Legend has it that during the 1971 Belgrade Film Festival in Yugoslavia, Slovene director Karpo Godina asked some of the participating festival guests – mostly prominent/controversial writer/directors – to shoot segments where characters had to utter the phrase “I miss Sonia Henie,” a line spoken by Snoopy in Charles Schultz’ comic strip.
Godina’s rules forbade the use of any camera movement; just a fixed position that overlooks a narrow L-shaped bachelor pad with a small kitchen/washroom to one side, plus a small window that allows someone to peer from the kitchen into the sleeping area that lay in the camera foreground.
Each of the directors reportedly shot various takes, and Godina edited bits and pieces to the music of a skating sequence from a Sonia Henie film (seen in part at the very end).
The short begins with two of the film’s six actors shot in extreme close-up, faces very close together. The male tries to mumble the Henie phrase through closed lips, and then both he and the girl start making childish facial contortions, eventually twisting their tongues until the off-screen director tells them they have ‘five more minutes.’
The next footage is a series of quick cuts of the bachelor pad that seems to have been edited to help audiences distinguish each director’s segment. (The easiest parts are Tinto Brass’ piece, because of a large lamp to the right; and the Buck Henry-Milos Forman piece, due to Henry’s appearance with the actors).
The first series of bits and pieces have a melancholy couple exchanging a few words, and someone muttering the Henie line, after which it cuts to another combination of girl-and-guy where the woman eventually gives the man a blowjob (only the man faces the camera), and eventually the girl is comforted by two men in bed. In between these segments are small dialogue exchanges – such being ‘late’ for a business meeting – but it’s all meaningless, and feels like a student film dare.
It’s hard to tell which of the pieces belong to Makavejev or the other lesser-known filmmakers, but Brass’ contribution is left almost intact. We’re treated to a few takes where a girl gets up from the bed, itching her crotch (what else?) as though fire ants are crawling everywhere, and heading down the hallway to the front door where she lets in a man who desperately needs to take a big dump. As she heads back to bed, he enters the bathroom/kitchen, turns away from the camera, and drops his pants as he sinks below the room’s window to relieve himself. Other takes involve different dialogue and character ‘motivation,’ although the girl is still itchy. At one point a voice off-screen tells the pair to freeze, and Brass, wearing a hat and sporting his trademark cigar, emerges from the side, arranges the actors, and heads back to man the camera.
The Forman/Henry piece is chopped up throughout the short, but the narrative has Henry playing an American doctor aided by two nurses trying to treat a heavily bandaged patient unable to speak. Trying to motivate the patient to say something to the world, Henry motions for a nurse to open her blouse, and the breast exposure yields a rise in the patient’s midsection. Henry attaches a pencil to the raised member, the patient writes a message on a pad. Henry brings the note to the camera, which reads “I miss Sonia Henie,” after which Henry reads the note aloud, and tells the patient to “Fuck Off” in another language.
Godina’s short was an experiment and a one-of-a-kind stunt, and perhaps the only interest for cinephiles is seeing which filmmaker personalities came through in the finished work in spite of the rigid rules. 1971 was a year where several of the filmmakers had made their own counter-culture works, or works reflecting the more permissive and rebellious tone of younger cinema audiences in Europe and North America. Makavejev’s W.R. - Mysteries of the Orgasm was made that same year, as was Morrissey’s Women in Revolt, and Forman’s Taking Off, co-starring Buck Henry.
This isn’t to say the short has little merit beyond the involved filmmakers, but a similar effort by more contemporary directors (as with Lumière and Company / Lumière et compagnie) would’ve yielded similarly uneven (and sometimes meaningless) results. It’s an historical footnote and a curio, but little else.
Other Tinto Brass releases from Cult Epics include Deadly Sweet / Col cuore in gola (1967), Attraction / The Artful Penetration of Barbara / Nerosubianco (1969), Howl, The / L’hurlo (1970), The Key / La Chiave (1983), Miranda (1985), All Ladies Do It / Così fan tutte (1992), Voyeur, The / L'Uomo che guarda (1994), Frivolous Lola (1998), Cheeky / Trasgredire (2000), and Private / Fallo! (2003).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan