This is Foggy Ruins of TIme, a feature that provides the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the "foggy ruins of time." To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in "The Understudy" to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal).
Today, based on a suggestion from reader Kris W., we take a look at the R-Rated Swedish film that became a bit of a pop culture sensation in the late 1960s, showing up in the pages of comics as disparate as "Amazing Spider-Man" and "Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane."
"I am Curious (Yellow)" was released in Sweden in 1967. It is actually the first part of a companion project, along with its "sequel" "I Am Curious (Blue)" They were originally meant to be just one really long movie, but instead it was split up into two films.
"I Am Curious (Yellow)" is about a film within a film about director Vilgot Sjöman (who plays a version of himself) making a film about his lover, Lena Nyman (also playing a version of herself). The film within the film sees Nyman (playing someone named Lena in the film within the film - so yes, Lena Nyman plays Lena Nyman playing Lena) get involved in a strange romance with a young man named Bill. Soon, though, Nyman (in the film) becomes involved with the actor playing Bill. It is a strange little movie, including a scene involving Martin Luther King Jr. (who happened to be visiting Sweden at the time, so they found a way to work him into the movie, as Lena apologizes for not following his way of nonviolence).
Anyhow, the film has a lot of nudity and sex in it. There were a few court cases over whether it would be considered pornographic in the United States. When the courts ruled that no, it was not pornography, it received a widespread release and it became a pop culture sensation.
This little Swedish film was the 12th highest grossing film in the United States in 1969. It also became a bit of a status symbol, as celebrities would make a big "to do" of going to see it.
Naturally, then, it would come up in a hip title like "Amazing Spider-Man," so in "Amazing Spider-Man" #101 which came out in 1971 - hey, no one ever said comics were quick to make references), Roy Thomas, Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia have Gwen Stacy try to get Peter Parker to go see it with her (she also name drops famed feminist Betty Friedan), but he can't, since he had six arms at the time (as a result of an attempt to remove his Spider-powers that went horribly wrong the previous issue)...
Amusingly enough, Marvel was beaten to the punch, reference-wise, by an issue of "Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane," which referenced the movie in the infamous 1970 "Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane" #106 (by Robert Kanigher, Werner Roth and Vince Colletta) where Lois Lane is transformed into a black woman so that she could see what life was like living as a black person. She then gives Superman some weird guilt trip before she returns to normal...
If you have any other suggestions for obscure pop culture reference in old comic books, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org!