Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Max Von Sydow and Last House on the Left

I break all the rules when meeting Max Von Sydow.

Tue, Feb 14, 2012, 22:32


Certain protocols apply in press interviews. Among the most important is that you don’t make a berk of yourself by getting your photograph taken with the talent. I remember being at a group interview a few years back for Miami Vice and some European twit insisted on grabbing each professional — Gong Li, Michael Mann, Jamie Foxx — and forcing his neighbour to take a snap of the highly paid star grimacing uncomfortably beside a grinning imbecile. “They don’t mind!” he said. Well, they’re hardly going to say they mind when in a room with journalists. The truth is they think this is one of the places they can go without being forced to gurn at cameraphones.

You’re also not supposed to get things signed. On one or two occasions I have — after asking politely — sneaked past this particular rule. I got Terrence Davies to sign my BFI boxed-set of his complete works. ¬†Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s signature is on my edition of Syndromes of a Century. (In an aside on an aside, no such dictum applies when interviewing writers. I remember one very prominent fantasy author positively demanding to sign my copy of his latest tome.)

Where was I? Oh yes. Earlier this week I got to meet Max Von Sydow. There was no way I was going to leave that room without a record of the event. So, I brought along a copy of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. If you haven’t seen this fine 1960 film then you really should. A superbly grim folk thriller — Sydow described it to me as “Bergman’s Kurosawa film” — The Virgin Spring tells the tale of decent parents who, after encountering the murderers of their daughter, take spectacularly gruesome revenge. Fans of “video nasties” will find their ears perking up. The film was, of course, remade (the right word I think) by Wes Craven as The Last House on the Left. “To avoid fainting just keep repeating: it’s only a movie” was the famous tagline.

Anyway, while Max was uncapping the pen and politely refreshing his memory as to my name, I asked what he made of Craven’s low-fi interpretation. “What’s that?” he said. It transpired that he’d never even heard of the 1972 film. Puritans will say this does him credit. He made me write its name down in his notebook. I worry a little. Max is pretty robust and very open-minded, but I feel a little bit uneasy about recommending a famously disgusting rape-revenge thriller to an 82-year-old man.

The story didn’t make it into the piece (read the interview in this week’s soaraway Ticket), so I thought I’d share it with you here. You can catch Max’s fine, Oscar-nominated performance in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close from Friday.

The Virgin Spring is one of the greatest films ever made. Did I make that clear?