High Museum of Art: Films


Summer Movies, Part 1 by Linda Dubler

Landscape photographer Richard Misrach‘s works are on view at the High, so the next few posts will spin off from the exhibition On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. This duality is embodied in the exhibition’s title, a forthright statement of what to expect from the images, and also a reference to Nevil Shute’s book and Stanley Kramer’s  post-apocalyptic film of the same name about a bunch of Australians awaiting the appearance of a nuclear cloud that promises to annihilate them all.

Beach Blanket Bingo

Beach Blanket Bingo

OK, impending extinction may not be your idea of summer fun. So let’s consider beach blanket escapades, amusement parks, surfing, and all things sweaty and summery, with just a quick side trip into the apocalyptic.

To begin on an historic note, Blake Leland, a poet and longtime professor in the Science, Technology, and Culture program at Georgia Tech, points out that “many of the beach movies (Beach Blanket Bingo, Beach Party, Muscle Beach and the like) were released after the Cuban missile crisis (as close to actual apocalypse as we’ve come so far).” He continues, “I wonder if these atrocious movies aren’t part of a kind of pre-apocalyptic denial of the possibility of annihilation–at least for teens!”

Well, partying on the eve of destruction is a hallowed tradition, so in retrospect maybe the spunky teens were trying to tell us something. I suspect that all that American International Pictures saw when they produced the cycle of beach party movies made in the mid-1960s were dollar signs. The films starred Philadelphia teen idol Frankie Avalon and a curvy grown-up  Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello.

Funicello was still under contract with Disney when these films were shot, and AIP had to promise that she wouldn’t appear in a bikini since exposing too much flesh would tarnish her wholesome image. I must admit that during the time when Beach Blanket Bingo et al appeared in theaters, I was too busy being a junior high school existentialist to see them and I haven’t revisited them since. They did make lots of money, and they may still have some campy charm.

From Here to Eternity

From Here to Eternity

Before Annette and Frankie were kicking up sand and singing rock n’ roll,  some other Hollywood icons were grabbing Oscars for a World War II era saga, From Here to Eternity, which features an indelible image of  Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster locked in a wave-wetted embrace. The 1953 drama directed by Fred Zinneman, ends with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which in a sense presages the looming atomic disaster of On the Beach. When From Here to Eternity was restored and re-released in 2003, J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, “Contemporary audiences may not see why, even in its toned-down simplification of the novel, From Here to Eternity was the most daring movie of 1953, but it remains an acting bonanza”

Linda Dubler


1 Comment so far
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As I said in my email, I love your blog. How about you and Blake putting together a season using the Beach films… Annette and Frankie and the rest? You may have to go to Carlsbad California during your research. (I will tell you why later.) Anyway, the link, saying World War II is misleading, since there is very little World War ii in this screen It took me a while to get the relationship to “Eternity.” I suppose you meant because of the famous beach scene.

Comment by Alvin Ginsburg




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