Illustration: Adeline Pericart
Blisters on your shoulders, sand in your underwear, coughing up seawater and being packed into a caravan with the entire extended family – the sweet, sweet memories of summers past. Thank God we have film to look back on with pleasure. And so the Film Ireland sun lovers lay down their towels, unwrap a Cornetto and recall their favourite summer films in the latest installment of We Love… Summer. William O’Keefe returns to a ‘Last Summer’ of innocence.
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Now lash on the sunblock…
Robbie Williams and probably someone more learned before him said that youth is wasted on the young, but I wasted an awful amount of time very well, by filling my summers with movies and TV. ‘Last Summer’ came to me one night after The Late Late Show, shown as part of a RTE segment called ‘The Last Picture Show’ which I have since uncovered was a take on a BBC innovation. A man whose name I somehow remember, Brian Reddin, introduced a classic movie, or an unknown but still revered movie, gave us a shopping list of key points or scenes to watch out for while viewing as well as trivia on the movies production.
This little late night segment introduction helped form this writer’s tastes – introducing me to the enigma of Hitchcock, explaining film noir and the allure of the femme fatale amongst many other things. Reddin explained to me that Last Summer was a deep tale of burgeoning hormones and uncertainty and in my then unwillingness to disagree with someone I presumed more knowledgeable, I watched it and indeed watched these movies most Friday nights, holding them in high regard. An impressionable teenager, watching it as it happens during one of my own aimless summers, the movie initially terrified me that my own life should match the drama on show, but thankfully time convinces you to aspire to a much quieter life.
The impact of Last Summer is undoubted; it is a movie to dwell on. It is charged with tension and quiet drama; teenagers caught up in a dysfunctional comraderie as they spend a summer at the beach as they try to weather a storm of urges, personalities and conflicts with endless blue skies overhead. The movie doesn’t open lightly and darken from therein, there is an unsettling ambivalence about the three characters we meet on the white sanded beach in the opening scene; a strong willed knowing girl (Barbara Hershey) and the two boys (Richard Thomas and Bruce Davison) come upon her tending to an injured seagull. A friendship of sorts grows from here and this rapport is itself unfurled when a second girl (Rhoda played by Catherine Burns in an Oscar nominated role) joins the group later in the film. The movie is dripping in summer heat, set on the wonderfully titled Fire Island. Scantily clad teens lounge around restlessly, free from authority, dissecting each others characters in a way that makes the cast of Dawsons Creek seem like toddlers.
There are no stock characters, the boys leer after the beautiful Sandy in conflicted union, lead by her strong character, which is of course copper fastened by the power she knows she has over them. Burns, plays a sort of tragic Lisa Simpson to the rest of the group and her mixed maturity and sheepishness make her a prime target for their aggravating. There are power shifts and moments of pure darkness and in a sense the title becomes more telling as this summer spent at the beach proves to be a last summer of childhood and innocence for these teens.
I don’t know now the full impression Last Summer made on me that night, or that I had the faculty to understand it, but I know the movie spoke to my underdeveloped identity and was numbing in its portrayal of bullying, cliques and growing up.