erik lundegaard


Saturday June 06, 2009

Theme from a Summer Place

Instead of the same-old same-old flickering to your left, I thought I’d get seasonal for a change with some summer movie posters.

Here’s the problem: If you want summer movies that feel like summer (“Jaws”), more than movies that were simply released in summer (“The Dark Knight,”), you’re going to run into a whole host of crap movies. Summer means beaches ... and bikinis ... and now you’re into exploitation territory.

So here’s what I came up with. It includes not only movies that feel like summer but movies whose posters feel like summer. Feel free to tell me what I missed:

Suddenly Last Summer (1959): Release date: December 22, 1959: I haven’t seen this but, despite its high IMDb rating (7.7), I’ve heard it’s awful. Amazing considering the talent: screenwriter Gore Vidal and director Joseph Mankiewicz adapting a Tennessee Williams play that stars Taylor, Hepburn and Clift. What’s the horrible, horrible secret that Catherine saw last summer that drove her insane, and for which her wealthy aunt wants her lobotomized? Something that’s no longer a horrible, horrible secret.

The Endless Summer (1966): Release date: June 15, 1966: The first great surfing documentary. With an even greater poster. Again, haven’t seen it. Don’t worry: everything else on the list I have.

American Graffiti (1973): Release date: August 1, 1973: Quintessential last-day-of-summer movie. It’s not really my time (’62 or ’73) or my movie. That scene wasn’t my scene, and that girl—Suzanne Sommers—wasn’t the girl I would’ve spent all evening chasing. It was actually Lucas’ next movie, released in May of ’77, that has colored all of our summers ever after.

Jaws (1975): Release date: June 20, 1975: The best and scariest of the bunch. I first saw it at a second-run theater, the Boulevard, five blocks from my childhood home (and now a Hollywood Video) in south Minneapolis, and it made me forever scared of the ocean. I can no longer swim over my head without hearing John Williams’ theme music. Seeing it again in the late ‘90s I was struck by how much the movie still has one foot firmly in the “Decade of Influence” ‘70s. It used locals as extras and had that post-Watergate feel of governmental corruption and/or incompetence—i.e., tourist dollars trump tourist lives—with the morally bankrupt mayor played by Murray Hamilton, one of the more famous cuckolds in movie history. It may also have been the first movie for which I’d already read the novel. I remember being surprised, legitimately surprised, when the storyline deviated from Benchley’s text. Wait a minute, Matt Hooper is supposed to be tall and handsome, and have an affair with Brody’s wife, and die in the shark cage. So what the hell’s all this? The movie’s better.

The Deep (1977): Release date: June 17, 1977: The big, post-“Jaws” movie, by the same author, Peter Benchley. The main objections to the film at the time were for its supposed sexism (Jackie Bisset’s wet t-shirt) and racism (all those menacing black guys) but my father, reviewing it for the Minneapolis Tribune, mostly objected to the ending. Robert Shaw’s character is presented with a choice: save, I believe, Nolte’s character, or retrieve, I believe, an amulet, which will provide proof that the other jewels they’ve excavated are in fact ancient jewels, and worth a fortune, before the ship blows up. Shaw’s character (Romer Treece? Ecch) saves Nolte, but then goes back for the amulet. Cue explosion. In the book he dies. In the movie, after several seconds of suspenseful silence, he emerges from the water, undamaged, amulet in hand, and tosses it in slow-motion triumph to his partners. Dad felt this was a cheat. How could he know the era of hard choices in movies, particularly summer movies, was coming to an end? From now on, it was win-win.

Grease (1978): Release date: June 16, 1978: It only has a few summer scenes—which evoke, campily, ‘50s and early ‘60s summer films—but it’s on this list because I saw it seven times during a family summer vacation in Rehoboth Beach, Del., propelled, mostly, by a huge, adolescent crush on Olivia Newton-John. (I would’ve searched for her all night.) That same summer, Olivia, Minn., honored Ms. Newton-John with an old-fashioned, small-town parade, and my old man covered it for the paper, and he took me and my brother Chris, 17, along for the ride. Dad got to speak with her briefly as she rode a horse in the town parade, and he got the quote he needed, but I was shy and held back. (I would’ve shyly searched for her all night.) I did wave to her in the purposefully cute way that Sandy waves in “Grease.” Imagine a muppet nodding its head; now take away the muppet. She waved back with that great smile. Zing. It was all so pleasantly, uncomfortably heart-achey. It must’ve been, to make me watch “Grease” seven times.

Breaking Away (1979): Release date: July 13, 1979: One of my favorite films—then and now. The aimlessness of four locals, townies, cutters, in a college town, the summer after high school. No college awaits them so now what? It’s a wholly American film, directed by a Brit, and written by a man who came to the states from Yugoslavia when he was 14. It invokes the American capacity for self-invention, and deals with American class issues better than almost any film I’ve seen—particularly in that speech by Paul Dooley, who walks his son around the university campus and talks about his youthful days helping create it:

Dad: And the buildings went up. When they were finished the damnedest thing happened. It was like the buildings were too good for us. Nobody told us that. It just felt...uncomfortable, that's all. [pause] You guys still go swimmin' in the quarries?
Dave: Sure.
Dad: So, the only thing you got to show for my 20 years of work is the holes we left behind.
Dave: I don’t mind.
Dad: I do.

It’s got cycling, romance, Robyn Douglass in shorts and Barbara Barrie’s quintessential mom. It was the first time I saw Dennis Quaid (and his abs) and Daniel J. Stern (and his goofy persona) and one of the last times I saw Jackie Earle Haley until he resurfaced recently. And of course it nearly killed me. Literally.

“Do the Right Thing” (1989): Release date: June 30, 1989: How odd that they chose cooling blue for the poster background when Spike went to all the trouble of painting the walls around Bed-Stuy fire-engine red to better evoke the heat of summer. Despite “Tawana told the truth,” this film is still powerful 20 years later; and it’s still, unfortunately, Spike’s best film. Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! I think we have a little. So has he.

“My Father’s Glory” (1991): U.S. release date: June 14, 1991:  A great evocation of aimless childhood exploration and impromptu friendships when the world—and the century—were new. Includes that moment when you realize your father is not just your father—he’s one of many adults. And many of those adults seem him differently than you do. Not sure what place Marcel Pagnol still holds in French culture but his 1930s “Fanny” trilogy, set in Marseilles, is still fun to watch and feels remarkably contemporary.

“Swimming Pool” (2003): U.S. release date: July 2, 2003: I saw this in the theater and don’t remember much about it. But it sure looks like summer.

“Step Into Liquid” (2003): Release date: August 8, 2003: Dana Brown helped with the script to his father’s sequel, “Endless Summer 2,” in 1994. Nine years later he directed his own surfing doc. In some ways I prefer the massiveness of Stacy Peralta’s “Riding Giants” but this poster is better. And it’s still a great doc. Hell, I own it on Blu-Ray. Nothing looks better on HD than water. Well, maybe some things.

“L’Heure d’ete” (2008): It means “Summer Hours,” and, again, it doesn’t have much to do with summer. More the winter of our discontented inheritance. But it’s a movie everyone should see, and think about, and talk about. Because you’ll go through it, too. Both ways.

So which movies that feel like summer—and/or whose posters feel like summer—have I missed? Let me know below.

Posted at 12:49 PM on Saturday June 06, 2009 in category Movies