Wednesday, May 21, 2008

David Lean: Summertime


David Lean's 1955 film Summertime is a quaint piece of work. Much of it is also sentimental, cliched and full of Touristic aesthetic which mars much of his later work. Okay, that last comment might be a little unfair because the central character played Katharine Hepburn is actually an American tourist visiting that most typical of all tourist destinations - Venice. But still, quite a few times David Lean's camera seems more interested in capturing the cliched surface beauties of Venice rather than exploring the moods and inner feelings of the characters. In the few scenes that he does this, like the scene pictured at the top where she sits alone in the Palazzo while everybody else in the crowd seems to have some companion, are absolutely masterly and are extremely evocative.

Of course most of the credit goes to Katharine Hepburn who is (as always) in her elements playing the kind of she has played so many times in her career. No matter how many times you have see it, it is still magical to see how she portrays the process of falling in love, with all its awkwardness, petty humiliations and beauty and sorrow. It is because of her performance that the thin and stereotypical nature of the plot doesn't really matter. (After all we hardly need another film to tell us how sexy and romantic these Italians are and how hopelessly dull and repressed rest of us!) I love David Lean's early films a lot specially Brief Encounter, which must be somewhere at the top of my favourite romantic films of all time. This isn't in the same league but close enough.

7 comments:

Szerelem said...

Oh Katherine Hepburn was amazing in this as always!

The Palazzo scne you mentione - I could totally imagine myself like that another decade down the line. And I probably wont find any hot Italians either :(

I can't seem to remember the ending of the movie - she goes back to the US and decides to come back every summer or some such??

Alok said...

awww... I can only advise, please don't rule out men of other nationalities. I mean I agree Italians are the sexiest but still you don't always have the best

I love that scene too... reminded me why traveling alone makes for such a weird and often painful experience. Speaking for myself of course - a lot of people love traveling alone and making short-term friends with complete strangers.

the film ends with her on the train waving goodbye. Rather sentimental but well-done. It left me feeling very sad...

puccinio said...

I like ''Summertime'' a lot. It's a touristic film yes, but it's the best kind of touristic film. The one that's sly and self-parodic. And besides Katharine Hepburn is great. And Venice is beautiful too. The colours are magnificent as well.

But yeah I suppose people would find it sentimental nowadays.

David Lean always said that of all the films he made, ''Summertime'' was the one he enjoyed making the most. Not that he thought it was his best or his favourite of all his films but one where he enjoyed shooting it. The reason being that he loved Venice and that Hepburn was his favourite actress.

I like Lean a lot too. That's kind of taboo nowadays since Lean is seen as the epitome of the tradition of quality in Anglo-American Cinema and not as a real artist but I've always found his films very special and of course quite beautiful. ''Lawrence of Arabia'', his masterpiece remains one of the most spellbinding and disturbing films ever made. The best of all epics.

Of his pre-Blockbuster films, I love ''Brief Encounter'' and the Dickens films, even if they short shift the texts by adapting the plays based on the books rather than the books proper. And I think ''Hobson's Choice'' starring Charles Laughton, in the nasty tabby role that he perfected, is one of the great British films of all time.

And I think ''Dr. Zhivago'' and ''Ryan's Daughter'' are beautiful as well, especially the latter which may be the most personal of all his films.

Alok said...

I agree it is quite self-parodic and sly. Lean makes good fun of the American tourist couple who are with Hepburn for example. I love his early B/W films a lot. The two Dickens films and of course my favourite, Brief Encounter. These films are no less spectacular and visually entrancing than his later epics. Opening scene of Great Expectations or the way the platforms and trains are shot in Brief Encounter is extremely evocative. Robert Krasker who shot The Third Man was the DP.

Of his later films Dr. Zhivago is the hardest to defend. It is extremely shallow and sentimental in a bad and easy way and the cliched touristic mis-en-scene makes it even worse. His other blockbuster films have this human element which redeems them, actually more than just that. I haven't yet seen Ryan's Daughter and also some of his early films like Hobson's choice.

This year is actually his birth centenary...

Alok said...

One correction about Krasker. He didn't work on Great Expectations... wikipedia says - "Despite Krasker's brilliant and atmospheric work on Brief Encounter, Lean sacked him from his next film, Great Expectations, because he and Ronald Neame were unhappy with his handling of the marsh scenes. "

Szerelem said...

Hahaha - ya I won't rule out non Italian. Any Mediterannean types are fine with me :D

Travelling alone is a weird and often lonely and painful thing.
But it has its benefits as well though I do wonder whether spending so much time with yourself makes you more eccentric and rigid in your ways and beliefs...

Alok said...

I agree...I think about it a lot too. I think it is also true the other way round. Being too rigid in your beliefs also keeps you from forming lasting and open relationships with other people. But then you really don't want to be another dull conformist, compromising with your values and "who you are" just because you can't handle isolation... may be there is some middle way somewhere...

pretty solemn...huh? btw, you have got great taste in men... hope you find your Italian or Spaniard someday, and soon.