At the midpoint of each month, we feature a figure or theme within the film community and share our thoughts about related works. Each of our critics chooses a particular film to write about (sometimes two!). Our choice for a Retrospective Roundtable might be inspired by a recent event in the film community, an exciting new release, or from a common interest shared between our critics.
Summer is upon us. Schools are letting out, and it’s a good time to reflect and remember an age when this time of year meant hanging out with your friends, getting into wacky adventures, and making trouble for all the boring grown-ups in your life. Filmmakers have found a number of ways to reflect on the summers past, and this month we take a look at some of our favorite films about summer.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
By Ian Floodgate
When physical comedy is spoken about in regards to film, auteurs like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton immediately come to mind but one that should not be forgotten is Jacques Tati. Though he only directed six feature films, they are highly regarded by cinephiles. Tati’s alter ego Monsieur Hulot who appeared in a handful of films made his debut in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. The film follows the gauche yet charming Frenchman on his holiday to the seaside and the many adventures he involves himself with. One of the most hilarious of these is when Hulot plays tennis. Tati uses his gangling frame to great comedic effect by ridiculously overemphasizing each serve. It is easy to see how he was an inspiration to John Cleese. However, Tati also plays moments of subtle comedy well. For instance, when he is painting a boat on the shore of a beach and the waves keep taking the paint can in and out to sea and placing it either side of the boat Tati merely displays the characters ill-informed nature by him continuing the task as if nothing had happened. It makes the audience laugh wondering can someone be incompetent. Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday really does have comedy for everyone and is a great way to kick off the summer for any cinephile.
The Graduate (1967)
By Kevin Jones
I saw Mike Nichols’ The Graduate in a film class on two occasions, but it was only in the second screening that it clicked for me in the way that I wish it had in the first. Yet, from the very first watch, it was apparent that what made The Graduate so great were two things: its depiction of the post-graduation world and its soundtrack. It may not be a typical, fun-loving summer film, but the sound of Simon & Garfunkel tracks in a film about how lost someone feels after graduating college while the pressure builds just feels so right. Between the quality of the songs themselves and how Nichols weaves the tracks into the fabric of the film, The Graduate stood as an early example to me of just how well music could be used within a film. Even to this day, it remains one of my favorite soundtracks for a film.
Yet, where The Graduate really takes it to another level is in capturing the claustrophobia, the weight of expectations, and the aimlessness of the post-graduation world. As the entire world looks to him to see what he will do, what he will make of himself, and how he will use his great potential, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) feels as though he is drowning. Those around him may mean well, but the pressure they put on him to become something is not helping. The post-graduation world is a scary one, whether it is from becoming an adult, considering grad school, or trying to find a career path that is both fulfilling and financially rewarding. This is a feeling all have, but rarely has it ever been brought to life better than in The Graduate. Between the score, Hoffman’s performance, and the great cinematography that amplifies both the pressure and claustrophobia felt by Benjamin, The Graduate may be from 1967 but still speaks to the fears of today. The Graduate may be set during summer, but it is the furthest thing from warm and sunny.
By Ben McDonald
I’ve pretty much always had an irrationally intense phobia of the sea, and seeing Jaws at a young age certainly didn’t help. That being said, the film remains one of my earliest cinematic loves. There’s a reason it saw the birth of the blockbuster. In addition to being wonderfully fun, it’s a strongly realized film with a deliberate style and unique fusion of genre, packing enough horror, humor, and good-spirited adventure to please just about any moviegoer. Though blockbusters today are often regarded as largely devoid of substance and style, Jaws surely stands an exception to that rule.
When it comes down to why it works so well some forty years later, Jaws is a film whose excitement is all in the anticipation. The shark is rarely spotted clearly in the first half of the film, represented instead by low-angle POV shots and John Williams’ iconic score. That’s what makes it so thrilling: Spielberg plays off our most basic instinct, the fear of being eaten by something higher up on the food chain. Endlessly imitated but never matched, Jaws will always find a place on my favorites list and it’s the perfect flick to break out right before beach season.
By Matt Schlee
It’s difficult to imagine an 80s comedy constructed from a more iconic group of comedic minds than Caddyshack. Directed by Harold Ramis and starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, and Rodney Dangerfield, the film has plenty of resume to earn its status on the pillar of great comedies. Yet it’s not just this list of names that earn the film its greatness. Its wacky characters and astonishingly quotable dialogue has kept the film alive for young viewers even now, nearly 40 years after its original release.
The film’s flawless execution and comedic timing is praiseworthy, but ultimately people keep coming back to Caddyshack for the laughs. It’s hard to think of historically great comedic moments in film without coming back to Bill Murray’s groundskeeper pretending to be a Master’s champion or the lovable puppet gopher dancing.
Caddyshack recalls summers of working hard just to try to make a few bucks. Its characters slave, caddying for wealthy club members in the hopes of paying for college and just getting by as a young person with limited resources. As the kids try to do their work and have a little fun, the adults in their lives never stop trying to control them. However, it builds hope that even in these grueling summers of manual labor, there will be room for crazy adventures, making trouble, and getting laid.
Pauline at the Beach (1983)
By Matt Schlee
Pauline at the Beach is an exploration of romance, both lasting and fleeting. It takes place over a single summer when Pauline (Amanda Langlet), a teenage girl, goes to stay at a beach house with her cousin Marion (Arielle Dombasle). Marion is a beautiful girl and is courted throughout the film by two men: her long-time friend Pierre (Pascal Greggory) who has long been in love with her, and a middle aged divorcee named Henri (Feodor Atkine). Meanwhile, Pauline experiences her first young romance with a boy she meets on the beach named Sylvain (Simon de la Brosse).
