Ah, the mid-to-late 1960’s, when sex was freer and racism was lessening and students protested things and art was weird and you could have nudity in movies. Sjoman made a long movie (broken up into yellow and blue halves) combining fiction and documentary elements (including much behind-the-scenes footage of the film’s own making) featuring sex and protest and weirdness and nudity, successfully challenging censorship laws.
Vilgot and Lena:
I think Yellow is considered the classic important film and Blue its less-important little sister, but I enjoyed Blue more, maybe because I was used to the movie’s tricks and could pay more attention to the content. In both movies, Lena Nyman roams Sweden, escaping a cheating boyfriend, visits different national institutions, interviews passers-by about current social issues, hangs with friends and worries about her family but never seems comfortable anywhere, finally returns home and tells her cheating boyfriend that she has scabies.
Yellow has more of Vilgot, who is sleeping with Actor Lena (not Character Lena – though presumably neither is the Real Lena). Actor Lena starts dating the actor playing her boyfriend, which pisses off Vilgot, who latches onto a different young female film student at the end. A highlight is Lena’s imaginary discussions with Martin Luther King Jr.
I was trying to introduce a Utopian idea about nonviolence: Sweden changing its military defense into one of nonviolence… Then I started to embellish that theme, and suddenly discovered that the girl was surrounded with symbols of aggression. She had knives in her closet, and a rifle. This is really a strange adherent of nonviolence!
Vilgot predicts his own death, quite incorrectly:
Blue opens behind-the-scenes with some public reaction to Yellow in the form of hate-mail to the studio. Lena will escape into the fictional film then Vilgot will break in and discuss character motivation. She hitchhikes to a prison, then stays with (and spies on) lesbian friends Sonja and Elin, and hangs with violent Hans and his apologetic girl Bim.
The crew sings a song about prisons:
When the crowds actually saw the picture, however, they felt cheated; pubic hair was in short supply, the sex was unerotic, and the running time mostly given over to a droll, Brechtian-Pirandellian, mock-vÃ©ritÃ© exploration of the chasm between the political and the personal.
Within a year or two, suburban theaters routinely programmed nudity-filled potboilers about nurses and stewardesses, soon to be followed by Deep Throat. Never again would audiences have to put up with socially redeeming values in the pursuit of pornography. Yellow triggered the sea-change that resulted, ironically, in the subsequent indifference towards Blue. It altered the American moviegoing experience, pointing the way to a post-code cinema.