February 27, 2010 / Filmwell
James Gray’s latest wraps three distinct, remarkable characters around a haunting question. It may make you miserable while you watch, but it will stick with you like few love stories do.
June 3, 2009
Back in the Sixties, God was dead (or so the rumours had it), mainline churches were dying (though they didn’t know it yet), and the Jesus People hadn’t yet been born (again). If you happened to love God and the movies, you were pretty much stuck with Bergman and Bresson – not that that’s necessarily a problem, unless you’re prone to depression – and the occasional Cool Hand Luke angry young Christ figure.
But a faith-filled few fought the good fight, in church basements across the continent. Chief among them, Chicago-born Swede Rolf Forsberg, who brought a live theatre background (he directed Ed Asner in “The Tempest” in the late Fifties) and art house enthusiasm to some distinctive short films.
PARABLE (1964, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
Commissioned by the New York City Protestant Council of Churches for their 1964 World’s Fair pavilion, this 22 minute clown-Christ circus allegory is reputed to be better than you might expect, a film without dialogue that aims for something like Fellini or maybe Bresson. Controversial in its day – even the fair’s director asked for it to be withdrawn! – the film was big in church rentals for the rest of the decade, and you can still find it through some mainline church media libraries.
ANTKEEPER (1966, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
His wife helped found Second City, Rolf made distinctly weird short films for the Lutherans. Here a gardener sends his son to teach the ants in his garden how to live peacefully. SPOILER: The ants kill his son. Voiced by Herman Munster.
STALKED (1968, USA, Rolf Forsberg)
“Flesh. In motion. Flesh. Illogical. Unpredictable. To me, a vastness of fools. Fools to be exploited, not pitied…”
Between his breakout hit PARABLE and the seventies Christian Scare Classic THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH, Rolf (under the influence of Fellini, Bergman and possibly other hallucinogens) created this astonishingly weird short film, sort of a CARNIVAL OF SOULS for Christ. “The Man” needs a break from his day job sculpting gruesome Bible scenes for house of wax, so he flies to Europe, only there’s nobody there to meet him. I mean nobody. Except a guy in wooden shoes, who ends up following “The Man” through the streets of Amsterdam, dancing and pounding on doors. I think he’s supposed to be Jesus: you’ll never hear “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” in quite the same way again. A stranger Religious Ed film was never made – more’s the pity. Available on Fantoma’s “The Educational Archives, Volume Six: Religion.”
Other vintage Forsberg shorts include Awareness (1968), Ark (1970), King Of The Hill (1972) and Nail (1973). All are exceedingly difficult to find: if somebody can hook me up with a copy of any of them besides Stalked (which I already own, and prize), that would blow my mind.
Son Eric ended up in the biz, specializing in bargain-basement-budget sequels and spin-offs: Night Of The Dead: Leben Tod (2006), Snakes On A Train (2006), 30,000 Leagues Under The Sea (2007) and War Of The Worlds 2: The Next Wave. Grand-daughter Lola continues the family tradition, appearing in several of her dad’s films.
Non-cinematic footnote: Rolf wasn’t the only with-it Sixties Lutheran. It’s hard not to be a fan of Pastor John Rydgren, whose daily radio program “Silhouette” yielded some pretty far out stuff with a definite Forsberg groove. Check out “The Lord Is My Happening.”