The film is a delightful coming of age tale as well as a harsh glimpse at how cruel love can be. The young lovers are torn apart by deceit and director Eric Rohmer reflects on how even someone like Marion who is more experienced with love can still have the wool pulled over her eyes by a brief, passionate romance. Ultimately it’s an optimistic movie, but one that equally reminds the viewer of the joy of young love and the heartbreak of betrayal.
Pauline at the Beach is one of Rohmer’s most bright and energetic films despite some of the pessimistic moments between the various lovers. It is an exceedingly youthful effort. Despite some sympathy generated for other characters, the film is viewed almost entirely through the eyes of young Pauline. In this sense it’s the perfect summer movie. It gives the viewer the opportunity to experience summer vacations and young love for the first time again.
Dazed and Confused (1993)
By Dalton Mullins
When talking about summer films, it’s impossible not to bring up Richard Linklater‘s Dazed and Confused. Dazed and Confused is all about the last day of school that we all looked forward to in middle and high school. That’s the whole plot of the film, following junior high and high school students on their last day of school in 1976 as they haze freshman, go to parties, and live life to the fullest. Featuring a throng of well-known actors such as Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Ben Affleck, and Parker Posey, Dazed and Confused has no shortage of interesting personalities and dilemmas floating through it’s running time. From the partying football players who refuse to live by the coaches’ rules of no booze and no drugs, the intellectual conversations on history and sociology from Mike (Adam Goldberg), Tony (Anthony Rapp), and Cynthia (Marissa Ribisi), to Wooderson (McConaughey), a man who graduated years ago but can’t seem to let go of the past and become a responsible adult.
One thing that always struck me about Dazed and Confused was how timeless it is. The trials and tribulations that the characters go through are applicable to every generation. Every generation has butted heads with authority figures and the generation before them. Every generation tries to live life to the fullest. We all have similar feelings of angst, anger, disillusionment, and, at times, satisfaction and happiness that come with being a teenager. Dazed and Confused also features a considerable amount of quotable dialogue. Just about everything Wooderson says is quotable. Slater (Rory Cochrane) as the stoner, the one with crazy ideas about the cosmos and the place in the universe, is also very quotable.
Dazed and Confused is a movie I revisit every couple of months. Rewatching this film is like visiting old friends again. You have come to know the characters well and you always walk away with something you’d never realized each previous time through. This film never gets old to me because there will always be something in there that resonates with me. I’ve had similar feelings of angst, I’ve sat around with my friends and talked about existence and our place in the universe, and I’ve just tried to have a good time because going through high school and waiting for summer, we’re all dazed and confused.
By Ben McDonald
When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I went to a sleepover at one of my friend’s houses for his birthday. We watched some movies, ate some pizza, and at one point or another during the night Superbad came on. At the time, Superbad was just like any other dumb comedy for me. My middle school movie tastes liked it for its vulgar one-liners and hilarious characters, but I’ve come to realize over the years that it’s not a “dumb” movie at all. In fact, it’s quite a sweet and heartfelt film underneath its excessive profanity and overly-explicit sexual dialogue.
Superbad follows Seth (Jonah Hill), Evan (Michael Cera), and Fogel (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), three nerdy high school seniors trying to buy alcohol and get laid. They’re invited to a party thrown by Seth’s crush, Jules (Emma Stone), and are tasked with providing the drinks. The film follows the three boys’ comically eventful odyssey that evening as they desperately try every means necessary to obtain alcohol.
Superbad is one of the rare comedies that only improves with age for me. I actually find myself laughing harder every time I watch it, and though its jokes are certainly immature, what really gets to me is how well it mimics the way high school boys talk to one another. I may not have said anything quite as disgusting as Seth, but I’ve definitely had similarly pointless arguments and conversations with my high school friends. And that’s what really holds up for me, how well Superbad nails the overall feeling of high school anxiousness. I don’t see how anyone could criticize the film for being just another silly comedy from its bittersweet final scene alone, which places Seth and Evan parting ways, both for girlfriends and for the end of a period in their lives.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
By Ian Floodgate
For anyone unfamiliar with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it tells the story of two American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and their summer vacation to Spain. Vicky is pragmatic and views love in a very traditional way hence being engaged to Doug (Chris Messina) who is considered dependable. However, Cristina sees herself as a nonconformist and instinctive young lady who isn’t sure of what she wants. Whilst dining in Barcelona one night the two friends are greeted by Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) an expressive painter who confidently offers the ladies to go on a trip with him to Oviedo where they can make love. Vicky is shocked and appalled by such a candid approach whereas Cristina admires the spontaneity of it and Juan Antonio. Throughout the film the women find their views challenged because of their involvement with Juan Antonio.
One thing that a number of Woody Allen films have in common is that they are aesthetically pleasing and Vicky Cristina Barcelona is one of them. I went on holiday to the title city myself last summer and I found Allen showcased it wonderfully. There are some iconic tourist spots that are fleetingly shown including Gaudi’s Park Guell and La Pedrera but one of my favored moments is a scene between Vicky and Juan Antonio at the theme park Tibidabo. It is set high up in the mountains on the outskirts of Barcelona and whilst the two converse you can see the city and the way out to sea in the background. Believe me, it is one most wondrous views anyone can encounter. Even though the story of Vicky Cristina Barcelona might not seem like a holiday to some, it is an intriguing film that asks questions of the audience. And given how Barcelona is captured in this film, it may inspire some to book a holiday there.