Noe Valley Voice July-August 2005

Screen and Screen Again:
Summer Stories for the Homeplex

By David O'Grady

Summer has arrived at last, and that means one thing in Noe Valley--catching a few rays of sun before the evening fog tumbles over Twin Peaks. But summer is also about going on adventures--hitting the open road, making friends at camp, or getting sand in your shorts at the beach. Whatever the destination, summer can change you like no other season.

Movie-makers know this and like to depict summer's endless possibilities in films, ranging from the zany Vacation to the poignant Stand by Me. So, if you're stuck at home on one of our cold, foggy nights when you can't determine whether you're in Noe Valley or Nova Scotia, try basking in the glow of someone else's transformation. Check out these "hot" summer movies, all available at neighborhood video stores.

School's Out . . . for Summer

Summer's slackened pace, that do-nothing (or as-little-as-possible) vibe, is captured in director Richard Linklater's wonderfully silly but thoughtful movie Dazed and Confused (1993). The creator of indie favorite Slacker, Linklater here turns his gaze on the student population of Austin, Texas, on the last day of school in 1976.

Most of the action orbits around incoming senior quarterback Randall "Pink" Floyd and his reluctance to sign a no-drugs statement before playing football in the fall. As Pink and his fun-loving friends haze the freshmen, raise hell, and contemplate their fuzzy futures, they make their way to a school's-out beer bash in the woods, a kind of teenage A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The movie is shot through a persistent haze of pot smoke, and much of the humor--some quite clever--flows from drug-fueled hijinks. But what elevates Dazed and Confused above the stoner-movie genre is the delicate--even loving--observation of the rites of passage and their essential role in growing up.

Dog Is My Co-Pilot

A modern coming-of-age classic, My Life as a Dog (1985) is a Swedish film set in the 1950s about a rambunctious but sweet 12-year-old boy named Ingemar. Ingemar loves his dog, Sickan, and wonders why the Russian space program sent the dog Laika into space, only to let it starve to death. But Ingemar has bigger problems at home with his terminally ill mother, whose despair and anger he tries to alleviate with tales of his daily adventures. When summer arrives, Ingemar is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in a small town. The locals, a colorful collection of misfits, give Ingemar the chance to be himself, explore his awakening sexual curiosity, and develop a friendship with a young tomboy named Saga.

Life as a Dog, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, is a beautiful, quirky movie. Its European attitude toward nudity should not dissuade parents from watching this gem with their kids.

Hot Town, Summer in the City

Summer was not a season of fun and games for New York City in 1977, when temperatures soared and killer "Son of Sam" stalked the streets. Director Spike Lee captures the jittery aura of the era in Summer of Sam (1999), a coarse, violent, and vibrant look at how fears closer to home may be more lethal than those in the headlines.

An ensemble piece with a loose story line, Summer of Sam follows the struggles of working-class friends Vinny (John Leguizamo)--a disco Lothario conflicted by fidelity to his wife and secret sexual appetites--and Richie (Adrian Brody), a punk rocker who hides his "day" job as a male stripper, especially from Vinny's thuggish, Italian-American friends. As the body count rises and the police look to the mob for help, the city becomes a crucible that threatens to destroy Vinny's marriage and make Richie a scapegoat for the real Son of Sam.

Lee gives audiences a visceral sense of those disorienting days by launching at one point into a fevered rush of jumbled images, accompanied by a blistering anthem by the Who. Summer of Sam is a stirring, disturbing look at the dark corners of the human condition.

Rock-a-Hula Baby

What would summer be without a beach movie? Anyone who has been to Kauai has driven past the now-defunct Coco Palms resort, location for the literally buoyant Blue Hawaii (1961), perhaps the best of the beach movies from the 1960s for two reasons: Elvis, and Elvis singing some of his best movie songs, including "Rock-a-Hula Baby" and "Can't Help Falling in Love."

Elvis plays the son of a pineapple magnate and an unreformed Southern belle (played to the campy hilt by Angela Lansbury), who has returned to the family home in Hawaii after a stint in the Army. But Elvis resists his parents' wishes to join the family business and dump his half-Hawaiian girlfriend. Many songs, beach scenes, and outfit changes later, Elvis finally decides what he wants to do: become an island tour guide. Soon he is drowning in problems only Elvis could have and dodging the affections of his main client: a female chaperone and her bevy of teenage school-girl beauties.

Very dated in places--including a bizarre spanking scene where Elvis decides one of his especially flirtatious charges has been spared the rod too many times--Blue Hawaii remains an occasional delight, like a fru-fru cocktail on a balmy summer day.

O "Solo" Mio in Venice

Venice is the real star of the David Lean film Summertime (1955), although Katharine Hepburn as a lonely woman traveling abroad gives the city of canals a run for its money. Hepburn lends her fiery independence to Jane Hudson, a self-described "fancy secretary" from Akron, Ohio, taking the trip of a lifetime. Jane's loneliness catches up with her just as she catches the eye of Renato de Rossi, a local antiques dealer. Renato coaxes Jane out of her fear of relationships, but not everything is at it seems in their blossoming love affair.

What makes Summertime a must-see is the way Lean allows the lens to linger over Venice so you can savor the details. It feels luxurious in this era of quick cuts and exorbitantly expensive location shooting, and it gives Summertime the feeling of being adrift in the canals--enjoying the journey--with no particular hurry to get anywhere. That's what summer is all about.