Summer Watching Issue
Loving Drive-ins, Hating Grease, Doing the Right Thing
Welcome Readers, to our Much Anticipated Summer Watching issue!
Is this issue Much Anticipated?
But let’s clasp hands, Butch and Sundance this thing, and jump right in:
I’m not sure when Summer became an actual movie season, but I have always associated summer with very specific experiences, such as eating sweet corn on the porch and rewatching my summer movie set list.
(Weirdly, dear reader, you will note that my correspondents below each independently express that they do not like summer! Regardless — even weirdos who don’t like summer still have strong emotions about summer movies.)
Below is a modest list of movies that for me embody the spirit of summer:
JAWS: This film universally makes top-10 lists for all-time-great summertime movies, for a good reason: It does it’s job — perfectly. Released in 1975, Jaws is surprisingly timeless. It was the first film to make me scream in the theater (I was a young teen — the perfect age), setting me up for a lifetime of shrieking, yelping and audibly gasping at the movies.
I actually believe that seeing Jaws at such a formative age conditioned me to be extremely reactive to jump scares.
Jaws perfectly embodies an island summer, featuring an indelible cast of characters: the influx of day trippers, the irascible locals, the island cop who can’t swim (truly a “fish out of water”), and the sand-flecked children wandering off on their own. Beyond it all — the menace of a monster … waiting, stalking, and striking.
Spielberg builds tension to a series of violent or shocking climaxes, and then releases us through humor and leisurely dialogues and storytelling. John Williams’ score is deservedly iconic.
DO THE RIGHT THING: Spike Lee’s breakout film takes place on the hottest day of the summer in Bed-Sty, Brooklyn. The film came out just after I had moved away from New York City (1989), and at the time it seemed to perfectly capture the bad-old days of 1980’s New York. It was shot entirely along Stuyvesant Avenue in Brooklyn.
Do The Right Thing actually seems even more relevant and revelatory now than when it came out. Lee captures racist and racial tension that has been simmering and then suddenly boils over, triggered by incidents that at first seem trivial — depending on your point of view. Lee’s script, direction, and acting make both sides equally credible and occasionally ridiculous, until both sides lie in ashes. The climax is sweaty, smoky Shakespeare.
As Spielberg does with Jaws, Spike Lee builds and then breaks tension with humor. this movie “contextualizes intergenerational trauma,” as one commenter aptly noted.
Widely viewed and taught on campuses — if you haven’t seen this in a while (or ever), it is absolutely worth a watch. Available for rental on various platforms.
GOODBYE COLUMBUS: I just rewatched this movie, which I remembered as perfectly summery and … wow, I was right! The film is an extremely faithful rendering of the wonderful little Phillip Roth novella it is based on.
The story takes place over the course of one summer, where working-class librarian Neil Klugman (played by Richard Benjamin) copes with his existential crisis by falling in lust with wealthy, spoiled suburbanite Brenda Patimkin (played by a young unknown Ali MacGraw).
Neil packs his powder blue Samsonite and moves in with the Patimkins for a summer of stealthy sex and tennis, confronting ideals and stereotypes of American Jewish identity as he goes. (The entire cast, including Jack Klugman as Mr. Patimkin, is wonderful.)
Here’s why to watch: Montages! Montage montage montage. Director Larry Peerce LOVES extended sun dappled montages of swimming (Ali MacGraw wearing an absolutely unforgettable yellow bikini), kissing (tennis togs), backyard sports (basketball and tennis), and leaf-romping (Ali in gorgeous tweeds and cashmere skipping through her Radcliffe campus). All set to perfect 1960’s movie-music, featuring hummable and totally forgettable songs.
Bonus: An extended wedding scene that is every bit as wonderful and culturally iconic as the wedding scene in The Godfather.
The film crashes to a halt once summer ends, when the couple breaks up after a fight over
… a diaphragm.
In my opinion, not enough films feature couples fighting over — or even discussing — birth control (although I expect that trend will soon reverse).
[Available for rental on Amazon Prime]
THE MUSIC MAN: A con man comes to a small town, courts the librarian, and … music happens!
This was the summer musical of my childhood. I memorized the soundtrack, performing all of the parts in our barn. Later I played the role of Zaneeta Shin in a community production in my hometown that in many ways mirrored the plot of the play.
Currently available wherever I am … and in a theatrical revival on Broadway.
LIFE & BETH: I cannot say enough about this wonderful series, currently running on HULU.
Like everything Amy Schumer does, this series is creative, rueful, funny, and extremely moving.
Schumer created the role of Beth, a hard-drinking people pleaser who processes past trauma by simply trying to forget.
The series bounces back and forth between Beth’s past and present as she chooses to reckon with her problems through employing some radical honesty.
A romantic and impactful series of experiences on a beautiful farm and vineyard on Long Island during a sun-drenched summer brings her closer to the Earth and back into the world.
Michael Cera plays her love interest, beautifully.
Loving things so far? COMMENT AND SHARE BELOW!
Railey Jane Savage’s JUNK FOOD: Summer Blockbuster Birthday Edition
“I made my debut in the summer of ’85. The central New York weather was sweltering, the air conditioning wasn’t working, and ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ was on the radio in the operating room when I was born at 1:23 in the afternoon.
Happy birfday to me.
Looking back at what was playing in the theatres the day I came wailing into the world, I’m impressed anyone was able to concentrate on work—delivery doctors included. I am mighty grateful folks were able to tear themselves away from the silver screen long enough to give me a birthday, and I’m humbled given that summer’s lineup.
Back to the Future.
Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.
A Room with a View.
Return to Oz.
Granted, these are the titles that have stood(-ish) the test of time, but this cherry-picked list serves as a snapshot of the breadth of movies that used to populate theatres. Imagine going to see a Tim Burton movie but changing your mind at the last minute because there’s a new Kurosawa on the next screen over. What a time!
