SIFF Face The Music 2015 Preview: Itsi Bitsi

Chris Estey

Itsi BitsiDenmark | 2014 | 107 minutes | Ole Christian Madsen

May 21 | 9:30PM | SIFF Cinema UptownMay 27 | 8:30PM | Lincoln Square CinemasMay 31 | 9:30PM | AMC Pacific Place 11

I think it was Julian Cope (Teardrop Explodes), musician-connoisseur and critical master of the psyche-rock arts, who put it best about fundamental 60s Danish band Steppeulven (NOT Steppenwolf). He described the early formation of the band thus, in response to their knowledge of the zealously progressing American form: “Preaching freedom for Americans whilst destroying civilian populations thousands of miles away especially alienated the inward-looking Danes, whose youth was now beginning to follow the trend for ‘finding itself’ in travels to the east. Their figurehead came in the form of the young hippy poet/singer Eik Skaloe, whose wordy songs and strangely-female sounding baritone made his band Steppeulvene (‘Steppenwolf’) sound like Marlene Dietrich fronting Mouse & the Traps.”

Featured in the Seattle International Film Festival 2015's Face the Music series, the biopic Itsi Bitsi, directed by the lusciously-talented Ole Christian Madsen (director of several features, including the award-winning Flame & Citron), features a tall, lanky, haunted Eik Skaloe, rocking out in his native Danish, which had never been rocked out before, with the tortured yet loving soul drawing upon three unbearable muses. First, his unending, undying love for a fellow young protestor named Iben (his "Itsi Bitsi"), a bohemian mermaid beyond his grasp he fought many “man battles” over due to her free-spirited heart; his ruthless dedication to finishing a novel he never actually would finish, a personal literary pursuit which plunged him into writers such as Herman Hesse (thus his band’s name) as well as the bucolic and burnt songs of Dylan; and a seemingly infinite amount of intoxicants, fueling him into a world where change was constant and yet “the hardest thing to do.” His furious romantic-creative drive would end in a desert, with scraps of his art left behind like his remains for his mother to claim as the counter-culture briefly took over the world (at least in its own mind). It all plays out like Philip K. Dick's The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, with God played by a young woman just trying to find herself on her own (the worthwhile subject for a whole other film).But this movie is shadowed by the real meaning of its existence: Steppeulvene’s 1967 LP Hip, as defiantly Danish and rock orthodox-paradoxical and culture-shagging as Kierkegaard himself. The wonderful thing about the movie Itsi Bitsi (based on the post-Freak-beat flavored slacker torch-romp near-hit of the same name), is that it is a winding, lecherous, questioning movie movie that seems steeped in fiction as it is real-life mythology. In other words, instead of another dreary rock doc about a self-destructive nomad talking heads ruminate over, never really getting to the bottom to, we are vividly opened up into Skaloe’s own world-view, pungent with first-hand comedic and dramatic pleasures and lusts and hero-worships of one maiden and a cast of rebels. It plays with cliches the way that hippies used to use Bic lighters to burn off the the unraveling threads at the bottom of their bell-bottoms when sat stoned on couches; those useless pieces of plot-fabric are surprisingly scorched away by the raw illumination that this is all real, and an artist is living and dying before us.

Only 25, Skaloe disappeared outside Ferozepore in 1968, the year everything changed eternally in the world of arts and left-wing politics. Hip would remain an underground bellwether, its combination of obscure language with really good psyche-rock tunes spoon-boiled with eternal outsider status like a speedball and shot into the veins of rock history. As Cope wrote, “Skaloe will always be considered by the original Danish heads as having been ‘Brother Number One.’” His creative origins steeped in radical politics, he inspired bands like the Jomfru Ane Band and Rode Mor to continue a tradition of using their own language to protest and pump audiences. And we have Hip left behind to continue enjoying, an organic work of desire and decay about living life inside-out, literally.

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