On my recent visit to Reykjavik, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, arguably the greatest of all Icelandic directors, was gracious enough to meet me for an interview over coffee. For an hour we discussed the prolific filmmaker’s formidable career as well as several tantalizing projects he is currently working on (he had been location scouting the previous week in the Westfjords, a part of rural northwestern Iceland that he assured me is the most beautiful place on earth). I am pleased to announce this interview will appear in the next issue of the multilingual Italian film journal La Furia Umana. I am posting a short exclusive excerpt from the interview below. Anyone familiar with Fridriksson’s work should recognize his trademark deadpan sense of humor: more than any other director I’ve met, he seems like a character out of one of his own movies (when my wife remarked that she liked his purple shirt, he replied without missing a beat that it was a gift from the pope). For more of my thoughts on Fridriksson’s films see my Cinematic Iceland Photo Tour post.
MGS: It seems like a lot of your films have an ambivalent attitude towards American culture. You know, we were talking about the influence of rock-and-roll earlier. Devil’s Island and also Movie Days . . .
FTF: Yeah, my childhood . . .
MGS: I think those films express a love of American rock-and-roll of the 1950s and also classic Hollywood films. But at the same time I also feel like you’re being critical of American imperialism . . .
FTF: Yes, of course.
MGS: Is it safe to say you have a love/hate relationship with American culture?
FTF: I would say it’s love but (laughs) . . . but I have been misunderstood. Because I think it was the actor Elliot Gould or someone . . . Movie Days and Devil’s Island were both Oscar entries from Iceland — when the people came out, they said “Fridrik’s turned into an anti-American . . .” (laughs) But it’s mainly love because, you know, if you are under imperial threat like Iceland was — because when I was growing up there was only one T.V. station from the NATO base, without subtitles, of course, and the only radio station young people listened to also came from the NATO base — so, of course, it was something that woke us up, but we had to protect our culture, our cultural heritage. And so it was very important, so that’s why it’s pure love. (laughs) If someone put a gun on you and said “You have to beware of where you’re heading,” you’re just grateful for the guy who has the gun. (laughs)
MGS: (laughing) That’s a good analogy. That’s a very good analogy.
FTF: I have been joking a lot about Hollywood cinema but there are people who take me too seriously. We were taking the Marshall Plan (the American program that provided economic support to Europe in the aftermath of WWII – MGS) and part of that was to have one cinema for each major (Hollywood) studio. So we got hardly any European films here but we were really well educated in literature and our literary heritage from the Icelandic Sagas. It is very strong in your heart and mind. So you can’t really compete that with American films. Like I put it in Mamma Gogo, my last feature film, it (Hollywood) is just like fast food. When you watch an American film you are just killing time — on an airplane or something. I love those films but I’m always waiting to see them on an airplane — instead of going to the cinema — when I’m flying to Japan or Korea. But I like it, you know? I have nothing against it.
I’m filing this DVD in the “autographed Scandinavian” section of my home video library.