Elvira Madigan (1967)

Love is When You Borrow Someone Else’s Eyes

One of the simple pleasures of life is to sit in a darkened theatre and have a film capture your soul, not as a single person, but as the whole sigh of the room. I saw this in 1967 in Boston, in a makeshift theatre. This was at the height of the flower revolution, when Boston was the intellect of the emerging ‘counter’ culture.

This film found a hungry audience — we and it fed each other. At the same time down the road were Hollywood projects on (what we though was) the same notion: passion before everything, and the purer the passion the clearer the beauty. Life matters less than living. ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, and ‘The Graduate’ seemed slick and pale in comparison then and more so now.

For decades, I recalled many of the images:

  • the raspberries and cream (which she bought by selling her image)
  • her luminescence, her dainty vomit, the fish in her skirt, the attentive query about eggs
  • the fainting when she is discovered by innocence (which we ourselves did at the very beginning through the same child’s eyes)
  • ‘There are times when you don’t question the cost’

and of course:

the release of the butterfly, and the reluctance of the filmmaker to let us release the image.

This film succeeds because it is so simple, but its simplicity is not accidental. The notion of equating Elvira with the music by bringing the musicians into the story shows extraordinary skill. I can think of no other case where a classic piece of music is renamed because of a film.

At the time, I recall great discussion of the book Sixten carried around. Like Hamlet’s book, it ‘mattered,’ but I have forgotten its importance. I remember much in the underground press about the self-referential nature: the passion and beauty of the characters and so with the film: the simple commitment to no plan of both: and the accepting of the consequences by both for meditative obsession.

But another of the simple pleasures of life is to live long enough to see two of ourselves: the recalled initial engagement with the film and the current one. I wish this pleasure on all of you. Oh how we have all changed. (I strongly suspect that no person who was not there will find any traction with this film, but perhaps others like it.)

And watching this now, I discover I’m more of an ‘In the Mood for Love’ kind of guy. Same ethic. Same commitment to enter the unknown. But the passion if stronger is more diffuse and less selfish. I recommend seeing both films. Let me know.

Posted in 2002

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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