Letter from the Editor

by Chad Perman

"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." —F. Scott Fitzgerald

Summer is many things to many people, but for this particular film lover it's an especially wonderful time of year. While big summer blockbusters—which I haven't much followed or cared for since I was a teenager—take over the multiplexes and dominate the box office during these summer months, there are other smaller, quieter joys to be found. To my mind, few things top the pure pleasure of ducking into a movie theater in the middle of a warm or sweltering day, leaving the brightness and heat behind for a couple of hours of dark, air-conditioned bliss. Believe it or not, even in Seattle, some days you need to find a way to beat the heat.

Some of my best summer memories, both as a kid and an adult, involved going to the movies: counting down the days until Batman (1989) would be released on the wall calendar in my room, watching Terminator 2—my first R-rated movie!—on opening day with my dad, spending a day with my new girlfriend (now wife) watching a triple bill of silly 1970s Woody Allen comedies (Sleeper, Love & Death, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex...) at a local theater in college, avoiding the smothering heat shortly after our move to Texas by attending the QT Fest at the original Alamo Drafthouse, sharing a bucketful of Rolling Rocks with an old friend while Tarantino gleefully presented his "Grab-Bag of Exploitation Night"(Shark, Billy Jack, and Big Bullet), taking my six-month old daughter to weekly matinee screenings for parents back when I was a brand-new dad, seeing The Tree of Life alone on a summer afternoon a few years ago and walking around in a daze—in sheer awe of the world—for the rest of the day.

A good movie can do that to you.

*

This month, we're casting our net over the wide expanse of summer, in all its various cinematic shades, from Rear Window to Do the Right Thing to Dirty Dancing. (And I can absolutely guarantee you those three films have never been used in the same sentence before.) It's a diverse issue and an enjoyable one, filled with incisive writing about heat, mystery, murder, love, memory, and nostalgia.

We begin with Kelsey Ford's take on Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's suspenseful NYC summer masterpiece. Next, Fran Hoepfner compares and contrasts the hilarious highs and lows of camp life in Wet Hot American Summer with her own summer camp experiences growing up, followed by Sabina Stent's take on summer, male fantasy, and Marilyn Monroe inThe Seven Year Itch. After that, Kevin Harris writes about the effects of heat on an already unstable mind in Kurosawa's Stray Dog, and Jacqueline Ristola reflects on the continued importance of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing more than 25 years after its release.

The last half of the issue traffics heavily in nostalgia: Amanda McCleod writes about her deep love of Dirty Dancing, John Douglass pines for an idyllic era he was too young to ever know inThe Sandlot, Gillian Singletary reflects on wayward college summers and Adventureland, and Anna Sjogren documents her experience at a recent 30th anniversary (!) outdoor screening of The Goonies, in the town where much of it was filmed.

It was a fun issue to put together, and hopefully we've managed to capture a little bit of summer for you in these pages. If we did our job right, you might not even need to go outside today. But you still should—even if it's just to walk to a movie theater.


—Chad Perman, Editor-in-Chief


Juggling Wolves

by Kelsey Ford

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

It’s nighttime in New York. Humid air gives way to rain. A couple, sleeping on the fire escape, is forced to drag their mattress back inside. A man in a wet parka leaves his apartment with a suitcase. An intoxicated songwriter swipes at the paper music laid out on his piano. The man with the suitcase returns, and then leaves again. A woman, dressed up and returning from a long night, shoves the door in her date’s face. The man with the suitcase returns.

Some floors up, L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is watching. He’s confined to his wheelchair with a broken leg, and the restlessness of being a sidelined photographer has gotten the best of him. During the day, he has a nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), and a fiancée, Lisa (Grace Kelly), to keep him company. But now it’s nighttime. He’s alone and he can’t sleep.

The courtyard his apartment window looks out on is a standard one, with a range of buildings: some tall and narrow and brick, others short and squat with more windows than square footage. Ladders on fire escapes lead to small gardens below. Each window offers miniature dramas: the heartbreak, the happiness, the loneliness, the mess. Jeffries’ vantage is perfect: from above, he can see without being seen.

When others should be dreaming, Jeffries is watching those who aren’t.

