I Am Curious: Too Sexy for U.S. Customs

When this film reached the United States in the late 1960s, there was controversy. U.S. Customs had the film impounded and it remained in their hands until 1969 when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals finally decided that the film wasn’t obscene. By then, I Am Curious (Yellow) had garnered lots of attention, especially since the Boston Globe wrote that the sex scenes are ”without question the most explicit ever shown on U.S. public screens”.

One of the reasons why the film was originally banned by a Massachusetts judge was because he believed it fulfilled a Supreme Court argument for obscenity – that the work is utterly without redeeming social value. The judge was particularly wrong about that.

We are introduced to director Vilgot Sjöman who’s about to make a new movie. He’s already courted controversy with his breakthrough film 491 (1964) and the excellent My Sister, My Love (1966), but this one is different. He finds a much younger drama student, Lena (Lena Nyman), and decides that not only does he want her in the lead but also in his bed. Together they embark on a project that is part fiction, part documentary. Lena assumes the role of a reporter, grabbing a microphone and heading out in the Stockholm crowds to ask people provocative questions about what kind of society we want. At the same time, she meets Börje (Börje Ahlstedt), a store clerk, and falls in love with him…

Split into two projects
Sjöman originally intended this to be a several hours long movie, but then it was split into two projects. He was doubtlessly inspired by the vivid experimentation going on at the time, not least in France. I Am Curious was certainly something new in Swedish cinemas. To Swedes it’s an occasionally fascinating examination of the political atmosphere, showing the filmmakers’ socialist ambitions clashing with regular citizens who find Lena’s questions alien. To foreign audiences, the political content must seem quaint at times, including brief interview clips with Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was visiting Sweden during the making of the film) and the future Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme (who was criticized by political opponents at the time for appearing in the movie).

What most people remember about the film though is of course the sex, and there are a few memorable scenes here. Apart from the unusual amount of nudity, there’s the sight of Nyman and Ahlstedt fucking in a big oak, in a lake – and outside the Royal Palace in Stockholm, with one of the guards watching. One reason why this movie feels way overlong is the loud, childish and in every way naked romance.

Interesting and bold, with a no-holds-barred performance by Nyman, the film has tons of attitude and every time we begin to forget that we’re just watching a movie, the filmmakers remind us by inserting themselves or adding some kind of comment that throws us out of the moment. Creative and humorous, and there is social value here, with the film serving primarily as a time capsule reflecting political and social issues of its time. But what else does it actually achieve?

I Am Curious (Yellow) 1967-Sweden. 121 min. B/W. Written and directed by Vilgot Sjöman. Cast: Lena Nyman (Lena), Börje Ahlstedt (Börje/The Crown Prince), Peter Lindgren (Rune), Chris Wahlström, Marie Göranzon, Magnus Nilsson… Holger Löwenadler, Vilgot Sjöman, Anders Ek, Bertil Norström, Sven Wollter.

Trivia: Original title: Jag är nyfiken – gul. Followed by I Am Curious (Blue) (1968).  

 

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