One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 99
By Laurence Lerman / New York City
As this week’s Reel Streaming goes to press, I am preparing to depart for an extended weekend in Stockholm, Sweden, one of the most gorgeous capital cities in Europe and one that holds a special place in my heart.
I’ve been traveling there regularly for nearly 35 years, visiting friends I made in my earlier trips there and others that I’ve made the acquaintance and friendship of over the ensuing decades. Many of them, an assortment of native Swedes and American ex-patriots, are like family to me and I was thrilled when so many of them traveled to this side of the Atlantic for my wedding 14 years ago. Even more satisfying is that my beautiful wife has also grown extremely close to them in about half the time it took me to!
I first made it to Stockholm in the summer of 1988, my first-ever trip to Europe, while serving as road manager for the New York-based funk band Defunkt on the European leg of their latest club tour. Gene, a dear friend of mine, was their manager and with the incentive of a free trip to 11 countries in Europe over six weeks (room and board included), I took on the job of being the guy who had to wake up the band members every morning that we were heading to a new town (or country, frequently) and corral them into going to the train station or airport.
Those six weeks were a real page-turner for me—a moving-on of sorts from my post-college young adulthood to a considerably more adventurous, ambitious and exploratory time in my life. Some of the tales that emerged from that first funky European experience defy description—or decorum, for that matter.
Several years later, in the spring of 1994, I hopped on a flight to Stockholm (remember those easy-travel days when one could merely consider “hopping on a flight”?) to visit my manager friend Gene, who was by then living in Stockholm with his new wife and toddler daughters.
Commercial radio had been deregulated in Sweden a year earlier prior—it had always been run by the state—and Gene and a partner had purchased a broadcast license and a radio station that winter. They formatted it as a rock-n-roll station that followed an AOR format (that’s album-oriented rock), alternating between classic tracks and new material. For Sweden, it was a whole new kind of radio.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bandit 105.5, The Rock Home of Stockholm.
And wouldja believe that my friend Gene who had hired to me to wake up funk musicians in Amsterdam several years earlier now was offering to employ me as a DJ on Sweden’s newest radio station?
Well, he did—and I accepted—and I spent the next 11 months living in Stockholm and spinning CDs on what would become the hottest of a crop of new stations that were popping up all over Southeastern Sweden.
A fair amount of description-defying and decorum-breaching was had, to be sure, over that year, though nothing I would hesitate to write about if this weren’t a film column. Sorry!
Which leads me to the movies…
Some major fun was had at Bandit in November of that year when the 5th edition of the Stockholm International Film Festival was held. Dozens of films from around the world unspooled in the city (some for the first time; other that had already played in their countries of origin). The festival’s programmers did a bang-up job of providing a slate of impressive early works by filmmakers who are still making films today as they were nearly 30 years ago: David O. Russell’s dark comedy Spanking the Monkey, Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami’s docudrama Through the Olive Trees, Michele Soavi’s arthouse zombie flick Dellamorte, Dellamore, Jeffrey Wright’s anarchic romantic drama Metal Skin and Wong Kar-Wai’s indispensable crime-romance Chungking Express, among them. Kiarostami, one of the most established and respected of the bunch at the time, died in 2016.
For the two weeks the festival was in swing, Bandit 105.5 became “The Film Home of Stockholm,” with a number of directors and actors making their way to the station for promotional interviews and such. I conducted a nice on-air chat with young filmmaker C.W. Talkington for his road flick Love and a .45, starring up-and-comers Gil Bellows and future Best Actress Oscar winner Renée Zellweger. Fun stuff. And I remember my fellow DJ Brian (he named his daily radio slot “Brian Time”) telling me about his interview with a fast-talking, movie-loving director named Quentin Tarantino, whose new film, Pulp Fiction, had its Scandinavian premiere at the festival.
This year marks the 33rd edition of the festival and though the schedule hasn’t been announced yet, the quality of the entrants and events is sure to be as superlative as it’s always been. The festival continues to attract veteran big names as well as new voices; last year, Achievement Awards were presented to such talented filmmakers as Jane Campion, the Norwegian sensation Joachim Trier and actor/director Kenneth Branagh, who were all there in person to collect their prizes.
One of the joys of the Stockholm International Film Festival—in addition to receiving a press pass to all the screenings—was the selection of repertory titles that were being shown in theaters around Stockholm, along with all the newer movies. As this was Sweden, Swedish cinema and its rich history were mined for all it’s worth. And as leading distributor Svensk Filmindustri owns the rights to virtually the entire history of Swedish cinema and was the festival’s lead sponsor, it was relatively easy to program any older works the festival wanted.
It was there that I first saw the silent classic The Outlaw and His Wife by the pioneering Swedish filmmaker Victor Sjöström; Alf Sjöberg’s Cannes Film Festival-winning Strindberg adaptation Miss Julie (1951) and, of course, a healthy dose of Ingmar Bergman. Among the three Bergmans I saw for the first time at the festival were his early charmer Summer with Monika (1953), the seminal 1957 Wild Strawberries (where I actually ate wild strawberries at the screening) and the unforgettable period drama Cries and Whispers (1972).
On the newish side but equally worth catching were Lasse Hallström’s 1985 international hit My Life as a Dog and the popular Swedish drama-romance House of Angels (1992), helmed by expat British filmmaker Colin Nutley and starring Swedish star-of-the-moment Helena Bergström.
As I write this Reel Streaming column, I don’t have any movies planned for our Stockholm sojourn, but I always think about that trip there nearly 30 years ago when Stockholm turned into my home for a year. And I also ponder how I still travel there semi-regularly with the love of my life at my side and a bunch of friendly smiles waiting to greet us on the far side of the North Atlantic.
It's almost like a movie.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.