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Thursday
May092013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Summertime"

For this week's episode of Best Shot, the collective series in which bloggers are invited to choose their favorite image from a pre-selected movie, we went to Italy for David Lean's Summertime (1955) starring Katharine Hepburn. The film won both of them Oscar nominations, for Direction and Acting respectively, and since I'd never seen it it fills in two Oscar gaps in my 1950s cinema.

It's a relatively modest picture all told, concerned not with big sweeping travelogue beauty (though the travelogue beauty is accounted for) but with an internal flowering. Spinster Katharine Hepburn goes to Italy, goes a little wild (well, wild for an American spinster from Akron Ohio), and then -- spoiler alert -- leaves Italy again. It's all very E.M. Forster really! (See A Room With a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread).

She was coming to Europe to find something. It was way back in the back of her mind was something she was looking for, a wonderful mystical magical miracle. I guess to find what she'd been missing all her life."

My runner up shot comes early in the picture and I include it because I love the way it dialogues with my favorite image at the movie's end. Jane Hudson has just arrived at her summer home, and she has a conversation with her landlady about a girl she met on the way to Italy. She describes in detail the reasons the girl is travelling abroad. Jane is too guileless to be talking about herself in the third person but she is, in essence, talking about herself, whether or not she knows it. She's also prophesying her own journey including an amusing a "let loose a bit" comment that Katharine waves off with prudish modesty.

I find the light in this sequence quite astute. The women are not in silhouette exactly -- the scene is about Jane, after all, rather than Italy -- but Italy is bright and beckoning anyway. She's not really looking at Italy... not yet at least... wrapped up as she is in connecting with other people (she hopes to make friends) and her own internal possibilities. 

I often find Hepburn a little too fussy as an actress -- particularly in her later work -- but I think she's marvelous in key scenes here really capturing Jane's internal battle between her desire to connect and her own internal nature. Even in the scenes which are very much about her attraction to Renalto (Rosanno Brazzi) she's often just looking off into space and, one assumes, her own thoughts. Jane's just not very good at connecting for as much as she'd like to. She has too many fussy walls up.

I think that's why I found the final scene so moving, despite not particularly caring for the movie. My choice for best shot comes with the film's ending. Jane has opted to leave Italy and Romantic Love behind. She likens it to leaving a party before she's worn out her welcome. It's common sense really given the circumstances of the affair but you hurt for her for giving up the thing she's always wanted and you have to wonder if it isn't partially fear and retreat to a safer lonelier home. Whether or not Jane will be more open to love after the movie is up for debate. Yet in that sudden alarming lurch outward to wave goodbye one last time to Renato (but really, to Italy and Love) I think Hepburn's gestural performance provides a marvelous clue. If returning to Ohio is, in fact, a comfort zone retreat why does her body move with such spirited abandon? 

Next Week
We're staying in Italy for The Talented Mr Ripley (1999). You know you want to sound off on that one. So join us, will ya?

14 More People Summering in Italy with Hepburn
Amiresque is overwhelmed by architecture
Encore's World on the quintessential 'spinster' performance from Hepburn 
Antagony & Ecstasy wants to talk about Aspect Ratios... and perceptions of "low points"
The Film's The Thing a Cinderella of a certain age 
Cinema Enthusiast goes to a real ball with gardenias
We Recycle Movies on David Lean's undeniable obsession with trains 
Pussy Goes Grrr this is how you stage a breakup 
Cinesnatch really goes all out with shot commentary, contrasts and travelogue beauty 
Film Actually has coffee -- or doesn't rather -- with Hepburn 
She Blogged By Night picks the first shot I think we've ever seen in this series devoted to an extra. It's beautiful! 
Los Mejores Planos gives out gold, silver and bronze medals for his favorite shots 
Cal Roth sees Jane's secret sensuality
Dancin' Dan on the scene that makes the movie 
My New Plaid Pants memories of Italy come flooding back 

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Reader Comments (21)

It seems I forgot to send you my post.

Here it is: http://filmactually.blogspot.com/2013/05/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-summertime.html

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

Where's my blog??? I've participated. :-(

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAntonio

antonio -- did you send me a link? where is your blog? OH WAIT. I GOT IT -- I like your choices and how you structured your post!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nathaniel, That was my choice for best shot too! The freedom with which she throws her body out that window just seems to say so much about how she's loosened up since the being of the picture.

