Friday, July 27, 2012

Summertime and the Gabbin' is Easy

Wise: Hello, Werth.

Werth: Howdy, Wise. Hot enough for ya'?

Wise: It's that half-way point of the summer, where you're just not sure you can make it to September.

Werth: July—the Wednesday of the seasonal calendar.

Wise: But there's nothing better for a hot summer day than crashing in your air-conditioned apartment and watching a little summer romance unspool on your TV.  And few films capture the feeling of sun-kissed puppy love like Edge of Seventeen (1998).

Werth: Are we headed into Stevie Nicks territory here?

Wise: Set in 1984, Seventeen depicts the coming of age of Eric (Chris Stafford), a New Wave-obsessed teenager who takes a summer job at the local amusement park along with his best gal pal Maggie (Tina Holmes).  Eric falls hard for college-age cutie Rod (Andersen Gabrych), but is also the object of Maggie's affections.

Werth: Clearly going for extra credit in his summer of love.
Wise: Frustrated by Rod's unavailability and a disastrous turn in his relationship with Maggie, Eric turns to Angie (Lea DeLaria), his boss at work and—fortuitously—the manager at the local gay bar.  Angie gives him a pep talk and introduces him to the world beyond conservative rural Ohio.

Werth: When in doubt, call a lesbian.

Wise: Shot in the candy-colored neon of the early 80's and suffused with teenage hijinks, the film veers away from pop nostalgia and instead captures the melancholy exaltation of first love.  Eric experiences all the sun dappled joys of romance, but also must face the more sombre truths of approaching autumn.  Stafford makes an appealing hero with his gangly looks and puppy-dog eyes, but the real stand-out here is Holmes' Maggie.  Taking what could have been yet another depressing portrait in fag-haggery, Holmes invests her role with steel-jawed determination that highlights the bitter moral choices of growing up.  Director David Moreton does a fine balancing act, capturing summer passions and cold-eyed regret.

Werth: The oppressively wet New York City heat always makes me think of some tropical backwater—which always makes me think of the 1932 sizzling drama, Rain. Joan Crawford is Sadie Thompson, a hooker sans a heart of gold who, because of a cholera outbreak, gets quarantined in a cheap hotel in the South Pacific town of Pago Pago.

Wise: Not a great way to start your vacation.

Werth: And this village would not inspire any postcards. The tropical isle has the weather of a Turkish steam bath and the other hotel guests are not very temperate either. Mr. and Mrs. Davidson (Walter Huston and an excruciatingly pious Beulah Bondi) are a couple of tea-totaling missionaries who don't approve of anything more exciting than a knitting circle.

Wise: I don't even want to know what they think of Tiddlywinks. 

Werth: But to pinch a popular web-saying, "Honey-Sadie don't care." Right away Sadie is hosting a gang of marines in her room with the booze flowing and the phonograph howling. Davidson is so offended by this display that he uses all his righteous influence to try and have Sadie deported.
A battle of wills ensues with Davidson and Thompson sparring with all the heat that polar opposites can generate. The critics and audiences at the time all turned their noses up at Rain, and Crawford was so devastated by the reception that she ever-after repudiated the film and her performance, if you could get her to talk about the film at all. Maybe it was some sort of cultural myopia, but I think Rain was a movie ahead of its time.
From the first shot of Crawford's bangle-covered wrist and cheap, high-heeled shoes, she struts across the screen with a reckless abandon that would have made Mildred Pierce blush. Crawford's Sadie is an unapologetic whore and her disregard for what anyone thinks of it is exciting. Her hungry glares and brash physicality generate as much heat as the sweltering weather—making us long for a tall, cool drink to refresh oursevles before diving back into her boudoir.
Crawford is young and vital and the screen captures her female energy like a thousand-watt bulb. Sadie winds-up questioning herself, and while director Lewis Milestone may have been trying to make Sadie more human, in the end he brings a force of nature down to earth where she doesn't belong.

Wise: Well I know where I belong right now—in front of my television with a cool pint of watermelon sorbet. 

Werth: Just make sure you save some of your cool for next week's Film Gab!

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