I’m biased across the board here, of course, but I can’t help but reflect on the world that greeted me as a squalling babe, vs. what we have now. Movie theatres were experiencing an identity crisis well before Covid hit, but the pandemic further weakened their claim to being a cultural seat. I am of two minds here: 1. What an awful, terrible shame it is to see movie theatres go the way of the automat, and 2: it’s not worth the risk of breathing recycled air for Marvel’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, I love some big-budget junk food (hey-o!) but theatres seem to only serve two flavors these days: Marvel superheroes, and non-Marvel superheroes.
I’m not here to Make Theatres Great Again (barf) but there’s something more than sentimentalism at work with the benefit of hindsight, and a harsh assessment of the current moment. When movie theatres ruled the land the offerings were bountiful, and exciting; in the age of streaming the options are endless, paralyzing, and measured by binge-ability. What a time!
Still, I’ll be seeing the latest ‘Thor’ in theatres on Sunday. But probably with a ‘Clue’ chaser when I get home.
P.S. I’ve had lots of excellent birthdays but one of my all-time favorites was going to see ‘Speed’ in the theatre with Jane, my grandmother, when I turned nine. Yes, it was rated R; yes, it was ‘inappropriate; and yes, I loved every minute.
Pictured: ME (in the glasses) exhibiting early signs of high-strung birthday judginess, and questionable fashion sense.”
LAURA LIKES Where my friend Laura recommends great things
This week, Laura drives back into the past:
“Summertime is a part of the year that I actually find better in theory than in practice. It always looks like extreme fun in the movies, though.
It's just that I live in a place that's very hot and humid from May until October. Summer never felt like freedom to me -- I liked school, and did not particularly enjoy cooling my uncoordinated heels on the bench for softball or getting up at the crack of dawn for swimming lessons at the public pool. On the other hand, there was always the Crescent Hill Library summer reading contest (winners got bragging rights and a gift certificate to Ehrler's Dairy & Ice Cream. Try the butter pecan), Vacation Bible School (Crafts! Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and Hi*C!), and my personal favorite...drive-in movies.
I remember thinking it was the coolest thing ever. I distinctly recall seeing Sleeping Beauty there...I looked it up and this must have been 1970 or 71, making it one of my very earliest memories. But we saw other (mostly Disney) films there every now and again, and this was a massive, massive indulgence for our household, so going to the drive-in was a really special occasion.
The whole idea of it was thrilling. Your own little speaker! Your own, familiar car! A colossally huge screen! Anyway, I never got over thinking drive-ins were terrific and a wildly special treat, and now that I'm an adult, my husband and I load up the dog in the Element and go to a couple of shows a year.
We usually go to the Boulevard Drive-In in Kansas City, Kansas. Kid-friendly, double features, really good popcorn. I look forward to going every year, even as I am thoroughly enjoying every moment of fall and winter and dreading the annual return of Daylight Saving Time, 70% relative humidity, and mosquitoes.
I think it's worth taking a minute to see if there's one in your neighborhood...there's been a real revival of drive-ins in the post-COVID world, and it's a fun little time-travel-ish thing to do — almost like driving back into the past.
EMILY MASON’S: TARGETED UPSELL
— this week a don’t … and a do!
“While I’m kind of meh on summer, summer movies are my jam. In an effort to make sure you don’t waste your time on lame cinema this season, here’s one summer movie I think you should check out, and one you can skip.
This much-hyped movie musical is a love story set in the 1950s between greaser Danny and good girl Sandy. They fall head-over-heels when they meet at the beach over the summer, but conflict arises when they reunite by chance after Sandy transfers to Danny’s high school.
(Are we actually sure about Grease being the word?)
When I was growing up, Grease was one of the big ‘uns. Not sure how it earned this status because here’s the thing
…Grease is bad.
Like, rage-inducing bad.
(… me, talking about Grease)
I have never understood why this nonsense was so popular. I always thought that maybe when I got older I would get it, but… no. The older I get the more I realize two things: It’s so much worse than I originally thought, and I really should not have been watching it at age nine.
Sure, it’s straight-up sexist in basically any way that you can imagine, but perhaps the most difficult part to understand is…aren’t these characters supposed to be friends?
They’re all so mean to each other, especially to Sandy. There’s an entire song about it!
Don’t get me started on Danny. Young John Travolta may be dreamy, but that doesn’t make up for Danny’s rotten personality. He tries to assault Sandy at the drive-in! But yeah, let’s root for these kids to get together.
Put Grease in your rear-view mirror, and fly off into the sunset in your magic car towards a better movie.
Two nerdy best friends, Amy and Molly, realize on their last day of high school that while they were busy acing every test, they never learned how to have fun. So, the studious duo vows to go out and have four years of fun in one night. Chaos ensues, of course.
Booksmart is hilarious, and honest, and hilariously honest. It’s one of those films that’s so special that after watching it the first time you almost don’t want to watch it again. But you should, because watching Amy and Molly be delightfully quippy while they figure out that they might not be as smart as they think they are truly benefits from repetition.
At some point everyone has felt the things that Booksmart conveys so beautifully; the insecurity that comes from feeling out of place, the love that exists between friends when you’re young, the gut-wrenching ache of a high school crush, and the oddly terrifying anticipation that comes with growing up.
Plus this happens:
I mean really, what’s NOT to like?
You can have your expertly choreographed “Grease” dances. These two besties conveying their love and mad respect through their spontaneous awkward dance ™ is … beautiful!”
Dear Readers — Congratulations! Like Roy Scheider in Jaws, you paddled your way to the shore.
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We’ll be back in two weeks with more thoughts on a theme!
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