My Summer of Love



The opening scene of Jaws ruined my teenage life. I lived to absorb as many (then-"harmless") UV rays as possible on Long Island's beautiful beaches. Oh, yeah--and swim. But then came that mackerel's-eye view of those nubile legs. One minute Chrissie (Susan Backlinie) is splashing seductively in the surf, the next (you know the music)...she's shark chow. We freaked. Mass hysteria ensued. Beaches were closed. Marine biologists, statisticians, and even hunky lifeguards tried to talk us down, but we wouldn't have any of it. Our summer was ruined. Mr. Scheinman, my band instructor, knowing a showstopper when he saw one, decided to capitalize on the frenzy. The following year, in front of a stunned audience of parents and siblings, I honked along in the clarinet section of my high school band as we performed John Williams's now indelible "Main Title and First Victim" while a slide show of gruesome shark attacks loomed above us on a huge outdoor screen. Fortunately, we all had four years to recover before The Amityville Horror hit Long Island multiplexes.

Emily Goldberg is the director of Venus of Mars.




I saw Ridley Scott's Alien in the summer of 1979. I had just graduated from high school and was facing important life decisions. My boyfriend had just returned from a two-year Mormon mission and he wanted to get married and start a family right away. I preferred to wait. One night we went to see Alien. The experience proved to be one of the most visceral and thrilling movie moments of my life--while signaling the end of that relationship. My boyfriend hated the film; he said it was too long. I suspected his real problem was that he didn't like seeing a woman (played by Sigourney Weaver) survive her male counterparts and "blow the fucker"--the alien--into space. Even then, the pace of the film spoke to me. Scott takes his time seducing us with glorious images of light and shadow--a peek here, a peek there, culminating in an exhilarating experience. If my boyfriend couldn't see the magic in that, he had to be toast.

Christine Kunewa Walker's films as co-producer include American Splendor and the forthcoming Factotum.




The 1979 release of Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola took possession of my mind and changed my vision. This expressionistic narrative prose poem captured the sensory elements of the '60s. It was a tab of acid washed down by too much Jack Daniels. It was an exploratory journey through the jungle of the mind. It was hot outside and in the movie. The use of music, the color and lighting scheme of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, the overlaying of images, the slight plot line: It was the end of the '70s--perhaps the highest point in world cinema. Coppola was the most respected of young American directors--even though the media, in article after article, had predicted his failure and the film's. Behind schedule, over budget, and out of touch in the Philippines, Coppola was said to have gone crazy in the jungle. Had he turned into both Willard and Kurtz? We filmmakers knew he had gotten off the boat and was prepared to go all the way.

Craig Rice's films include Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks.




By any reasonable measure, this summer sequel is a terrible film. Oh, sure, it did well enough at the box office to qualify as a bona fide blockbuster. That was pretty much guaranteed, as it was riding on the coattails of the original film. But most critics agree it's the low point of the Vacation series, if not of Chevy Chase's entire career. Who cares? It's summer, 1985. School's out. Most important, European Vacation is rated PG-13. Practically rated R. No parents around to louse things up. Freedom is a dirty movie. My friend and I ride our bikes up to Northtown Mall, outwardly cool but secretly giddy. The lights go dark. The movie is funny--and ridiculously stupid. The Griswald kids from the first film are now, inexplicably, played by different actors. Sex-obsessed Rusty is our man, though: He hooks up with a randy Bavarian girl and...holy crap, he's totally feeling up her breasts! Thank you, Amy Heckerling.

Chuck Olsen is the producer-director of Blogumentary.




Summer movies succeed with special effects, but not the kind you might think. Star Wars revealed what we had always suspected--that the shining future was rusty, dented, and imperfect. That film was a fantasy whose everyday details proved that the ultimate effect was reality. Napoleon Dynamite succeeds with a similar realism. Despite its "indie film" identity, Napoleon Dynamite reveals the secret reality of another misunderstood place: the farm. With his natural self-confidence, grumbling acceptance of everyone, and eccentric family, Napoleon is how farm kids (my relatives!) really are. The filmmaker's affection for the freak show that is Napoleon's hometown is infectious. Attention, Hollywood: Audiences love what's unique and real--because we're all freaks, farmers, and Wookies. And wouldn't we all love to take the campaign button from the sneering jock, chuck it down the hall, and then run? Now that's a special effect.  

Eric Tretbar's films include Snow and The Horrible Flowers.