*

My first summer in New York was filled with fever dreams. I didn’t have an air-conditioner and the humidity laid itself thick. I waitressed at a bar most nights until three in the morning, went home to pass out in a soggy heap, only to wake up hours later, still inside a dream and sure I was somewhere I shouldn’t be. I’d hear voices in the other room, maybe the sound of a jukebox, as if I was still in the bar or in a bookstore or anywhere else except for in my apartment, alone. I’d panic and grab at a pair of jeans and pull them on, even as I repeated to myself: this isn’t real, this is a dream, you’re imagining this, you’re still dreaming. I’d believe it wasn’t real, but I also wouldn’t. The majority of mornings, I woke up still wearing those jeans.

That feeling wouldn’t leave for the rest of the day. It hung on me, that fear of being stuck somewhere between here and there, consciousness and unconsciousness. My life took on the tenor of the uncanny. I couldn’t differentiate between reality and dream, logic and feeling. Exhaustion and heat got the better of me.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this, but it was the first time I had as an adult. Growing up, I was convinced we’d had a dog we never had. It was years before my mom realized, and quickly debunked, what I considered a very real memory.

Another time, I dreamt I was at a ski lodge with my family. We were eating lunch, still wearing our gear and boots. I excused myself to go to the bathroom. In the hallway, I passed a boy a few years older than me, huddled next to an ATM while his wrist gushed blood. We made eye contact. I kept walking. No one else was stopping, so I didn’t either, and he continued bleeding. Even now, the only way I’m sure this was a dream is because there’s no way it could possibly be real. It’s too horrific and strange.

It’s a particular kind of writerly trait, to let dreams bleed into day, but these moments were visceral and dangerous. They clung to me, so that even if they weren’t real, their affect was. That particular summer, New York’s persistent heat broke down the slim separation between fiction and truth.

*

L.B. Jeffries stays in that small patch next to the window, a camera within reach, and watches his neighbors. He picks at the bare bones of their stories and assigns them meaning: Miss Lonelyhearts, the middle-aged woman cooking elaborate dinners for one and crying over her empty plate; Miss Torso, the scantily clad dancer entertaining a roomful of men; Songwriter, the man with a piano who is, Jeffries surmises, fresh out of an unhappy marriage.

The hollows of his neighbors’ lives are made all the more apparent beneath the bareness of summer heat. Remaining clothed and concealed is unbearable. It’s easier to keep skin unburdened, windows open, your life there for the surrounding world to see.

Stella side-eyes Jeffries’ persistent surveillance. She chides him: “I can smell trouble right in this apartment. You broke your leg. You look out the window. You see things you shouldn’t. Trouble.”

Jeffries fixates on a husband and wife a few floors down and across the way. He only sees slices of their story, but is sure he knows how to knit them together: an unhappy husband with a short temper, a sick but somehow missing wife, those strange comings and goings in the middle of that rainy night.

This is enough for Jeffries to become sure that the husband killed the wife.

Jeffries calls his friend on the police force, but the detective doesn’t buy it. “That’s a secret and private world out there,” he says. “People do a lot of things in private that they can’t do in public.” But what the detective isn’t acknowledging is the city’s two way street when it comes to voyeurism. You feel justified, watching neighbors across the courtyard, because they’ve left their blinds up. But when you’ve left your own blinds up, you’re all too aware of the potential exhibition. You know anyone can see, and yet you still perform.

The husband’s blinds are up, and he does little to deter the growing narrative. He has shifty eyes. The wife’s purse is still in the apartment, and why is he tightening up a trunk so firmly? Why is he keeping such strange hours?

Lisa is a reluctant participant at first. She corrects his assumptions about Miss Torso. When Jeffries thinks Miss Torso is spreading herself thin with so many men, Lisa shakes her head. No, Miss Torso doesn’t love any of them. “I’d say she’s doing a woman’s hardest job: juggling wolves.” When their attentions shift to Miss Lonelyhearts, Lisa calls her quiet actions a kind of “manless melancholia.”

But not until she sees the wife’s abandoned purse, does Lisa allow that Jeffries may be right. She says that “women aren’t that unpredictable.” They don’t leave their purses behind. Anywhere they go, they take their “basic equipment.” It doesn’t add up.

