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?
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