I saw Star Wars on an end-of-the-year field trip in school when I was 11. Once John Williams's opening fanfare jolted me back into my seat, I was forever lost in George Lucas's fairy tale--Kurosawa meets Joseph Campbell in space. My Star Wars buzz lasted throughout the summer of '77. However, I vividly recall one of my well-meaning white teachers protesting the absence of minorities in the film. I had to endure one of those only-black-kid-around-when-a-teacher-talks-race moments. I broke the awkwardness by offering, "Well, it's outer space. So there were green and blue people in it." It worked. We could all continue to enjoy the myth from a galaxy "far, far away" now that it was free from the issues that were all too near. But I knew the teacher had a point. In fact, there had been enough protest that Billy Dee Williams was brought in as the playa/rebel Lando Calrissian. As a filmmaker I always try to consider everyone in my audience. And I'll always bristle at how the opening-weekend paradigm has unmade the art of American cinema. But as a film fan, I'll forever cherish my wide-eyed experience with the ultimate popcorn movie.

Daniel Bergin's films include North Star: Minnesota's Black Pioneers.




Can a summer blockbuster have drama, racial conflict, and political impact--and still draw an audience? In the summer of 1989, Spike Lee proved it could. We were civil rights lawyer wannabes at the time, just starting law school, and Spike stuck it to us with his fiery Do the Right Thing. He was "just" a filmmaker, but his movie had a greater impact on racial justice in one summer than most lawyers could have in a lifetime. One of us (Jeanne-Marie) grew up in Brooklyn, where Do the Right Thing was shot. The other (John) shot hoops with the movie's actors after each day's filming. More than a decade later, we made our own movie about racial conflict and oppression right here in Minnesota. It was our attempt to do the right thing--and our star (Roger Guenveur Smith) had launched his own career with Spike!

Jeanne-Marie Almonor and John Shulman are the co-directors of Justice.




Last June, right before Fahrenheit 9/11 was released, rumor had it that this film was about to change everything. That was the buzz among documentary filmmakers who had seen a sneak preview: Fahrenheit was going to turn the tide against Bush for sure. We dared to hope. But it seems you can't release a movie in June and expect people to take it seriously. Summer blockbusters are supposed to be entertainment, not fact after depressing fact. When you walked out of Fahrenheit 9/11 into the balmy night, weren't you a little bewildered by Michael Moore's barrage of information? Like what was that thing about Bush père and the Saudis? That poor mother of the dead soldier--wasn't that sad? Should we go have ice cream now? Or margaritas?

Lu Lippold is the director of The Unapologetic Life of Margaret Randall and the co-director of Wellstone!




There are moments when pop culture and the sensibility of the times collide in surprising and instructive ways. Chris Carter's 1998 film--and the TV series that preceded it--captured the essence of an uncertain decade, wedged between the twilight struggle of the Cold War and the fearsome age of 9/11. Carter's program rode a cultural wave that flowed from 1991's JFK, which brought hidden histories and ulterior motives foursquare into the American psyche. A door had been opened, and some awkward questions were on the table. During the X-Files years of the 1990s, it was often difficult to tell where Mulder and Scully stopped and the TV news began. We saw paramilitary troops drag a six-year-old out of his home at gunpoint. We read reports of Cold War radiation tests being carried out on the mentally retarded. In Scotland, someone started cloning sheep. The X-Files decade revealed a deep unease with our assumptions about the past, and a haunting disquiet with our direction into the future. During the '90s, we searched for answers in new places, and we saw the cultural ripples everywhere: from Ross Perot to the internet, from Nader voters to survivalist expos, from the Ventura administration to the WTO protests. In the years since, Mulder and Scully have hung it up. A grim new era has emerged, leading us to embrace easy answers to complex questions, to demonstrate our willingness once again to close the door and turn away.  

Matt Ehling's films include Security and the Constitution.




Released in July of '82, this virtual remake of The Outlaw Josey Wales still has enough juice to transport its thoroughly deconstructed Western hero across vast wastelands of cynical, self-possessed culture--and back home safely into the realm of cinematic (and moral) plausibility. With the help of the "Man from the Sky," Mad Max (Mel Gibson) discovers that he must allow this trickster/god to lure him back into community, to save his life and sanity. Can the average action buff, now 20 and 30 years removed from Rockatansky and Wales, still grasp this need? We share the Gyro Captain's god's-eye view of anomie, murder, and supercharged hyper-individualism running on empty. Yet Pappagallo offers Max the strikingly catholic alternative: a chance to rebuild a life of dignity within an embryonic society that sees the fuel as a means, not an end. Let's hope the important liberal message imbedded in this cinematic masterpiece (or Reagan-era propaganda piece, as you like) isn't lost: It takes a postapocalyptic village.

Jon Springer's short films include "Heterosapiens" and "Living Dead Girl."




