22 April 2012

My Saturday With Papitou and Monika

A lot of men, in fact almost all straight men, enjoy looking at pretty young naked women. We especially like it when we are seeing said female as part of an artistic experience. What a bonus to be enjoying a painting, a photograph or, best of all, a film, and seeing  a nude female in the bargain. Non gratuitous nudity is the best because it's guilt free.

So imagine my delight yesterday when I watched two films that featured pretty young thespians au naturel. Josephine Baker and Harriet Andersson. Both were 21 at the time and were fine performers as well as being particularly easy on the eyes.

Siren of the Topics (1927) is the latest in my personal exploration of silent films. It is one of those films that is not particularly good but a joy to watch nonetheless -- and I'd say that even if Josephine Baker, as Papitou, had kept her clothes on. Thankfully Ms. Baker delighted in cavorting about sans garb. Both instances in which she is disrobed during Siren, skinny dipping and bathing, are germane to the plot (wink, wink).

That plot centers around a wealthy French cad of means who wants to dump his loving wife for his innocent god daughter. He sends the god daughter's noble young suitor to the tropics to oversee his operations there. The bounder sends orders to his swindling, thief of henchmen (he's really an awful sort) to dispose of the young man. Once there he meets and rescues a lovely native girl, Papitou, who falls head over heels for him. Back stabbing, dramatics and more rescues ensue as everyone ends up back in Paris. It would surprise no one that everything works out for everyone in the end with all evil doers getting their comeuppance.

It's all rather silly if one stops to take it seriously. But as Saturday matinee entertainment it's fine stuff. It's also a way to get a look at Ms. Baker, who dances up a storm and plays her part to perfection. Especially the nude scenes.

Summer With Monika (1953) was the first screen pairing of legendary director Ingmar Bergman and one of his frequent actresses, Harriet Andersson. It is also the first Bergman film that Woody Allen ever saw. He choose to go see it as a teenager because -- I kid you not -- he'd heard there was a naked lady in it (didn't I tell ya?). Allen may or may not have fallen in love with Ms. Andersson, but he most certainly fell in love with the films of Bergman who became a major influence on Allen's career.

Andersson plays the title character, an 18 year old good time girl who is in love with a young working boy her age, Harry (Lars Ekborg). They escape their contentious families and nowhere jobs for a Summer romp on a boat. Their adventures including stealing from a wealthy farmer, fighting a psycho/jealous acquaintance and Monika stripping down to her birthday suit for a stroll on the beach.

As we all know, Bergman didn't flinch from showing characters who find out that what goes around comes around. In Bergman films, as in the world in which we live, life has a way of getting in the way of our dreams and caprices.

Summer With Monika has just gotten the Criterion treatment. The new DVD will be available later next month but it can currently be seen on Hulu Plus, which offers a bounty of great films for a nominal and well-worth-it monthly fee. It is a gorgeous movie to watch and contemplate, which makes it a typical Bergman film. Andersson could not have been better and this early starring performance promised much more to come from her.

It is interesting that, though the middle third of the film takes place in the great outdoors, it begins and ends scenes in the big city, Stockholm. I can't think of another Bergman film with so many scenes of big city neighborhoods and streets. He tended to shoot in small towns, farms and, of course, the distant past. His urban scenes are every bit as beautiful in their own way as the more rustic settings.

Andersson is as beautiful on screen as anyone the great director shot. In Summer With Monika she seems to have a different look with her clothes and hair in every scene. Her persona too goes through various flights, perhaps in keeping with her physical look, or vise versa. I'll have to watch it again to sort that out. And no I won't pause during the nude scene (for very long).

1 comment:

Andy From The Bakery said...

This girl is amazing and good looking, bravo.