Travels in Wonderland

Travels in Wonderland

By Linda Besner

A review of Travels In Wonderland by Ulle Ryghe

Published on May 1, 2008

Travels In Wonderland
Ulle Ryghe

conundrum press
$20
paper
240pp
978-1-894994-31-6

Ulla Ryghe’s memoir chronicles 30 years spent behind the scenes of the film industry, recalling her transition from “a pathetically unskilled assistant editor at Europa Film” to a film editor sought after on four continents.

Born in Sweden in 1924, Ryghe grew up in an era when women were just beginning to gain access to traditionally male professions. When describing her early years as a print journalist in Stockholm, Ryghe gleefully recounts such subterfuges as posing as her own secretary when calling leads on a story, then enjoying their shock when “Redaktor Ryghe” appeared in person.

Luckily Ryghe did find colleagues who valued her skill and her work ethic in the editing room. In 1959 she began working with the legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and though she has spent years trying to slough off the moniker “Bergman’s editor,” the section of Travels in Wonderland dealing with this period of her life will intrigue serious devotees of the craft of filmmaking. Ryghe’s oft-repeated criticism of directors she has worked with is that, when screening footage, they see what they hope to see rather than what is really there. Her highest praise of Bergman is “I never saw him fall for the allure of an image even though he clearly loved it.” This objectivity is at the core of Ryghe’s understanding of her aesthetic responsibility towards her work, and it is discipline rather than inspiration that her memoir champions, both in herself and others.

Unfortunately, while the material itself could have made Travels in Wonderland into a fascinating insider account of the 20th century film industry, Ryghe could have used both more discipline and more inspiration in recounting her experiences. The book is short on dates, and Ryghe makes the insider’s mistake of assuming that her reader is as familiar with the landscape she describes as she is; while she mentions Bergman films by name, she doesn’t take the time to explain plot, conjure imagery, or discuss their impact on the film-going public. For a film editor, Ryghe’s prose style is surprisingly lacking in visual detail-there’s rarely a physical description of anyone.

What Montreal readers might find most valuable about Travels in Wonderland are Ryghe’s anecdotes from two stints at the National Film Board in Montreal in the 1960s and ’70s. Ryghe found the Anglophone filmmakers “too North American,” and her sympathies were always with her Francophone colleagues. Ryghe spent her first contract at the NFB working on the Anglophone side, the second on the Francophone; during the latter, “two anglophones at the Board called me a traitor to my face. The hurt from that insult was, in sharp contrast to the depth of my contempt for their stupidity, only minimal.” Sometimes it takes an outsider to show what the inside is really like.
mRb

Linda Besner lives in Montreal. Her reviews have appeared in Books in Canada, the Dominion, and Canadian Notes and Queries.

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