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Songs from the Second Floor

     Roy Anderson is a cult figure in Sweden, though he has managed only three features since 1975, very odd ones, these self-financed by his legendary TV commercials, some of the funniest sight-gag ads ever produced. Songs from the Second Floor, a 200l prizewinner at Cannes, is Anderson's breakthrough to an international audience, for those willing to ignore traditional rules of narrative and groove on this series of 46 deadpan interconnected tableaux, one long-take shot per sequence with a stationery camera. The intricate images, deep focus shots of studio-built architecture with people walking through saying and doing mostly opaque things, have kinship to Bosch and Breughel, to Surrealism, to Theatre of the Absurd, to Tati and, especially, the early Bunuel of 1930's L'Age D'Or. The Swedish content: many of the scenes feature Swedish stereotype hefty middle-aged men in business suits, though their faces are often painted white, like clowns in a circus, or Japanese Kabuki characters. What's it all about? The deadness of the bourgeoisie? The horror of the human condition? What songs? What second floor? Damned if I know, though what's on camera is inevitably fascinating and brilliant. The performers are, Anderson has explained proudly, 95% amateurs:"Spielberg's favorite actor, Harrison Ford, began as a carpenter."

(October, 2002)

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