B&W, 1968, 84 mins.

Directed by Torbjörn Axelman

Starring Essy Persson, Margareta Sjödin, Sven-Bertil Taube / Cinematography by Hans Dittmer / Music by Sven-Bertil Taube

Format: DVD - First Run (MSRP $29.98)

Letterboxed (1.78:1) / Dolby Digital Mono

As the 1960s drew to a close, European erotica really had its work cut out for it. In particular, Sweden, the country known for crashing American art houses with racy dramas, found itself competing with other countries like France and Italy to produce the latest scandal du jour. Budgets got bigger, acting got better, and plots became richer as directors tried to push the envelope, and no one benefited from this more than director and distributor Radley Metzger. Vibration (Lejonsommar) was released overseas hot on the heels of Metzger's Therese and Isabelle, also starring the fascinating and talented Essy Persson, and it shows the increasing influence of directors like Ingmar Bergman (who, lest we forget, was also promoted at first in the U.S. more for his flashes of skin than his artistic merit). Arty editing, sun-dappled cinematography, and joyous sexuality are the order of the day here, and Vibration is a breezy reminder of what softcore was like just before Sweden's next big shocker export, I Am Curious (Yellow).

During one tranquil summer, struggling writer Mauritz (Sven-Bertil Taube) takes a trip to a provincial Swedish island where he meets vivacious golden girl Barbro (Margareta Sjödin). The two begin a langorous affair mostly enjoyed in the great outdoors. Their idyllic love is torn apart, however, when his eye is caught by free spirit film actress Eliza (Persson), whose vacation plans include introducing Mauritz to the wonders of mod parties, motorcycle racing, and hot sex in greenhouses. Which lady will ultimately win his heart?

Vibration in many ways marks a strange collision between the dreamy eroticism for which Sweden had become known and the attempt to appeal to swinging teen audiences as well. The camera's tendency to drift in for painterly close ups of hands, feet, and other body parts makes for a dreamlike experience (and cuts down on dubbing problems as well), while the catchy lounge music keeps the story from drifting too far off into the ether. As usual Persson really dominates the screen when she appears, and as with Therese, the whole story is rendered as a flashback by the striking actress, who possesses an uncanny ability to change appearance from a world weary woman to a giggly schoolgirl with the flash of a smile.

Many of the Audubon transfers from First Run have been an erratic bag, but Vibration is easily among the cleanest and clearest of the bunch, most likely because completely new elements had to be used in absence of a prior video transfer. The letterboxing looks just right, and the print is almost entirely clean and free of distracting glitches. Contrast is excellent, with sharp detail reproduction. The dubbed English audio track is acceptable but wasn't anything to shout about in the beginning. The disc also includes a Persson gallery from the film, the striking Vibration U.S. trailer, and a host of other Audubon trailers like The Libertine (when is that one going to get a decent letterboxed DVD release?), Girls Who Like Girls, Therese and Isabelle, The Frightened Woman, Daniella by Night, and Essy's big breakthrough film, I, a Woman. More on that one below.

B&W, 1965, 89 mins.

Directed by Mac Ahlberg

Starring Essy Persson, Jørgen Reenberg, Preben Mahrt, Preben Kørning, Frankie Steel / Written by Peer Guldbrandsen / Produced by Fritz Ruzicka / Music by Sven Gyldmark

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $19.95)

Letterboxed (1.66:1) / Dolby Digital Mono

A few years before the notorious political skinfest I Am Curious (Yellow), Swedish cinema had already become synonymous with naughtiness thanks to I, a Woman, the skillfully crafted import that put Radley Metzger and his Audubon Films on the map. According to Metzger, he had to make a few alterations to the original film, namely shuffling the narrative structure a bit and making a few judicious trims to render the pace more palatable for American audiences. The result became a smash , thanks in no small part to the remarkable performance of Essy Persson in the lead role. Over thirty years later, the film may not seem explicit, but Persson, thanks to her wholesome and intelligent looks and subtle shifts in emotion conveyed through her eyes, still manages to smolder all over the screen.

Based on the autobiographical novel by Agnethe Thomsen (writing as Siv Holm), the film immediately introduces us to a young woman named Siv (of course) who encounters a man in a restaurant and arranges to later meet him up in her room. As she looks in the mirror, she ponder, "I'm not that girl who used to sing in church," and away we go. Once upon a time, Siv was a wholesome girl who used to sit up in front of her evangelical congregation and strum the guitar while everyone sang Swedish revival songs (not an experience easily forgotten). Just to make the contrast clear, director Ahlberg frequently segues from this song to a mod pop version, indicating just how far Siv has gone. Siv strays from her sheltered environment when she takes up nursing duties, where a patient quips, "I'd like to see what you look like under all that. Can I take some Polaroids?" Naturally Siv complies and, after losing her virginity, is amazed upon looking in the mirror that she doesn't look any different. Her church-going best friend is appalled ("You talk like a whore!") and, just to show her the error of her ways, pounces on her in the middle of a field. Siv's tryst with a married man leads to heartbreak, not surprisingly, so she takes up with a doctor in the hopes that both her emotions and sexual urges will be satisfied. As the opening already indicated, though, Siv's journey will be far more complicated as long as she remains in a world which simply regards women as either madonnas or prostitutes.

Surprisingly proto-feminist in its approach, I, a Woman has dated far better than many films of its ilk thanks to the sympathetic treatment and refusal to force a certain belief on audiences. Ahlberg simply presents the facts and allows the viewers to judge for themselves, a very wise move. The actual sexual content isn't a whole lot more graphic than the old Heddy Lamarr erotic '30s opus Ecstasy, but the light and sure touch of the filmmakers inspired a whole wave of European erotica personified by the directorial efforts of Metzger himself. Interestingly, Ahlberg directed two marginally related sequels to this film before going to the U.S. as a cinematographer for such films as Re-Animator, Hell Night, and Space Truckers (how's that for contrast?). On the other hand, Persson made another Audubon Swedish mod film, Vibrations, provided her best performance in Metzger's Therese and Isabelle, and then turned up in the Vincent Price shocker Cry of the Banshee before vanishing entirely from the cinematic landscape. Though she still looks an awful lot like a girl after passing into womanhood, Persson ranks up there with Brigitte Bardot for defining how a woman could etch her own persona into an erotic film.

The DVD from Image provides the same transfer from First Run's VHS edition, and the film has obviously seen some rough times over the years. Though greatly improved from the splicy public doman versions circulated through various companies over the years, the materials suffer from some regrettable wear and tear around the reel changes and the opening titles, while some of the brighter scenes suffer from some strobing and fluttering. None of these factors really ruin the film, given its tattered distribution history, and having it on DVD at all is something of a miracle; just don't expect it to look immaculate. The letterboxing is a welcome gesture not mentioned on the packaging and appears to be accurate, and the English-dubbed dialogue is rendered clearly (most of Audubon's dub jobs were far better than average). The original spicy U.S. trailer is also included for good measure, making this a welcome tribute to a once popular film in danger of sinking into obscurity.

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