Monday, 24 May 2010

Suddenly…In the Summertime

When I think of the loveliness that is David Lean’s excellent Summertime I always turn immediately to the ending. We watch the beautiful Katharine Hepburn, old and yet young, as she waves a heart wrenching goodbye to her suitor who will never be able to give her the flower he picked specially for the occasion. Few cinematic moments so sedate make me tear up as much. I’m not sure if I’m tearing up at the sincerity of the story, or the fact that Hepburn and Lean’s excellent production is all but forgotten today. Kate has rarely been as girlishly enchanting, and no piece of Lean leaves me praising his authenticity as much, but I’m usually alone on both counts…and when Lean has been known for sprawling epics like Dr. Zhivago, and Lawrence of Arabia. and The Bridge on the River Kawi…I suppose I should be able to understand.
Summertime is a film where nothing much really happens and yet everything does. Katharine plays Violet, an aging spinster who finally saves up the money to go to Italy for that holiday of bohemian rhapsody she has dreamed so much of. She’s simultaneously at bliss and out of place in the sensuality of the surroundings, and this is all the more exacerbated by her introduction to the similarly sensual Renato a philandering shop owner. Out of this certain attraction between the two a tentative romance grows that’s beautiful to watch. Never has Kate’s femininity been as piercing on screen and opposite the completely Italian Rossano Brazzi, and shot by Lean’s meticulous dedication she is a joy to watch. I can’t think of writing about this film without remembering this post which (objectively) assesses all that is good – and admittedly bad – in Summertime. But, really, I’m torn when I watch it. Is it Hepburn the actress faltering in moments of uncertainty or is it Jane Hudson, the woman, unsure of her place in Italy? It’s strange, Jane is completely unlike our perceptions of Kate and yet Jane seems decidedly like Kate…or a variation of Kate (which is all the same).
It’s the sort of masochistic tendency I have, where I’m unable to appreciate the few tenuous moments of bliss in the narrative but, instead, revel in those moments where Kate’s Jane is at her lowest. Kate is known for comedy, deservedly so – but her skills as a straight dramatic actor are vastly underrated. Her technique is not that of the chameleon, but Jane – someone so generically normal – seems like a special creature in her hands. Sure, it’s the very issue that makes The Rainmaker somewhat of a mixed bag. But, the thing is, Summertime is a stronger narrative. Incidentally, Summertime was adapted into a musical (Do I Hear A Waltz?) as was The Rainmaker (1110 in the Shade) – I can’t speak for the former but the stodginess of The Rainmaker is imprvod by music… but me and by digressions…back to Italy. It’s the mark of our ideology that spinster is a dirty word, while bachelor is a suave term – but Kate’s embodiment of spinsters in the fifties (Jane, Lizzie, Rose) represents a time where the word is not a representation of something perverse but winningly noble. It’s not that Jane is such a perfect creature, but it’s Summertime is about more than making moral judgments on the characters…
It’s remembered mostly for Kate’s disastrous fall into the Canal (the body double failed to stand up “straight enough” for her), and strangely the fall is one of the few moments where Kate seems completely uninhibited – to a fault. Jane is not comfortable in her life of singledom as the officious Rose and it’s the moments of disconcertment that make her special – something that Kate gets right more often than not. Summertime is probably the perfect example of what a sentimental favourite is. But that realisation doesn’t make me appreciate any less…it’s #19 on my list of favourite films.
         
Have you seen Kate in this...or do you prefer another David Lean piece?
           
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3 comments:

Simon said...

I haven't seen this particular one, but oh, fuck, I should.

Alex in Movieland said...

ginkies, I haven't seen it either :P

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

simon, alex well you should both fix that.