She keeps Jeffries company while they keep watch, hoping to point at some proof that will change the police detective’s mind. In a quiet moment, Lisa turns the narrative labeling around on the pair of them.

“You’re not up on your private eye literature,” she says. “When they’re in trouble, it’s always their Girl Friday who gets them out of it.”

Here, Jeffries is the intrepid gumshoe and Lisa is Jeff’s Girl Friday.

The idea makes Jeffries scoff. And this, perhaps, is why Jeffries is so insistent on looking out. He doesn’t want to look in. No matter his feelings for Lisa, or her feelings for him, he’s sure they’re not a good fit. She couldn’t possibly live the life of a photographer’s wife. Jeff says he needs “a woman who’ll go anywhere, do anything, and love it.” As much as Lisa insists she’s capable of whatever lifestyle Jeffries throws at her, he won’t listen. Lisa is telling him one story––that she loves him, and he’s wrong to protest––and he’s telling her another.

Rear Window is a movie about the stories we choose to tell.

*

As a waitress at a small sports bar with very few clientele, I’d spend my nights watching others. Lads got drunk on Guinness and traded turns on Big Buck Hunter. New couples leaned into each other’s shoulders over buckets of French fries. An old man with a cane came in every night at 8 p.m. for a greyhound and a glass of cranberry juice. Actors got trashed off whiskey and performed soliloquies.

It was all very loud, and all very much about everyone else. So late one night, one of the few nights I had for myself, while out with a friend and a few drinks in, I decided we should go to a psychic. A very rational and sane idea. I found a name on Yelp, called the number, and an hour later, we were huddled in her hot stairwell, waiting for our turn.

The psychic worked out of her apartment’s small entryway. A short table with a cheap, gold cloth thrown over top was pushed against the wall, next to a door with a thin veil down it. I could look through and see her fridge, with photos stuck with magnets and boxes of tea piled on top. She handed me the stack of tarot cards, asked me to cut it, and then told me to keep a question in mind as she read.

I can’t remember what I asked, but I remember my intent.

The reading was rhythmic. The card, flipped. The card, interpreted. An occasional glance to gauge my reaction. She told me I was sensitive and quiet but emotional. She said I’d be going to court in the next year, but it would come out in my favor. She said I’d have more responsibility at work and no free time. She said my luck in love is zero but I have a good energy and would be successful. She told me not to settle until I found a home next to the ocean.

The reading was expensive and useless, but I still scribbled her words on the back of a receipt and kept it in my wallet, where it stayed for months. I wanted someone on the outside looking in to tell me what they saw, and I wanted to believe some version of it was truth.

*

Because Rear Window is a movie, the story Jeffries thinks he sees turns out to be true. Because Rear Window is a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, it’s a story about murder.

So much of this movie mirrors a different aspect of itself. The way the film was shot on one stage mirrors Jeffries confinement to his apartment. Jeffries’ observation of his neighbors mirrors our own observation of him. But this breaks in the final act, when Lisa decides to shift their role from passive to active observers.

In order to disprove one story Jeffries is telling (that he and Lisa aren’t a good match), Lisa takes it upon herself to prove the other one. She is a woman that can go anywhere, do anything, and love it. He just has to see this.

Lisa goes across the courtyard and into the apartment, trying to find the wife’s wedding ring, because no woman would leave that behind if she weren’t dead. Jeffries remains in his apartment. We stay with him while he watches Lisa. He sees the husband come home while Lisa is still inside. All he can do––and we, alongside him––is call the police. But that final, shaky barrier between audience and performer is broken when the husband turns and, finally, looks up.

The stories tangle, no longer passive. The barrier between what might be and what is breaks. That Jeffries survives a near assault from this wife murderer is not the point of the next scene. The point is his ownership over a narrative that isn’t his, and the danger that brash sureness got him in.

He may have been right, but how much did he almost lose?

*

I bought an air-conditioner and my dreams stopped dragging themselves behind me like extra limbs. The receipt with the psychic’s predictions got lost on some late night in some bar. I tattooed a blue whale the size of a thumb to my right rib. My life settled. I tried, and often failed, to stop relying on easy narrative. I listened to my bones. I quit waitressing.

