Vintage Cable Box: “Summer Lovers, 1982”

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“When there is not enough space, there is pressure.”

summer lovers

Summer Lovers, 1982 (Daryl Hannah), Filmways 

Good-looking young couple Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah take a summer house on the Greek island Santorini.  Fresh from college graduation, I gather Gallagher is itching to settle down, but he becomes infatuated with a French archaeologist named Lina, on assignment at a nearby excavation site.  He follows her around like a puppy dog, and pretends not to spy on her, which is totally what he is doing, and she is aware of it.  These days, that would considered some form of harassment.  Meanwhile, Daryl, obviously bored, reads up on advanced (and ancient) sexual practices and techniques.  She speaks to Gallagher of her bondage fantasies.  Later that night, he agrees to be tied up, while she drops hot candle wax on him.

Peter accompanies Lina to a nude beach.  She strips down.  Uncomfortable, he also strips, but very quickly hides his shortcomings, as it were.  I wonder if these people ever worry about skin cancer.  Ultimately liberated by his nudity, he jumps into the water and swims.  He and Lina swim to a secluded cove and make love.  He confesses to Daryl, telling her he’s confused, doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life.  Daryl is pissed.  She takes off, and heads to a bar where she lets a kid hit on her.  Meanwhile, Gallagher hooks up with Lina again.  The kid takes Daryl back to his house, offers her drugs, which she declines.  She fends off his advances and leaves.  She can’t bring herself to make love to another man.  While Gallagher firmly believes he has an “open” relationship with Hannah, her feelings are hurt.

Daryl rushes off to confront Lina, but this other woman is sweet and accomodating, she can’t bring herself to hate her.  She tells Daryl she doesn’t want to destroy her relationship with Gallagher.  They start hanging out together, as an unusual threesome.  Gallagher becomes uncomfortable (yet again!) at the prospect of his girlfriend and his lover becoming friends.  This film could be easily re-edited as a comedy.  I can’t help but feel sorry for Lina, who appears to be caught in the middle of good old fashioned American Jealousy.  A sexually liberated, young French woman, Lina doesn’t immediately understand their problems, nor does she seem to care.  Daryl tells Peter she likes the girl.  Songs by Tina Turner play in montage pieces in a foreshadowing of the kind of cinema for which the eighties would become known.

One night, the three of them share wine, kisses, and finally sex.  With the initial tension out of the way, they’re finally having fun to the strains of “I’m So Excited”.  Regardless of the heavy adult content, this movie feels like innocent fun, a call-back to a different time where everything seemed to be permitted, and nothing was particularly sacred.  The use of popular songs (disco, new wave, and rock) of the time, and the patina of early MTV-style cinematography and editing contribute to a wonderful yet dated appeal.  Indeed, once Gallagher and Hannah, shed their inhibitions and get with Lina, it finally feels like they’re truly enjoying their vacation, which is weird.  The three spend an enormous amount of time nude in the film, and enjoying each other’s company.  This is another case (as with Blame It On Rio) of a mainstream movie that would never be made today, or if it were, it would be severely neutered for the sensibilities of today’s audiences.

summer lover publicity still

Director Randal Kleiser had previously shown his skill at telling stories involving young people with 1978’s mega-hit, Grease and 1980’s The Blue Lagoon.  In 1984, he would direct Grandview, U.S.A..  The film is beautifully shot, but the youthful cast seem lazy and uninterested, and spend more time taking their clothes off than putting them on.  In a movie filled floor-to-ceiling with unabashed nudity, there are no sex scenes.  While a very interesting character study of post-college frustration, boredom, and rebellion, I would not classify Summer Lovers as romance.  Perhaps a Graduate-like drama about a different generation; the children of the first boomers in an era of prosperity and promiscuity, doing things they will one day regret but always remember.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “The Big Chill”, 1983

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“Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.”

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The Big Chill , 1983 (Kevin Kline), Columbia Pictures

It’s bizarre and more than a little morose when I think about the fact that I am older than the central characters in Lawrence Kasdan’s classic coming-to-terms-with-things epic, The Big Chill. All in their mid-thirties, more than a few of them established and respected pillars of their respective communities (except rebel-boy Nick), they reunite for the weekend in South Carolina after the suicide of their friend, Alex (Kevin Costner, not appearing in this film). Kasdan made a name for himself, penning screenplays like The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. His first film as director was the brilliant film-noir spoof, Body Heat starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.

The Big Chill is a movie that resonates with a different age group – that of our parents, the “Baby-Boomers”, children of the war and the “Greatest Generation”; those who turned their backs on what they perceived was a mindless emphasis on patriotism, imperialism, and consumerism (lots of -isms). As they grew into adulthood, they chose an uncomplicated path to self-destruction through drugs and the concept of free-love because they saw those same failings in themselves. A good portion of The Big Chill fixates on this idea. This is where my conflict comes in. I’m the product of a lost generation: the children of the “boomers” who don’t relate to these internalized conflicts, because we’ve nurtured apathy and despair and saw the hypocrisy in our parents long before they did. I’m sorry, this is getting preachy.

The cast of this movie is exceptional. Kevin Kline is Harold, a successful businessman. Glenn Close is his long-suffering wife, Sarah (who once had an affair with Alex). Handsome Tom Berenger is Sam, a television star. JoBeth Williams is bored housewife, Karen. William Hurt is the aforementioned rebel-boy, Nick. Jeff Goldblum is Michael, a writer for People magazine (who once published a hatchet-job on Sam), obviously a stand-in for Kasdan. Mary Kay Place is a successful attorney, unlucky in love. Meg Tilly is Alex’s much-younger girlfriend, Chloe. Shot in a real house in Beaufort, the cast lived together for several weeks before shooting commenced, which explains their unbelievably easy chemistry and mutual affection.

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Kline and Hurt’s characters are disillusioned in their adulthood. Berenger is clingy after his recent divorce. Goldblum is looking to scam his friends out of money so he can open a nightclub. Mary Kay Place wants to have a baby. JoBeth secretly loves Berenger and wants out of her dead-end marriage to boring, dependable Richard. Glenn Close is the emotional center of the group, weeping for Alex. Meg Tilly’s Chloe is the innocent; blissfully ignorant of the group’s woe.

Because these characters tend to run together with their fears and motivations, Chloe is the one truly unique person under this roof. She is sensitive and idealistic, but also lazy and giggly. Chloe is a part of her own lost generation, not quite old enough and not quite young enough. It’s only logical she connects the most with Hurt’s disaffected Nick, because he seems to be closest analog to the mysterious Alex. Alex is another matter entirely. Completely missing (even in spirit) from the film, he appears to be the glue that held this little community together, and without his gentle sway, everything falls apart.

It’s interesting in that I was eleven years old watching this movie (this is a movie explicitly not made for me) for the first time with my mother, who laughed at every joke, and cried at every somber moment, instantly identifying with these characters. The reason I enjoyed the movie had more to do with the very witty dialogue and what’s more, I appreciated the friendships, the connections, and the warmth of the performances. When I watch the movie now, I still think I’m a kid and couldn’t possibly understand the dilemmas of The Big Chill even though I’m much older than I’m younger than that now.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.