Robert Eberwein, Sex Ed: Film, Video, and the Framework of Desire, New

  47. Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999, pp.18589.

  48. 42 H. Marcuse, Eros and Civilization, op. cit., p.95.

  49. 43 Ibid., pp.4950.

  50. 44 David Kehr, Charting the Tarantino Universe, The New York Times, 11 April

  51. 2004.

  52. 45 H. Marcuse, Counter-Revolution and Revolt, op. cit., p.76.

  53. 46 Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Lyotard Reader (ed. Andrew Benjamin), Oxford: Basil

  54. and Blackwell, 1989, p.179.

  55. 47 Constance Penley, Crackers and Whackers: The White Trash of Porn, in Matt Wray

  56. and Annalee Newitz (eds.), White Trash: Race and Class in America, New York:

  57. Routledge, 1997, pp.10001.

  58. 48 The names are those of the main characters in, respectively, Deep Throat

  59. (1972), The Resurrection of Eve (1973) and The Story of Joanna (1975).