DVDs for a hot day
Astronomically speaking, summer officially begins on June 21 here in North America. Economically speaking, it gets started long before that. Summer movie season, for example, has traditionally kicked off on Memorial Day weekend. The Memorial Day to Labor Day marathon now accounts for 40 percent or more of the movie industry’s annual box office. It’s no wonder movie studios, eager to milk as much cash out of summertime ticketbuyers as possible, have been inching the summer movie season further and further back. This year, the release of Spider-Man 3 on May 4 (three full weekends before Memorial Day) signaled the start of a very long, hot summer.
Of course, Hollywood has always tried to appeal to hot weather crowds. Summer has typically been the time of year when schools are out, ensuring plenty of bored teenagers to fill seats. Blazing weather also serves as a fine impetus to get people out of the sun and into cool, dark movie theaters. Prior to the ’50s, in fact, air-conditioning was a key feature often advertised above the movie title on theater marquees.
Although the concept of the big-budget “summertime blockbuster” is relatively new (the term did not exist until Steven Spielberg’s Jaws came out in 1975 and didn’t become a staple commodity until the mid-’80s), movie studios have wooed summertime crowds by releasing lightweight, seasonally appropriate fare for decades. It first began in the post-World War II baby boom, when teenagers became an economic force. Moviemakers eagerly catered to this new audience by releasing monster movies, rock ’n’ roll musicals and an endless parade of “Beach Blanket” films to drive-ins across America.
The drive-ins may be gone, but the summer movie lives on. Here, then, is a look back at some classic “summer” movies.
A Summer Place (1959)
Nowadays, this late ’50s romantic melodrama is known mostly for its enduring instrumental theme. It caused quite a stir at the time, however, with its “shocking” subject matter. Richard Egan and Dorothy McGuire star as a middle-aged salesman and an unhappy housewife who rekindle the romance they started as teenagers on Pine Island, Maine. The adulterous affair sparks similar feelings in their offspring, hunky Troy Donahue and cutie Sandra Dee (poised to become teen idols thanks to “Surfside 6” and Gidget, respectively).
The Endless Summer (1966)
America’s love affair with surfing culture hit its high point with the release of this homemade surf documentary. Legendary Cali-sports chronicler Bruce Brown loaded up his 16mm camera and followed two beach bum pals around the world in their quest to locate the “perfect wave.” The film still looks phenomenal, despite its shabby-chic style (the whole thing was shot for under $50,000) and chintzy voice-over narration. No plot, no love interest, just beautiful beaches and big waves—the distilled cinematic essence of summertime.
Corvette Summer (1978)
Hot off Star Wars, Mark Hamill headlined this minor car chase flick as a high school gearhead whose homebuilt Corvette Stingray gets boosted. With the help of a wannabe teenage prostitute (Annie Potts, in an odd debut), he heads out on the road to Las Vegas to steal it back. No beaches, but plenty of sexy fiberglass.
Summer Lovers (1982)
Shortly after its release, this film became a late-night cable staple. Americans of a certain age remember it well, because it was one of the films that gave Cinemax its deserved designation as “Skinemax.” Daryl Hannah and Peter Gallagher star as an American couple vacationing in the picturesque Greek Isles. There, they cross paths with sexy French archaeologist Valérie Quennessen, who teaches them the meaning of the term “menage a trois.” Plenty of sea, sand and nude sunbathing.
Summer School (1987)
While not terribly well regarded at this time, this Carl Reiner comedy featuring two popular TV stars of the day (“St. Elsewhere”’s Mark Harmon and “Cheers”’ Kirstie Alley) actually holds up better than expected. Harmon plays a high school gym teacher who gets hooked into teaching a remedial English class over the summer. Our slacker instructor would rather be surfing, but his “unconventional” methods (screening Texas Chainsaw Massacre, becoming a Lamaze coach, hosting a Fourth of July party) allow him to connect with his delinquent students and make time with the uptight teacher (Alley) down the hall.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
This sadly overlooked comedy (created by members of the cult improv troupe behind “The State”) is a frequently spot-on parody of teen sex comedies. Set in 1981 at a hormone-addled summer camp, the film plays out like a straight-faced version of the endless, hijinks-heavy Meatballs clones that fueled cable movie channels throughout the ’80s. Much of the credit goes to the cast, a who’s who of alterna-comedy (Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, Paul Rudd, Molly Shannon, Amy Poehler).