High Museum of Art: Films


Goodbye Cruel World by Linda Dubler

As I wrote in an earlier post, landscape photographer Richard Misrach’s On the Beach, a show of exquisite, large scale pictures shot from an overhead vantage point in Hawaii after 9/11, is currently on view at the High. Some of the images are populated, some devoid of human presence, but all suggest both seaside paradise and doomsday unease. Earlier posts looked at the beachy aspect of the Misrach pictures, so now we’re turning to the apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic currents that run through the series.

What are your favorite movies from this genre?

I’m not a huge sci-fi and/or horror fan, so apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies aren’t my strong suit. Though I enjoy cinematic suspense, the surreal, and things blowing up real good as much as the next gal, I tend to avoid the gore and gross-outs that pop up in most sci-fi and horror. (I remember next to nothing about Soylent Green, which I saw when it first came out, but I still feel vaguely icky even thinking about it).

Johan Harper, a security officer and the High’s resident B-movie connoisseur, steered me to this brilliant post-apocalyptic cheat sheet, which rates a bunch of films based on such PA hallmarks as cannibalism, warlords, mutants and degraded culture. You’ll hear more from Johan when we run staff picks on Friday.

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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