Rear Window finds a similar peace in the end. Characters from different stories (figuratively and literally) end up together. Miss Lonelyhearts and Songwriter assuage each other’s loneliness. The man Miss Torso truly loves comes home in uniform. And Jeffries and Lisa settle into the reality of each other.

Summer in New York is so many stories at once. Mini-symphonies filled with potential. It’s a love story. It’s a murder in a courtyard. It’s the tattoo artist around the corner and the whiskey sour you drink at dusk. It’s late nights and fever dreams. It’s a husband at the end of his rope and a girl trying to prove to the man she loves that she’s worthy.

It’s heat and soft nights filled with rain


Kelsey Ford is a Senior Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is a recent Los Angeles transplant, via Brooklyn. Her work has previously appeared in Her Royal Majesty and Storychord.


The Worst Things The Camp Counselors In Wet Hot American Summer Did Juxtaposed With The Worst Things That Happened To Me At Camp...Ranked

by Fran Hoepfner

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

Wet Hot American Summer is an American comedy that came out in the year 2001 with a cast of total unknowns—Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, Molly Shannon, and Bradley Cooper, to name a few—that averaged, at the time, a 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film was a parody of traditional summer camp movies, and captured the nostalgia of early ’80s teen movies. It went on to become something of a cult classic, fueled by its cast’s rise in fame as well as its Netflix availability.

I was an American summer camper, attending several sessions of a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin, one session of horse camp in Southern Illinois, and two sessions of theater camp in Northern Illinois. I would also give my summer camp experience a 31%, and I would not say my appreciation has grown with time.

So without further ado...

5. Kissing All The Time vs. Not Kissing All The Time

Wet Hot American Summer opens with a scene of a quiet cabin, campers tucked in under striped quilts, snuggled up next to their preteen lovers, and the hormones don’t stop there. I would be surprised to know that five minutes pass in this film without someone kissing someone else.

Among all things, Wet Hot American Summer is a movie about kissing. It’s a movie about the thing camp does best: taking American teenagers out of their normal environment and placing them into an environment where they want to kiss all the time. Director David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter skewer the stereotype and up the gross-out factor, and every kissing scene is full-on—gum-chewing high-schoolers touch tongues with great velocity. It’s nauseating, and of course, hilarious.

I never kissed anyone at camp, but that did not make the culture any less pervasive. I can remember stories at my Jewish camp in Wisconsin of girls experiencing their first kisses. At theater camp, there were only eight boys (as opposed to 70-something girls), the most good-looking of whom became known only as “Hot Ben.”

“For the select few of you who went all summer, all eight weeks without finding that special someone, today is your day,” camp DJ Arty says in the opening sequence, “because you don’t wanna go back home and lie to your friends about a summer romance that didn’t even happen, and you don’t wanna be the one person who doesn’t have anyone to kiss tonight after the talent show.”

I slow-danced with Hot Ben on the last night of camp. “What was your name again?” he asked.

WINNER: Kissing all the time

4. Throwing Swim Buddies Out Of A Moving Vehicle vs. Sleeping Through All The Activities One Day Because My Buddy Forgot Me

Any camp veteran will know how the buddy system works. On the first day of camp, you’re either assigned or allowed to pick out a buddy—a person who will be as responsible for you as you are to them. If you know where your buddy is, you’re safe. Even if something bad happens, you’re in it together.

This, of course, can be a bad thing, if you’re Paul Rudd’s character Andy—who, while serving as lifeguard, allows two different campers to drown. Now, Andy’s not a cold-hearted serial killer. He’s something way worse: a teenage boy. Andy is the quintessential bad boy. He’s got tank tops and jean shorts and a shell necklace. He scoffs at everything. He loves sex and loathes commitment. He thinks he’s significantly deeper than he is. Lindsay (Elizabeth Banks) catches him writing in a notebook on the docks.

“It’s my gournal,” he tells her, pronouncing a hard “g” sound in the word journal. Andy’s an idiot, and in his preoccupation with his own motives, he allows two different campers to disappear into the lake.

These boys, however, have buddies, and their buddies have some questions.

“I’ll be back in fifteen minutes,” Andy says to Lindsay. He loads the respective buddies into a van and drives them out of the campsite. At an acceptable distance away, the door flings open and a child comes tumbling off.

