Summer Children (1965) – By Josh Samford

With Rogue Cinema, I am more often than not inundated with contemporary independent cinema to review. It is not often that I am fortunate enough to dig through the relics of our past, but Summer Children offers just that opportunity. A lost film from the past, it is only now making its debut in the home video marketplace. Considered lost by the filmmakers for many years, within the past few years the producers, cast and crew have been working on restoring the print to a pristine shape and they have done a fine job. Showcasing the naivite of youth and the earth shattering realities that all maturing adults have to come to realize, Summer Children is often cited for its lush cinematography delivered by Vilmos Zsigmond but aside from the absolutely breathtaking visuals I am here to say that this feature has more than just that going for it. A wealth of depth and style, Summer Children has been hidden from the public for many years at this point but this is something that will hopefully change very soon.

West is a young man on the verge of discovery. He sets off on a sailing trip, using his dad’s boat, with a group of five friends. He is taking this trip with the lovely Diana, who is elusive and yet so striking that he can not stop thinking about her. He also has his good friend Franky to contend with who has eyes for every female that he runs across. Franky is older than the rest and has self-appointed himself the leader of the group and is earnest in searching out a good time. Whether the rest of the group wants to go along peaceably or not. When the group comes upon a big party, Franky sees this as an opportunity to fall into lust and gluttony while West simply wants to spend time with Diana. However, Diana isn’t as naive or simplistic as poor West thinks she is. During the course of this one night, this group of young people will have their lives changed forever.

Stumbling across Summer Children at the time that I have, it almost seems as if the stars have aligned just perfectly. Recently I have been going through the works of John Cassavetes and with Summer Children I have found something similar to his work. The film reminds me a lot of Cassavetes and his style of rehearsed-improvisational performances. The best comparison I can make for the dialogue and performances would be a mix of Cassavetes and a little bit of the intellectual wit of earlier Woody Allen. It invokes that feeling of sixties experimentation and comes across as an attempt at deconstructionism in order to find something ”real” within this very theatrical medium. The use of handheld cameras at times helps to further this atmosphere and it is overall a surprisingly cerebral character study. Everything is set up in order to get inside the mind and motives of these various characters. The character of West in particular is interesting to me. Summer Children comes across as a talking point of the sexual revolution, with the character of West being the character having to adjust and change to this new climate. I think the film shows the liberation of free love, but it also shows the de-valuing of love in the face of such cultural change. The character of West is a old fashioned romantic and forcing him to deal with this new wave of sexual expressions, he is essentially forced to adapt and let loose of his preconceived notions of actual love in comparison to the needs of the flesh.

Director James Bruner and writer Norman Handelsman crafted a very interesting project. Although it is certainly a work of genuine entertainment, I would say it is a intellectually stimulating film without a doubt. You could read into the film a dozen different ways, from a cultural study to a more personal voyage; and I really enjoyed that about the movie. The beautiful visuals of course helped to further my enjoyment of the picture mind you! Vilmos Zsigmond, who has worked as cinematographer on many big budget pictures (including The Deer Hunter and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), does an outstanding job here in one of his earliest works. Switching between documentary style “in the streets” guerrilla tactics to beautifully composed shots of silhouettes painted in the foreground. The picture has many looks going on throughout it, but it all remains fluid in the hands of Zsigmond. Some of my favorite scenes however come simply from the back and forth interactions between characters. A craftsman-like mix of the visual and the performance side of cinema.

If you are a fan of filmmakers who try interesting and new techniques in terms of narrative and character, then this is the movie for you. In my opinion it deserves a great deal of recognition and I hope that it will some day get it. If you like the works of John Cassavetes, Woody Allen or Jean-Luc Godard then I think you may find something highly appealing within Summer Children. Although it may have some issues working against it, such as the age factor and we the audience losing out on some of the more potent social commentary, I think by and large this is really a must see for fans of engaging and offbeat cinema. You can read more about the project over at the official page at

http://www.thesummerchildren.com

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