Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seven for the Summer

Whenever I'm faced with the tough decision of which movie to pull off the rack and commit to watching, there are a few titles I instantly disqualify. Some titles just have to be saved for the perfect viewing opportunity: Eyes Wide Shut and Gremlins for Christmas, Halloween and some of its brethren for around said holiday. There's even a few that play best during a rain storm: Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Clue. And taking Mr. Thom Ryan's advice, The Big Lebowski does best on a Friday night, while Vertigo plays well on a lazy Saturday.

But by far the biggest section of my movies that are tagged for a specific time are my summer movies. For one reason or another, I can't imagine watching any of these without the calendar being on a certain page, or without the knowledge that the weather outside relatively matches the on-screen temperature. I've picked seven of my favorite summer movies to explain my madness, and feel free to share a few of your own.

The 'burbs
This is my ultimate summer movie, and my need to watch it often coincides with the melting of snow. I wrote before how it has echoes of Rio Bravo, and I have the same wistful yearning to bullshit with Ray, Art, Ricky and Mr. Rumsfeld -- just as I find myself wanting to share beers in the sheriff's office with John Chance, Dude, Colorado and Stumpy. Joe Dante and Howard Hawks are able to find that natural rhythm with their scenes where it feels like you're really watching a part of someone's day play out. In both cases there is a relaxed, unhurried element to the action, and sometimes it makes you numb to the fact that it's a movie in front of you. This atmosphere fuels The 'burbs' celebration of summer boredom and laziness, which makes it a perfect entry to the season.

This is an obvious choice, but where else would you rather spend a few days in the summer than Amity Island (after Chief Brody cleans it up, of course)? Even though the movie is adamantly against it, I can't help but get the urge to go swimming while watching it. And some of Jaws' summer intrigue for me is that I've never experienced any East Coast beaches. Up and down the West Coast and in Mexico, but nothing like what's portrayed in Jaws.

Dazed and Confused
Last year I tried to start a tradition of watching this on the week schools get out in Boise ... and I'm still trying to get the tradition started (damn parental responsibilities). It definitely plays better in June, when you can vainly try to channel that invincible feeling you had in the waning seconds of a school year. For that reason my favorite parts are all in the opening act, when Richard Linklater perfectly captures the lazily arrogant emotions of the last few hours of a high school senior's year. Suddenly the school is no longer a place of learning, but more like a mall they're walking through, making idle conversation (sometimes with teachers).

Assault on Precinct 13
The early precinct scenes are a bit similar to what I noted about Dazed and Confused, a who-cares? attitude from workers at a soon-to-be-extinct outpost. Ethan Bishop's enthusiasm seems alien inside the precinct's weary doors, and he's the only one not treating the afternoon like the last day of school. John Carpenter does a great job selling the sweltering heat of a Southern California summer night -- you can almost feel the hot pavement. There's also the matter of a lonely ice cream man, and I was once a lonely ice cream man (and really, if you're an ice cream man and not lonely, you're doing it wrong).

The Bridge on the River Kwai
My preference here is also a bit personal. My wife's grandfather was a Dutch soldier who served during the country's occupation of Indonesia, was captured by the Japanese during World War II, and helped build the titular bridge. For this reason the movie had a regular rotation in my wife's family, and I've helped to keep it going. But every bead of sweat and jungle shadow is heightened when it's hot outside -- especially when Col. Nicholson is put in the oven. This movie also makes me want to swim ... in a river ... holding plastic explosives above the water line.

The Trouble With Harry
It might be more accurate to say this is a Spring movie, but it definitely deserves to be watched when the sun is shining. Perhaps Hitchcock's brightest movie (Vertigo looks bright, but it is indeed a dark movie), it celebrates the changing of the seasons in New England, and the events that come with it: leisurely strolls under the foliage, lemonade on the porch, and dead dudes in the grass (and under it). Of course, the sunniest aspect of the movie has to be Shirley MacLaine -- when we finally get around to cataloging everything from cutest to ugliest, MacLaine's Jennifer Rogers will make a good case for the Top 10 (assuming kittens and bunnies can only have one entry).

Total Recall
This gets ranked as a summer movie purely because of when it was released: June 1, 1990. I watched the preview so much I can still recall it well, I gleefully read about the shitty video game in Nintendo Power, and nearly took up the life of a hobo after my father announced that I was not allowed to see it. Strangely, I was allowed to see RoboCop 2. Seeing Total Recall had to wait a few years, but I still love giving it a spin each summer because it reminds me of that one particular year.


Zane said...

I used to fantasize about murdering the ice cream man, in cold blood, daily.

As a teenage stoner prone to late afternoon naps, that fucker and his penetrating Jingle tore me from many important dreams. And it seemed the only thing that prevented me from screaming aloud was to imagine all the creative ways in which I could inflict pain on the mother fucker; I think my favorite was to nail each of his toes to the floor, then hire some buff dude named Tiny to YANK the ice cream man away from the floor so that each of his toes would split down the middle.

I even discussed the idea of making a short movie in which some teenagers murder the ice cream man.

That scene in Precinct 13 is a definite favorite ...

Anonymous said...

Ooo, I love this idea for a post, Adam. It actually kind of blends with one I'm writing now, so I MAY have to rip you off.

Don't worry, I'll give you credit, though :-)

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

After each time you mention it, I have the urge to watch THE BURBS again (haven't seen it since half watching it on cable in the 80's). And why I haven't, I don't know. I usually love Joe Dante.

I will head over to Netflix now.

Adam Ross said...

Pacheco -- Thanks, looking forward to reading your post.

Moviezzz -- "The Burbs" is to DVD Panache like "Fandango" is to Lazy Eye Theatre. Hope you enjoy it.

Zane said...

Guess I was an angry kid. One can only guess whether or not living vicariously through thousands of horror movies released the anger, perpetuated it, or both.

Sounds like I need to revisit The Burbs. Saw it once in the 80's and I only remember one line from it, but it's a line that will forever remain ingrained in my brain, when Courtney Gains proclaims, "it came with the frame."

PIPER said...

Damn Adam, this is a great post. I had been thinking about writing a piece like this. I absolutely need to watch Dazed And Confused in the spring. I have to watch Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer in the summer. This 4th of July, Jaws and Rear Window were on TV and me and my family sat and watched those movies while running in and out of the house and it was just perfect.

elgringo said...

Assault on Precinct 13!

Yes! Fantastic! This movie blows me away for reasons I'm not even sure of yet.