My buddy at camp was a girl named Rebecca, and all I can remember about her is that her hair was even bigger than mine. We were both slaves to the humidity that summer. We didn’t not get along, but we certainly weren’t going to maintain a lifelong friendship.

Because the child version of me is just a smaller model of the adult version of me, I fell asleep one afternoon at camp and I didn’t wake up until the evening. In fact, I can remember writing a postcard to my parents at around 1:00 pm, and the next thing I knew, it was past dinner. It was past everything. One of the counselors was shaking me awake.

“How did you get in here?” she was asking. “Everyone’s at the climbing wall.”

“I never left here,” I told her. “I fell asleep.”

“Who’s your buddy? Did she forget you?”

“It’s Rebecca.”

“I’m gonna kill her,” my counselor hissed, and then left me behind to go punish the original girl who left me behind.

WINNER: Being abandoned by my buddy and also a camp counselors but hey, a nap is a nap, right?

3. Whatever Is Happening With Gene, The Camp Cook vs. Eating Camp Food All Summer

A camper’s diet is about 60% macaroni and cheese, and 40% whatever else they have. It’s usually mashed potatoes. I remember drinking a lot of lemonade that tasted kind of strange. I remember eating burgers that were kind of dry. I remember “today’s vegetables,” a multi-colored scoop of something disgusting. I remember saving up money at the canteen to buy ice cream bars that inevitably melted all over my tiny hands.

That, however, is fairly straight forward. Gene, the camp cook in Wet Hot American Summer, is not.

Gene is out of control. Gene is insane. Gene is a traumatized Vietnam War veteran, yes, but I’m not sure we can accredit his bizarre fetishes to that. He screams. He’s unstable. But he learns to accept himself. He humps a fridge. Years before I ever watched Wet Hot American Summer , I knew it as “the film where Christopher Meloni screams all the time and humps a refrigerator.”

His closest friend is also a can of vegetables, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin. It’s a lot, to say the least.

Gene is surreal. He’s the least grounded in a recognizable reality, though also one of the most memorable parts, highlighting the mystery behind those involved in the service life of a camp. There were days in my camp experience where I looked at a lunch lady and wondered what else she had going on. Gene is both the best- and worst-case scenario: a harmless weirdo trapped in an environment where he doesn’t belong. Whether or not Gene works for you—and he definitely may not—you have to respect Showalter and Wain for having him in there, doing his bizarre, disturbing thing.

WINNER: Whatever is happening with Gene

2. Wait, One Of The Counselors Definitely Makes Out With A Camper vs. Getting Mosquito Bites On Both My Eyelids

This one should be obvious.

WINNER: Abby Bernstein makes out with the camper who announces mealtimes, and that’s very gross!

1. Doing Heroin vs. Getting Bit By A Girl

The indisputably worst thing that the Wet Hot American Summer counselors partake in is heroin, in a sequence as ridiculous as it is horrifying. In a memorable montage set to the song “Love Is Alright Tonight” by Rick Springfield, a gang of counselors join Beth as she goes into the main part of town to go to the library. What follows is a barrage of in-town activities—hanging out in the grass, laughing and talking—which quickly devolve into smoking cigarettes, buying alcohol illegally, and then snorting cocaine and shooting up in a dirty apartment. It’s one of—if not the—most memorable scenes in the film and definitely one of the biggest laugh-out-loud moments. The scene in town is out of control, violent, and disturbing, and then, just as quickly as they drove into town, Beth and the counselors return to camp as if nothing happened. It captures the no-consequence vibe of the whole film. And who’s to say that sequence is meant to be real, just in the sense that everything that happens at camp feels a little surreal or otherworldly. That said, heroin is heroin.

The indisputably worst thing to happen to me at summer camp occurred when I was 12 years old, attending my first and last week ever at a horse camp in Southern Illinois. I don’t know what drove me to go to horse camp, really. I wasn’t a horse girl, by any means. I was a little bit afraid of horses, if I’m being honest. That said, I quickly learned nothing was more terrifying than being surrounded by 60 horse girls on a day to day basis. They were tall and mean and athletic and had a more advanced understanding of the animal than I could even fathom.