Of course the shots of Venice are beautiful! I wanted to pack my bags by the end of the film!

How gorgeous was Rosanno Brazzi, the way Lean shot him, in both lighting and those suits!, how could anyone have resisted him. Of course the actor's own sexiness played a large part.

I had seen the movie before but forget that Kate's character was named Jane Hudson and that gave me a chuckle.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

That would be beginning of the picture, not being. That's what I get for typing too fast!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

I love their first meeting, the way Brazzi looks at her legs. Her legs, that's my favorite shot. It shows the sensuality hidden behind the uptight tourist.

I took a print from youtube: calroth(dot)tumblr(dot)com

I love romantic awakenings in Italy (it happened in my family, genders reversed: American father, Italian mother - father decided to stay).

I love Isa Miranda.

This movie is so tender and beautiful. I could live in this movie.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

So enjoyed reading about this one. I know it's often a head-scratcher for David Lean fans when he says this is one of his favourites because there's little - if anything - sweeping or epic about this in the way that we consider it but it's so contained and effective in that way.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Here's mine (which I thought I sent you last night): http://dancindanonfilm.blogspot.com/2013/05/hit-me-with-your-best-shot-summertime.html

That last scene is done so perfectly that it makes the movie for me. I would say that Hepburn should have won the Oscar for this, but I haven't seen The Rose Tattoo or I'll Cry Tomorrow yet. it's certainly in the upper tiers of her work.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

This is the first romantic movie I remember seeing starring an "older" woman. I already loved Rossano Brazzi from South Pacific, and Kate was my idol at the time. I didn't rewatch this but I do remember being horrified when she fell into the canal. Later I read she got some serious eye infection from that nasty water which was never cured.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

@ Pam - the canal incident is proof of Kate's stubbornness. She didn't want them to use a stunt-double because the woman wouldn't stand up straight, so she decided to do it herself and she got an eye infection which haunted her for years. And, I'm sure she didn't mind.

@Denny - Anna Magnani in great in "The Rose Tattoo" but I'll probably give Kate the slight edge, too.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

I love Hepburn's performance so much. Like one of the articles say, she is a watcher, and there is nothing slow about the first act. It is all about her having her time to see and to be impressed. It's not really narrative, there is no plot, but there is mood. You can experience her feelings and they all form a little and endearing narrative too. I love the way this movie permits us silence to watch everything with her. And please, don't complain about the clichés of Italian romance. It's all true now and has always been, and that's why it's a cliché.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Pam -- thanks. I was trying to remember why I knew Brazzi. I wish there were more narratives about older women like this. I find later in life dramas just as fascinating in their regrets and compromises and backstory as young person dramas are in their formative open possibilities. I wish everyone felt the same and we'd have a great mix of movies starring people of all ages.

May 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

andrew and denny -- i'd stick with Magnani for the Oscar but I'm glad I watched this (i can't remember who suggested it?) and Kate would be a worthy medalist.

May 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I am not claiming credit, but I'm sure I seconded this suggestion!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Love the performance, and love Magnani too, but the best actress was Doris Day for Love or Leave me. She wasn't nominated.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

N- Hear, hear! That's why I found Beginners so refreshing, and partly why Amour, Certified Copy, and even, Hope Springs, are compelling films.

Retrospectively, we always have Cocoon. You remember what those alien eggs did for Don Ameche and company!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Totally late but I posted mine this morning...

Wonderful write-up, Nat.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJA

It's my first time at Hit me with your best shot and I had great time. Can't wait for the next time!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAntonio

Antonio - thanks for joining us

JA -i loved your write up, too. but then i am crazy for mynewplaidpants since always

Pam -- why'd you have to go and ruin that lovely train of thought with Cocoon ;)

everyone -- i am totally confused why this movie has 15 participants (NOT COMPLAINING) but Bonnie & Clyde last year only had 5 or so. It's a mystery!

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Ah, this was the year my beloved Jennifer Jones was nominated for Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing. A truly romantic gem. Sigh.

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

It's Renato, not Renalto.

May 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMrGirard

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