TV’s most famous high school counselor and nude country-and-western troubadour views Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 drama through experiential glögg goggles.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY RANDY HARWARD
“My favorite film is one of three: The one I just saw; the one I’m watching; and the next one I’m going to see,” says Dave “Gruber” Allen. “That’s kind of how capricious (read: wishy-washy) I am in life and often when it comes to ‘favorite’ stuff. Especially movies. But among my favorite movies is Fanny and Alexander. Gimme Shelter is a “close second. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Producers both get a lifetime achievement award!”
Allen, fiftysomething, played Jeff Rosso, the high school counselor from the brilliant-but-canceled late-nineties series Freaks & Geeks. He was also the titular truck driver from 2007 series The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show (WTFuck, Comedy Central?). Lately, Allen voices the father on the Fox animated series Axe Cop and tours the country with Cinematic Titanic, which is an offshoot of the cult-favorite movie-mocking TV series Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Ingmar Bergman’s 1982 drama Fanny and Alexander made its U.S. debut in 1983, and that’s when Allen first saw the film. Two years out of college, he’d recently taken “Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman,” which he calls “the sort of elective you get at a Swedish-founded liberal arts college.” Sitting in the Varsity Theater, Allen was wowed by the “big-screen work of wonder” and its full-immersion experience.
“It’s so fantastical,” Allen says. “It’s olde-tymey—older tymey, anyway; Swedish-y; huge in scope (both the subject matter and the way all of it fills the screen) and it’s heavy, man! And even funny in parts. “If you like birth, death, love, hate, joy, fear, food, theater, music, puppets, ghosts, flared farts, drinking, laughing, uncontrollable sobbing, religion, religion-bashing, costumes, beautiful cinematography, reading English subtitles, existential angst, a loving God, a wrathful God, possibly no God?, olde-tymey stuff, universal truths, universal questions… it’s all there.” And despite the film’s length (three-plus hours; five-plus in the uncut version), Allen says that when it ended, “I kind of just wanted to stay there [in the theater]. Maybe that’s the business of a lot of films: They help you escape where you are to where the film takes you, e.g. 1980’s Des Moines to Olde Tymey Sweden!”
Since then, Allen has screened Fanny and Alexander “maybe [two other times] and only once on the big screen.” He doesn’t need to watch it often, because the film’s emotional denouement really resonates. “Like I said, I’m still in the movie! I can and do play out scenes in my head from time to time. The movie is often on my mind.”
How he reacts to it, though, is different with each viewing. “Since then I’ve seen much more of the human experience… births, deaths, and all the stuff of life in between, so I’d be bringing more experiential glögg (Swedish punch!) to the party. And yeah, the mood of a film always changes my perception of the real world. I’m always a lot nicer—a kinder person—when I exit a movie. I should go to more movies