The lead horse girl in my bunk was a girl named Nicki. She was terrifying. She was a monster. She had blonde hair and braces. She exclusively wore polo shirts. She knew all the words to Good Charlotte songs, a catalogue I knew nothing of. She was the kind of 12-year-old who spoke sarcasm fluently. My rivalry with Nicki was one-sided: she was my nemesis, I was nothing to her.

Until: during an arts and crafts session, when asked to pass a pair of scissors to a less cool girl, Nicki chucked a pair of adult scissors across the room. These were big, sharp scissors that landed inches away from this poor girl’s arm. Not a single counselor was paying attention.

“Don’t throw scissors,” I told Nicki, appointing myself the most responsible 12-year-old in the bunk, “what are you, stupid?”

Nicki did not respond verbally, but she did leap across the floor and tackle me. Holding me down, she dug her braces-decorated front teeth into my forearm and bit down, hard. Some of the other girls pulled her off me. The counselors looked up from their magazines. “Chill out!” one of them yelled from across the room.

Nicki did not break the skin, but I had an intense purple and green bruise on my forearms several weeks after the incident. I called her a bitch three days later, after taking some time to make sure I wanted to use language that harsh.

“It’s nice to go into town, even if it’s only for an hour,” the counselors in Wet Hot American Summer say as the pick-up rolls back into camp.

“Did you have fun at camp?” my parents would ask when they’d pick me up.

WINNER: Getting to go home at the end of the summer.


Fran Hoepfner is a Contributing Editor at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is a writer and comedian based out of the Chicagoland area.


The Blonde in the Kitchen

by Sabina Stent

© 20th Century Fox

© 20th Century Fox

One image always makes me think of summer: Marilyn Monroe, clad in a white halter neck dress, red lipstick and white-heeled shoes, standing over a New York subway grate in The Seven Year Itch.

Summer and Billy Wilder’s film are intrinsically connected in my mind. Titled after the psychological theory of boredom and general malaise that occurs in the seventh year of marriage—a condition that significantly rises at the height of summer—Wilder’s film perfectly captures the primal effects of intense heat and the potency of warmer environmental conditions and temptation. That intense heat may be responsible for flirtations, fantasies and revelries, enhancing moods, removing inhibitions and altering behaviours. It’s an “anything goes” mentality. Anything can happen.

New York is too hot for wives and children in the summer, as husbands swelter away in their offices while families frolic at the shore for a few weeks. Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell) is one of these men, dutifully waving his wife Helen and son away at the station before returning to his empty apartment, a summer of bachelorhood, and the male playground that has taken over Manhattan. He begins with good intentions—he will abstain from liquor, cigarettes and junk food, dutifully mail his son’s forgotten paddle and be on his best behaviour. All of these vows last until he meets his new neighbour upstairs (Monroe, enigmatically credited as “The Girl”). Monroe’s dynamic sexual potency has also been elevated by the intense temperature, and her potent sensuality immediately works its way into Sherman’s cerebral cortex, blurring his sense of reality; he begins to hallucinate scenarios when she ensnares him after being overcome by his piano-playing ability.

The film—essentially about one man’s mid-life crisis in the height of summer—has always struck me as interesting in part because of its overall tone of seediness. Tom Ewell (reprising the part he originally played in the stage production) portrays Sherman as a predatory leach very successfully, despite extracting less audience sympathy than another Wilder character, Jack Lemmon in The Apartment. Although Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter was essentially pimping out his apartment for prestige and personal gain, we felt for his misgivings and, more significantly, he was not married. This is the clincher: all the men in The Seven Year Itch come across as, to put it bluntly, desperate. Monroe is a manifestation of all of their heat-induced fantasies, almost as though the high temperatures and male desperation have summoned her like a genie from a lamp. She is a non-threatening presence, immune to the male lust that she faces while maintaining the image of a male summer fantasy on a plate. More interestingly, we never actually see her engage with any other women. This only adds to her illusory, phantom-like nature.

