If you’re not in the mood for sand, surf, and frivolity on the silver screen, perhaps a great alternative summer film should be the path to follow. How about a dark and somber anti-summer film? This anti-summer film will have the same ingredients as a summer movie (sand, sea, surf, beautiful bodies on the beach), yet this art house view of summer will have a touch of delirium.
This reporter has surveyed the field of summer flicks and selected three great alternative anti-sunshine summer pleasures. These selections are guaranteed to quench your thirst for the unusual until a promised new blockbuster enters your life.
3. Death in Venice (1971), directed by Luchino Visconti, concerns an avant-garde composer, Gustav von Aschenbach (Dirk Bogarde), who travels to a Venice seaside resort after artistic and personal stress. At the resort he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young androgynous youth, Tadzio (Bjorn Andresen), who is on vacation with his family. However, deathly pestilence consumes the resort. As the plague sweeps through the ancient city, bodies are piled and burned while Aschenbach wanders to grasp a glimpse of the young beauty.
This beautiful film, based on the classic novella by Thomas Mann, is a classic of European cinema, containing perhaps Dirk Bogarde’s best performance, gorgeous costumes, and fantastic photography. Since this reviewer first saw the film on a theater screen in an auditorium at Trinity University in San Antonio, each time a beach resort comes into sight the beach scenes from this haunting movie spring to mind.
2. Contempt (1963), directed by Jean-Luc Godard, concerns the on-location creation of a new movie version of The Odyssey, with Michel Piccoli as a timid screenwriter; the legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot as his gorgeous wife, Camille Javal; character actor Jack Palance as a vicious American movie producer, Jeremy Prokosch; and the great German director, Fritz Lang, as himself, attempting to direct the new production.
Filmed in gorgeous widescreen color on the Mediterranean, Godard’s masterpiece explores the movie making process on location in Greece, with Bardot, at the height of her popularity and beauty, playing a spoiled and pampered wife who can’t resist an affair with the wicked and pompous producer while her intellectual husband struggles to adapt a script of the classic narrative poem into an enticing sex and action frolic for the American screen.
Bardot has never been sexier or more attractive, with a nude swim in the Mediterranean Sea under sun drenched blue skies, a nude opening question and answer game in bed with Piccoli, and a fashion trend-setting appearance in a head band and a tight sweater.
1. Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz from a screenplay by Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal, concerns wealthy New Orleans widow, Violet Venable (Katherine Hepburn)’s attempt to lobotomize beautiful young Cathy (Elizabeth Taylor) to cover up the truth about what happened last summer in Cabeza del Lobo.
Elizabeth Taylor, in her most ravishingly beautiful screen appearance and one of her most famous scenes, wears the white transparent bathing suit in the surf at the Mexican beach resort where her cousin, Sebastian Venable, attracts a cannibalistic crowd.
Katherine Hepburn, with her nervous tick and peculiar witchy voice, very effectively portrays the vicious old widow, cultivating her strange jungle garden and wanting to protect her only son’s reputation after he wrote his last song of summer and met his death in a most hideous fashion.
Montgomery Clift, recovering from a horrific auto accident that destroyed part of his chin and led to his dependence on pain killers, delivers a sensitive performance as Dr. Cukrowicz (Dr. Sugar, as widow Venable calls him), the psychiatrist hired to lobotomize Cathy. His investigation into what happened last summer is riveting.
Director Mankiewicz composed one of the best screen adaptations from a play by Tennessee Williams with terrific ensemble acting from a classic cast.