I'm not one to white-knuckle it at the movies until summer blockbuster season. However, I do admit to occasionally indulging in a bucket of buffalo wings, a pint of Ben & Jerry's, and a pile of mindless Hollywood videos, letting my brain vacation itself into a drool. If I pay the 10 bucks at a theater, I usually get pissed off knowing that I could have made a hell of a movie with what they spent on catering. My father has not been overly impressed with my small-town moviemaking career: premiering work at the Walker, directing a film festival, traveling out of the country. He is most impressed with a national Norelco commercial I worked on--as the coffee-fetcher. He still boasts about it. Dad and I don't agree on much, but we had a great time at the movies the summer I turned 22. My birthday gift was to see a film and eat lunch anywhere I wanted. I asked Kyle (my seven-year-old brother) what he wanted to see. It was 1991 and James Cameron (God bless his tiny little soul) had just come out with Terminator 2. This was Kyle's choice, and we whisked away from my dad's home in Coon Rapids. After the film, we ate (as much as we wanted) at Taco Bell and gushed about the amazing special effects (while I secretly wet myself over Linda Hamilton's pipes).

Lisa Ganser is the chief curator of the Flaming Film Festival and the director of "Janestown."




I saw the remake of TV's The Fugitive in Toledo, Ohio, in the summer of '93 while visiting my family in a tiny cornfield-town 40 miles away. Toledo was our cultural mecca growing up: It had malls, multiplexes, a museum, gay hairdressers, and a red-light district...but not so many smart action thrillers like The Fugitive. Coming from four generations of pharmacists, including my mom, brother, and sister, who carted around pens, notepads, cup holders, and magnets plastered with pharmaceutical insignia, I cheered on The Fugitive's indictment of "big drug companies." And I was slap-happy to see Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford fall in love through a chase that didn't end in the fugitive getting caught. This exquisite form of cinematic tension, known to some of us as foreplay, resulted in one of the more satisfying hookups of two straight guys I'd ever least in Toledo. I came back to Minneapolis thinking there was hope for summer movies yet.

Sayer Frey's films include Eileen Is a Spy.




Michael Mann's 2004 summer sleeper obsesses over the nature of surfaces to the point where you begin to wonder if the director secretly harbors the desire to become an Abstract Expressionist. And isn't that what summer's really about? Using the bottom of a highly polished helicopter to create a disorienting fish-eye view of Los Angeles or the boxed-in light from a L.A. subway car, Mann holds tight on the turbulent surface of city life. The surfaces in Collateral take over the film and give the elements of light and color a frame to live and fight within. The only things collateral in this film are solid objects.  

Rolf Belgum's films include The Wild Condition.




Traditionally the Western genre is a morality play of good and evil. A lone sheriff who is outnumbered by really bad gunslingers (High Noon) faces what he is afraid of because, well, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. (John Wayne is never afraid even when he is a gunfighter dying of cancer.) Then he rides off, having defeated the bad guys, to phone in trouble from somewhere else. ("Come back, Shane.") There are a few other stories, but that's basically it. Unforgiven changes the genre so the viewer cannot predict the story, unlike in most movies. There is a hip tension between gritty reality and the Western mythos. The casting and acting--essentials--are impeccable and set against a flawlessly original David Webb Peoples script. Clint Eastwood is an American giant--as actor (58 films), director (28 films), composer (10 films). Unforgiven is the jewel in his crown.

Billy Golfus's films include When Billy Broke His Head...and Other Tales of Wonder.




Summer in Minneapolis is the time for outdoor films: The parks of Loring, Stevens Square, Holland, and Bottineau have hosted many 16mm summers. There's also the drive-in: Vali-Hi and Cottage View still crank out triple features with classic intermission shorts. (Imagine a dancing hotdog bun tempting a wiener to jump inside.) In the summer of '99, the outdoor experience at Vali-Hi definitely had a way of heightening the horror of The Blair Witch Project. Near the end of the film, only one kid remains. She stares into her video camera, tears in her infrared eyes, the scratching and clawing of the unknown outside her tent. I begin to picture some redneck psychopath with a bloody knife prowling around the car. My wife is laughing; I hum and miss the climax as my hands cover my eyes and ears. Meanwhile, my three-year-old son sleeps peacefully in the back seat to the soundtrack of murder. Bring along a grill and a few hidden beers: At the drive-in, the quality of the film is secondary.

Phil Harder is a director of music videos and commercials.




One continent's summer movie is another's fall release. Homesick, alone in Copenhagen, I stumbled on Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam picture in November and was attracted to its potential as a hybrid of two adolescent favorites--A Clockwork Orange and Platoon. What could be more reminiscent of the States than a combination of psych-op and buddy movie? As I would come to appreciate later, this was another Kubrickian bait and switch--a cinematic inversion of the military's offer of education in exchange for service. Full Metal Jacket uses American military culture circa '68--along with the "war movie" itself--as a pretext to delve into the murky depths of discipline, violence, and individualism, all abiding interests of its director. Were he still with us today, he might dress up Pinewood Studios as Fallujah instead of Hue and, sadly, 37 years later, illustrate the absurdity of the U.S. acting as global policeman yet again.

Matt Bakkom is the curator of "Search and Rescue" and the co-director of the short documentary "What America Needs: An Interior Expedition."

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