Sherman hardly makes a subtle first impression on The Girl. His tongue literally falls from his mouth, he cannot remove his eyes from her as she walks away, and he visually stalks her up the stairs to her apartment. I cannot help thinking that if he were a cartoon character his heart would thump out of his chest and his eyes would be transformed into two giant red hearts. He not so much melts as collapses at her feet, continuing to talk incessantly, unable to divert his eyes from her as she wiggles away. When he is almost killed by an over-watered tomato plant falling from her balcony, she throws a bucket of ice water on his rage by appearing and apologising. At the end of their conversation, Monroe delivers one of the script’s most memorable lines of dialogue when she shares her secret to remaining cool: “I put my undies in the icebox.”

Monroe may look like a bombshell, but the role—essentially constructed around her image—is that of a sweet, largely naïve girl who is oblivious to her married neighbour’s predatory advances. Always polite and courteous—she continues to ask about his family—the only thing she desires from Sherman is his air conditioning. I doubt that he would act as highly strung (or as lustfully) in the winter months, but the height of summer emphasises everything. Sherman is a cliché, contemplating his life’s malaise; after desiring some excitement—something new, fresh and fun—here it is! Voila! He has been presented with a cake that is screaming (in his mind, at least) “EAT ME!” She is the itch in his marriage and he only wants to scratch it more.

Maybe this idea—that summer is the time for fun and play, and to hell with age, responsibilities or social situations—is ingrained in the human psyche. Summer for the men left in Manhattan is the Fight Club of seasons, the adult equivalent of Spring Break, and (in the words of Grease), the days of “Summer Lovin’.” They come across as pitiful—they have regressed back to their college selves who spent their summer months going wild in Cancun—hoping that any woman who is not attached will look at them.

There are fewer things more fantastic than watching an incredibly sexually potent woman make a man crumble without any flirtation. Every single word that Monroe utters is a turn-on for Sherman and, while she remains oblivious, he finds all of her actions incredibly seductive. Monroe was actually a wonderful comedian, something she is rarely given enough credit for, and perfectly uses her “kooky” blonde image to maximum effect. Her aforementioned tip for keeping cool is an absolute scream. She thinks that she is having the most regular, run-of-the-mill conversations, but everything she does and says gets Sherman increasingly hot under the collar. The discovery that the ‘artful’ photographs she once posed for are in the book sitting on Sherman’s bookshelf only adds to his troubles, and her innocent offer to sign the pages is only met with more pent-up sexual agitation. The Girl has no interest in Sherman sexually, thinks that it is ‘wonderful’ that he is married, and is more aroused by the air conditioner that he has cooling his apartment while she swelters upstairs. Immersed in Manhattan’s rising temperatures, Sherman appears ready to combust. Every word that falls from his lips pains him, and soon his body temperature has become hotter than the sidewalk, especially as she shares another personal anecdote on keeping cool:

You know what I tried yesterday? I tried to sleep in the bathtub. Just lying there up to my neck in cold water... But there was something wrong with the faucet. It kept dripping. It was keeping me awake, so you know what I did? I pushed my big toe up the faucet... The only thing was, my toe got stuck and I couldn't get it back out again... No, but thank goodness there was a phone in the bathroom, so I was able to call the plumber... He was very nice, even though it was Sunday, I explained the situation to him and he rushed right over... But it was sort of embarrassing... Honestly, I almost died. There I was with a perfectly strange plumber and no polish on my toenails.

Monroe’s performance combines impeccable comic timing and physical comedy with an inherent self-awareness; her ability to acknowledge and “send up” her own self-image is at the core of The Seven Year Itch, and is why it remains so endearing. Furthermore, it links back to the idea that she is a mirage, a heat-created fantasy created by the male imagination. A walking, talking representation of the male gaze. She is an object to be visually consumed; a delicacy to be optically devoured—concepts only strengthened by Sherman’s tendency to concoct fabricated stories in his mind. Her hallucinatory nature is cleverly expressed in one a simple exchange:

Richard Sherman: [continuing; crazed] Because I can explain everything: the stairs, the cinnamon toast, the blonde in the kitchen.

Tom MacKenzie: [interrupts; incredulous] Wait! Wait a minute Dickey-Boy. What blonde in the kitchen?

Richard Sherman: [seething with contempt] Oh, wouldn't you like to know! Maybe it's Marilyn Monroe!

