With the end of my exams, summer looming like forthcoming storm, and myself asked to write an article; my mind went immediately to films on summer or “summer films”. Ideas and connotations attached intrinsically to summer went flying around my mind. So I attempted to make a list. This list would not be of the greatest films around summer but instead on films whose very essence best encompasses what I believe summer to be. I would also like to add that this isn’t intended as a definitive list; like summer means different things to different people, so to will different people have their top summer films.
I quickly came to the realization that there are simply so many films. But I was also struck at how there seemed to be recurring themes. Hence I thought it best to choose a few films which best captures the different “feelings” of summer.
Dazed and Confused
This is a film that for many is a time-piece to the late 1970s. It recalls the summer’s which breed the generation of anti-establishment, born out of rebellion from the strict society of the 1950s. The film itself is about little more than a bunch of teenagers who have just broken up from school for the summer, and continues to follow their day; but it’s really about the characters, the camaraderie between them, and the tone of the setting. Dazed and Confused is one of those “modern American life” films, which all seem to happen in summer – along with many other Richard Linklater film’s like Boyhood and Waking Life, as well as Clerks, and The Big Lebowski even.
Now this was an odd conclusion for me, I didn’t think about Chinatown immediately. I started from so many other films about Los Angeles; whether that be Nightcrawler, or Boogie Nights, or Crash or The Departed, or so many noir films like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep. These all make sense as summer films. When you think LA, you think the never ending dry heat, pristine blue sky and palm trees, burning hot concrete, endless traffic jams, and heavily air-conditioned offices. But what makes Chinatown the greatest LA film is that it is about LA, and I don’t just mean it’s basic plot, it captures a city of such detail in such detail, as well the mood and feeling of this centre of human activity. It also captures the lethargy of summer; so for all these reasons, surely it is one of the top summer films.
Do the Right Thing
This is actually the film that first came to me. Taking place on a painfully hot and humid day in New York, racial tensions on the street rise and rise (just like the heat) until breaking point. The heat of summer is so brilliantly captured in Do the Right Thing because it isn’t just about blistering inescapable heat but the anxiety and tension brought on by it as well. Scenes of a scantily dressed Spike Lee, sun beams cutting through the blinds, an electric fan almost mockingly on full power, noises of road-works going on outside. This film encapsulates a summer just like those of (the ever-under-construction) East London, with its heat and humidity.
Stand by me
No list of summer films is complete without this classic. This tale of 4 teen boys in search of the body of a missing boy manages to embody those summers which were filled with hanging with friends, no worries in the world. It’s truly about those nostalgic times before all your friends grew up, and became busy to their own lives.
As I was listing great summer films it surprised me at how many Hitchcock films there were, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Rope. But his greatest filmmaking feat of voyeurism is Rear Window, a story of a crippled man stuck inside all summer who whilst passing the time by watching his neighbours, witnesses a murder – in true Hitchcock fashion. This film epitomizes those days stuck inside in summer, watching. I also considered 12 Angry Men.
La Dolce Vita
What do people think when they think summer? Well for me I think the hot Mediterranean countries. Most of Fellini’s films could have taken La Dolce Vita’s place on this list, from 8½, Nights of Cabiria, to La Strada, however I decided to go for the film which best captures the glory and tone of modern Rome. I also contemplated The Great Beauty, a very similar film, however decided to go for this classic on a gossip journalist, who over seven days and nights in Rome fruitlessly searches for love and happiness.
I also thought about the Jacques Tati films Playtime and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, as well as the fascinating study of summer love and pathos, L’Eclisse, and many films from Latin America – Y Tu Mama Tambien, City of God, and Black Orpheus.
After much thought I decided to include a film from South Asia, from the humid, tropical, jungle heat of Thailand, India, Vietnam and Indonesia. Apocalypse Now instantly came to my mind, however I decided to choose an obscure film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Tropical Malady is a psychological romance which explores where the realms of love, dreams, and desire intersect. A film that is definitely worth checking out.
Boyhood and Waking Life,
Playtime and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Picnic at Hanging rock
Summer with Monika and Summer Interlude
Vertigo, Rope and North by Northwest
12 Angry Men
The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, To Have and Have not
Crash, The Departed, & Nightcrawler
Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and many other David Lynch films.
Boogie Nights, Inherent Vice, There Will be Blood, Punch Drunk Love, all Paul Thomas Anderson films
Y Tu Mama Tambien, City of God, and Black Orpheus
Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket