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Vilgot Sjoman, 81; Controversial Swedish Director, Screenwriter

April 12, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Vilgot Sjoman, the Swedish director and screenwriter whose provocative and sexually explicit films stirred controversy in the 1960s, has died. He was 81.

Sjoman died Sunday at a hospital in Stockholm of complications from a brain hemorrhage, the Swedish Joint Committee for Artistic and Literary Professionals announced.

Many of Sjoman's films were socially critical and sexually explicit, such as the 1967 "I Am Curious (Yellow)," which was banned in the U.S. for two years, and its sequel, "I Am Curious (Blue)."

"I Am Curious (Yellow)" was seized by U.S. Customs officials as pornographic and banned as obscene in January 1968. After much legal wrangling a federal appeals court ruled the film was protected by the 1st Amendment.

The controversy fueled box office interest, and it was the most financially successful foreign film in the United States for more than two decades.

Sjoman's films received mixed critical notices. In reviewing "I Am Curious (Yellow)," then Los Angeles Times movie critic Charles Champlin said it was only "intermittently successful as a work of film art and rather a pompous bore the rest of the way."

But Champlin noted that it was thought-provoking.

"The message of the movie is that there is evidently nothing the movies cannot show and tell an adult audience: a general, not a fetishist or lonely-old man audience."

Born David Harald Vilgot Sjoman in Stockholm on Dec. 2, 1924, he was the son of a construction worker.

Sjoman started working as a clerk with a cereal company at the age of 15. In 1956, he studied film at UCLA on a six-month scholarship and worked as an apprentice on the William Holden-Deborah Kerr film "The Proud and Profane."

After returning to Sweden, he worked with renowned director Ingmar Bergman on the film "Winter Light," released in 1962.

He made his debut as a director the following year with "The Mistress" and directed a total of 15 films. His last film was "Alfred" in 1995, about the life of Alfred Nobel, founder of the prestigious Nobel Prizes. Sjoman also wrote more than 20 books.

In his final years, Sjoman was embroiled in a legal battle against a TV station in Sweden. The filmmaker sued the TV4 channel saying it violated his artistic integrity by interrupting his movies with commercial breaks.

A district court ruled in his favor, but TV4 appealed the decision to a higher court, where the case is still pending.

He is survived by his wife, Lotta, two daughters and a son.

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