The Rice Thresher (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 55, No. 28, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 9, 1968 Page: 4 of 12
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'Elvira Madigan' suffers from excess of beautiful images
How sweet 1 roamed from field to field,
And tasted all the summer's pride,
Till I the Prince of Love beheld,
Who in the sunny beams did glide!
He showed me lilies for my hair.
And blushing roses for my brow;
He led me through his gardens fair,
Where all his golden pleasures grow.
With sweet May dews my wings were wet,
And Phoebus fired my vocal rage;
He caught me in his sill(en net.
And shut me in his golden cage.
He loves to sit and hear me sing.
Then, laughing, sports and plays with me;
Then stretches out my golden wing,
And mocJ(s my loss of liberty.
Fine Arts Staff
The terribly beautiful trap of
the not quite sufficient imagina-
tion has always been alluring,
!>ut some three-quarters of a
century ap'o in one of its fullest
forms it held the better im-
pulses of at least a generation,
and turned them inward upon
That a handful of very great
poets could enter the spiral and
emerge as prophets in another
'mental dimension only led a
U-irion of lesser sensibilities in-
to the maze.
There is back there some-
vvlx-tv a lost generation of
humanity, leaving a hole that
has had a considerable part in
making the world what it is
t fM lay.
The Wordsworthian cult of
K'feen, semi-domesticated na-
ture, the soft, pastel vision of
the Impressionists and pre-
Raphaelites, and the rising ideal
of Romantic love are all a part
of this failed alternative to war
and industrial capitalism: failed
because it could not reach out-
ward. but only fold in gently
upon itself like a closing flower.
We are perfectly justified in
feeling contempt for it, be-
cause it was ultimately irres-
ponsible. even to iteslf; but it
can still touch us and hurt.
Remove the self-awareness
;.nd irony from the Blake poem
ijnoted, above, and you have a
passable thematic synopsis of
"Elvira Madigan", the Swedish
film now at the Delman.
The movie is a version of the
actual and, at the time, highly
publicized story of a Swedish
army lieutenant and a Danish
tightrope walker who desert
their respective occupations and
families to live out a desperate
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A pair of painfully gilded
nature children, they try out
existence as a delicate pastiche
of wine, picnics, wild berries,
and sexuality. Their own aura
traps them completely. When
they can no longer get money
to buy food, rather than part
and return home, they steal the
provisions for a last picnic, and
there kill themselves with the
It is an archetypally Romantic
story—as a paradigm for the
age, it was to be acted out
more spectacularly some twenty
years later at Mayerling—and
it is this film's special eminence
that it has actually come some-
where close to a genuine and
serious rendering of that more
than wistful and less than sub-
The film is, admittedly, not
very good in the absolute sense.
It suffers from an excess of
"beautiful" images assembled
with no really poetic sense of
organization; a clumsy plot that
is by turns too thick and too
thin to support the situation;
some acting that as far as I
can tell through the lamentable
haze of dubbed English is if not
bad, still undistinguished (Pia
Degermark's Elvira seems co-
inspired with Jean Shrimpton's
performances in "Privilege",
though somewhat better execut-
ed); some really mawky "sim-
ple"-type dialogue (someone
should have told writer-director
Bo Widerberg that this is the
trickiest kind to write); and an
overall lack of artistic sound-
ness and integrity, a faintly op-
portunistic confusion very like
that afflicting the characters
But we can almost forgive
these things (and they are wide-
ly being forgiven and even ig-
nored) because of what the
film does have, what we have
never seen done quite so near
perfection before: the quiet, op-
pressively open sense of that
extension of the city which the
19th century European was
pleased to call "nature"—the
unimprovable objective correla-
tive of the beautiful inner laby-
rinth of the lost visionary.
The photography is already
famous, and justly so: it works
in a distinctive and gently stun-
ning color scheme of muted
gold, green, and blue; and un-
like most "controlled" color, it
is, within its limits, painfully
successful, and though it some-
times skirts the dangerous edge,
I suspect that in a better film
it would have been a good idea
to discard this tinted aspect in
favor of a sharper focus; but I
cannot quarrel with its bauti-
fully well defined evocativeness
Combine this with a frequent-
ly excellent natural soundtrack
(bees, flics, isolated bird songs,
leaf sounds), and you have a
terribly haunting experience.
One does not realize how deep
this goes until the film's
wrenching last scene.
That scene is, directorally, no
better or worse than the rest of
of the film; one can easily pick
out a half-dozen clear flaws—
the final frozen image, for ex-
ample, is surely not the best
that could ' have been chosen.
Yet it remains ®ne of the most
painful, terrifying, and shock-
ing scenes I have ever seen put
It is shocking the way any
suicide is shocking, both in its
blasphemous obscenity and its
illicit compulsion. Widerberg
plays it quiet, and lets his
created atmosphere do the job.
And it does it very well, bring-
ing to an aching focus a clear
and complex pathos that is al-
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most too much to bear.
It is not a desecration of in-
nocence—a true innocent would
have survived, and this film has
nothing to do with innocence—
but rather a culmination of a
beautiful blindness that works
far more immediately on our
That beauty is suspect—we
know how it acts and what it
does—but it commands, if not
our respect, something very
close to it.
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Garon, Phil. The Rice Thresher (Houston, Tex.), Vol. 55, No. 28, Ed. 1 Thursday, May 9, 1968, newspaper, May 9, 1968; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth245032/m1/4/: accessed February 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Rice University Woodson Research Center.