Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer Lovers (1982, Randal Kleiser)

Now, here's a Blu-ray I never thought I'd see.  Twilight Time, through their license agreement with MGM, have given Randal Kleiser's Summer Lovers its first-ever widescreen home media release. But, where most other companies, including MGM, likely would have issued the film in barebones fashion, Twilight Time have gone the extra mile and included a candid feature-length audio commentary by Kleiser, an isolated score / fx track, two theatrical trailers (regular and red band), a documentary on late composer Basil Poledouris, screen tests (featuring Patrick Swayze, Hart Bochner, and Valerie Quennessen!), a booklet with Julie Kirgo essay, and the mythical--to Summer Lovers fans like myself, anyway--The Making of Summer Lovers, a vintage featurette shot on location in late 1981 and seemingly unseen since the film's original release in 1982.

I've written about the film here previously, but to recap briefly: the plot centers on Michael and Cathy (Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah), a young American couple vacationing on Santorini, who enter into a summer-long menage a trois with Lina (Valerie Quennessen), a French archaeologist working on the island. After having viewed the film for the umpteenth time via the new Blu-ray, I maintain that the film would have benefited from portraying a sexual relationship between the two women (Daryl Hannah and Valerie Quennessen) and concluding on a more subdued, realistic note than does the shiny, happy Pointer Sisters-fueled ending we currently have.  All that said, the film remains a personal favorite of mine, an escapist treat that never ceases to raise my spirits, and which inspired me to travel to the Greek Isles on more than one occasion, including Santorini, the film's main location. Like a lot of films from its era, it has an earnestness and lack of irony that I love, but many will read today as "cheesy."

Kleiser was inspired by then-recent French art cinema to go where few, if any, mainstream American films had gone before and depict a polyamorous relationship in an honest and realistic manner, along with the casual, non-sexual nudity that was usually anathema to Hollywood. But, he had to balance this narrative goal with the obligations of a major summer release.  So, it is a light and bubbly film in most respects, with the kind of infectious, joyous pop music score and montage sequences expected from the filmmaker behind Grease.  There are, however, undercurrents of sadness and mystery, mostly coming from the character of Lina and Valerie Quennessen's nuanced and moving portrayal of her.  That this would be the luminous Quennessen's final film performance and that she would tragically die in an auto accident several years later grants the film an extra, unintended layer of melancholy.  And, in spite of the film coming out in the Reagan years, it has a refreshingly non-conformist, open-minded spirit that feels like a holdover from the previous decade.

As the years have gone by, the film has increasingly become valued as a cinematic time capsule of pre-AIDs attitudes towards sex and "open" relationships.  This notion is given extra resonance on Kleiser's commentary track when he memorializes numerous talented crew members who were felled by AIDS in the next several years after Summer Lovers' completion.  

The aforementioned Quennessen (those eyes!) is the highlight for me and numerous other viewers who have made this film a cult item over the ensuing years.  That said, the unfairly maligned Daryl Hannah brings an integral charm, sweetness, and sense of curiosity to the film, qualities seemingly underrated by most people not named Ron Howard.  The film is at its best when Hannah and Quennessen are in sync, either teasing Peter Gallagher or speaking about him with genuine affection. Gallagher was also treated pretty unkindly by critics when the film was released, but I think his sense of comic timing and willingness to poke fun at himself (not to mention going full frontal) is woefully under-appreciated.  The physical comedy of his first strip down on the beach cracks me up every time I watch it and it was interesting to hear from Kleiser that these beats were improvised by the actor on set rather than being in the script.

As a soundtrack aficionado, I can't not mention the music here, from the impossibly upbeat title track by Michael Sembello to the possibly even more upbeat "I'm So Excited" to Tina Turner's great cover of "Johnny and Mary" to Lime's classic "Your Love." Basil Poledouris' all electronic--Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre-inspired?--New Age score, adds immeasurably to the film's mood in its more introspective moments, none more so than when Gallagher first lays eyes on Quennessen.  As with most Twilight Time releases, all the music is here on an isolated track, although in this case it's a music and effects track, unfortunately.  I can only guess that with several changes in the film's ownership (Filmways to Orion to MGM) over the years, Poledouris' score tapes have gone missing.   

With the new HD master used as the source for Twilight Time's Blu-ray, it's safe to say Summer Lovers hasn't looked better since its original theatrical release...and the film itself has gotten better with age.  It's not an entirely successful mashup of beach party movie and Rohmer (I don't know that any movie could be), but its heart is in the right place and it remains unique in its attempts to bring a "free and open" European flavor, as well as the complications of a polyamorous relationship, to the summer popcorn movie season.

The 1981 Filmways logo (one of my favorite studio logos) that preceded Summer Lovers when first released in 1982.  Unfortunately, it has not been restored to the new Blu-ray, which instead begins with an Orion logo:

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