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February 01, 2010

Hot Summer

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Heisser Sommer
Joachim Hasler - 1968
First Run Features Region 1 DVD

It's the middle of winter, so it's a perfect time to watch a beach party movie, albeit one made in East Germany. While other reviews mostly dwell on comparing Hot Summer, not inappropriately to the series of films that usually starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, the big difference is that these high school grads from behind the Iron Curtain seem much better educated than their American peers. One example is one of the couples that pairs up briefly discusses the alienating effect of the theater of Bertolt Brecht. Frankie and Annette's pals would most likely discuss Breck hair shampoo. In another scene, two would be lovers exchange lines from a poem that I have been unable to identify even after Googling a few lines. Those couple of moments help make Hot Summer markedly different from the equivalent stateside films, even something as aware of its own absurdity, like Beach Blanket Bingo. While these East German kids aren't all literary, such as in an Eric Rohmer film, these scenes indicate a higher regard both for the characters and the intended audience.

Joachim Hasler doesn't have much much more of an inventive visual eye than his American counterpart, William Asher, but there is one shot displaying some visual wit. While the kids are dancing in line, frugging along towards the left of the screen, a flock of ducks is waddling in the opposite direction. Some may want to read more into that shot than I would, and one of the themes of Hot Summer is emphasis on the group over the individual. I don't know if the idea for that shot was in the original script that Hasler wrote with Maurycy Janowski. Hasler the writer is not always served well by Hasler the director. I wouldn't expect another Richard Lester or John Boorman, but Hot Summer might have been a better film with someone who could have mimicked Sidney Furie's work with Cliff Richards.

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Girls are from Berlin, boys are from Leipzig, and everyone meets up at a small town by the Baltic Sea. There's lots of flirting, but most of the sexual tension comes in the form of blonde and pretty Britt playing tall, brooding Wolf against blond and bland Kai. While Kai acts as group leader for the boys, the girls are led by Stupsi. Naturally, being away from the parents, everyone wants to have an adventure, and flaunt the rules, whether they are those from the dormitory where the girls stay, or the rules expected of good kids from good families. The political realities of the time are most obvious in a scene where the boys briefly visit a farm collective run by a sturdy group of women. There is also a boy , an aspiring lawyer, who quotes from various statutes, such as prior to a break-in of the girls' dorm room to scare them with a box of white mice. Politics in its most overt forms is not part of Hot Summer any more than it would in the Anglo-American films of that time. There is just enough rebellion and irresponsibility to satiate the teens, and leave the few adults in the film to conclude that the kids are alright.

What also surprised me about Hot Summer was the quality of the songs. Musically, this is a bit closer to jazz and Broadway than to rock. But where Hot Summer shines is in the lyrics. One of the songs, essentially Wolf's thoughts about Britt, suggest an attempt at a contemporary version of Brecht and Kurt Weil's narrative verse. One of best moments is when Frank Schobel as Kai, performs a solo piece with guitar, with lyrics that include, "Love makes quiet words resound". I didn't find out anything about lyricist Hans-Jurgen Degenhardt, except that four years after Hot Summer, he collaborated on an album with one of the film's soundtrack composers, Gerd Natschinski.

Toothy Chris Doerk was one of Hot Summer's two big musical stars, and for a time was married to Frank Schobel. The most interesting character is bad girl Britt, played by Regine Albrecht. Closer to the actual age of her character than much of the cast who were well into their twenties, Albrecht has continued a career as a much demand voice artist dubbing dubbing American films and television shows. Joachim Hasler's credit indicate a versatile filmmaker serving as director, writer and cinematographer, sometimes on the same film as here. Hasler's best known credit may be for working on the film released in the U.S. as The First Spaceship on Venus. Hot Summer has some technical shortcomings for those use to the audio quality of an American musical, some fairly non-existent choreography, and a poorly staged screen fight where everyone involved is clearly trying not to get injured. But there is also more to the film for those who want to look beyond the superficial comparisons of teen musical movies, suggesting a more in depth examination of the film by someone more knowledgeable in German culture, especially German poetry.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at February 1, 2010 12:45 AM