Onscreen Summer

Summer is a sensual season. In this case I don’t define “sensual” as “sexual” (after all, I’m so hot I don’t want to be within three feet of someone else), but rather in a more fundamental way: it is a time where all the senses feel engaged. Mornings and evenings are glowing, interrupted by the blindingly bright midday sun. The occasional breeze feels cool and indulgent against sweat-drenched skin. Ripe fruit bursts with juice, and sticky-sweet ice cream melts down its cone. Streetcars and construction, dogs and kids, car horns and bicycle bells all combine in a unique summertime din. Salty sweat, freshly cut grass, garbage, sunscreen and hot concrete perfume the air.

Summertime is a great cacophony of the senses, and one that is hard to capture in words. Yet, when effective, it can transport you there immediately. I remember reading The Great Gatsby in the dead of winter, and still feeling the cool breeze floating through the gauzy white curtains in Daisy’s home. The same feelings can absolutely be captured on film. Consider my two favourite examples: Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1980) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).

Both films capture the physicality of summer: the sweaty brows and the oppressiveness of the heat. Interestingly, Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is physically static: he is stuck in a cast, a wheelchair and his apartment. His character mirrors the immobility of the summer heat, and the longing for something else. Do The Right Thing projects a similar restlessness, a need to move and escape, to do something. Visually, however, I think Lee’s film surpasses Rear Window in capturing the heat on film. His warm palette and saturated colours surpass Hitchcock’s film, despite the latter’s use of Technicolor. It adds depth, complexity, and a visual temperature to his film.

Neither film’s narrative could exist outside of their designated seasons ““ and the heat waves therein. As Rear Window’s original trailer states, “Nobody seems to pull their blinds during a hot spell like this.” Jeffries could have broken his leg and been confined to his bed in any other season; yet, he would not have had the same voyeuristic opportunities that lead to him witnessing the crime.

The racial tensions in Lee’s film are not confined to the summer, but the oppressive heat acts as a powder keg in igniting the film’s conflict. One cannot even imagine the film set in the dead of Bed-Stuy’s winter.

Do you have a favourite film that captures the unique feeling of summer? If so, I’d love to hear it; but if you don’t mind, I think I’ll wait until the winter to watch it. Right now, I’m watching as many winter movies as I can get my hands on, and trying to ignore the rising temperatures.

This post originally appeared on filmschooled’s tumblr, you can find it here: Onscreen Summer.

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