The Girl? An illusion, a product of fantasy caused by one man’s sexual lust, rising temperatures and irrepressible sex appeal. Even her costume is telling. Clad in virginal all-white or blush-pink she is a stereotypical apparition, a figment of the male imagination. Then we reach that scene—yes, that iconic moment: white dress billowing out from her body as she stands over the subway vent, momentarily exposing her legs, and gleefully exclaiming “isn’t it delicious?” What I always find curious about this scene is its striptease element: it is extremely brief, we do not see much, and it is all implied and left to our imagination. Due to censorship, a huge portion of the film was toned down for sexual content, and we remember the moment as more risqué than it really was. It is a playful moment—a hint, a tease, a forbidden glimpse, a thrill, made all the more honest by how clearly The Girl relishes the coolness around her legs, delightfully and openly expressing her feelings. She is not ashamed or embarrassed that she has been exposed, and why should she be? It is summer, people wear far less on the street and at the beach, and it is so hot you need to find the coolness wherever you can.

The Seven Year Itch is a summer film, but it is Marilyn Monroe’s summer film. It is an exploration of the male fantasy—his ego, his tendency to crumble when an attractive women looks at him during the height of summer. Manhattan is Summer Camp for men, the City turning into a bunch of lecherous overheated randy business men with Monroe as the beacon of good behaviour and decency.

The heat can do very strange things to people—I know that it can affect my mind and send me off in a hallucinogenic daze. As I’m writing this, London is having its hottest day in a decade, with temperatures reaching up to 98°F. I think I’ll go and stick my undies in the icebox.


Sabina Stent is a London based freelance film and culture writer who has written for BFI, Little White Lies and academic journals among others. She has a PhD in Women Surrealists and is currently writing her first book, The Hollywood Surreal, for The Critical Press.


How a Stray Dog Becomes Rabid

by Kevin Harris

My family and I moved to Los Angeles at the beginning of what would turn out to be California’s hottest year on record. For my wife, who had grown up in L.A. and loathed the winters of the East Coast, this was, if anything, good news — it was as if California were welcoming her back, making up for the Snowmageddons and the hurricane weather she’d endured in her time there. But I had trouble seeing it the same way.

As someone who’s never really understood the appeal of summer, I knew L.A. would be an adjustment, but the unrelenting intensity of that year still caught me off-guard, and the sun - the omnipresent sun - soon became the driving force behind every little thing that went wrong after the move: I knew the commute would be rough, for instance, but I hadn’t been quite prepared to spend four hours a day on the road, watching the heat radiate off the cars idling around me, the windows up and the AC on full blast. I knew Los Angeles would put a strain on our finances, but I didn’t expect to have our car repossessed six months in. After that, I would walk the kids to preschool; less than five minutes out the door, I would be covered in sweat, and their little faces would quickly become beet red. I had expected some minor hardships like I had expected the warmth, but they had all managed to exceed these expectations. The more things went wrong, the more oppressive and maddening the heat became. Because when fortunes start to turn, the easiest thing in the world is to blame outside forces; to set the scenario up in such a way that it becomes an insurmountable wall that you can bang your head against.

It’s probably not a good sign to find common ground with a murderer, but in this sense, at least, I can see where the antagonist of Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) is coming from. Yusa (Isao Kimura) is a young man for whom the world has become an escalating series of misfortunes aimed squarely at him. He saw men become monsters during World War II and, upon his return, he found a world unwilling or unable to welcome him back. On the train ride home someone steals his knapsack, all his worldly possessions — a sign, it seems, that his troubles will not end just because the war is over. Now he lives in a homemade shack not fit for human habitation. He has no money and no job. In the winter his shed is an icebox, and in the summer, an oven. Outside his hut, a stray cat mews pitifully, begging for food. In what Yusa views as an act of mercy, he crushes the starving cat's skull beneath his foot. Because for Yusa, to feed the cat would be to give it false hope.

Yusa is already plenty miserable, but it isn’t until a string of unbearably hot days hits Tokyo that he finally snaps and decides to do something desperate. A narrator first introduces us to this reality, but his words are superfluous — the hot spell’s influence is visible in every frame of Stray Dog. Characters are constantly wiping sweat off their faces, necks, and even armpits, fanning themselves with whatever object is at hand, while every exposed body part glistens with sweat and every article of clothing is soaked through. Whatever morality Yusa still clings to, whatever spirit he still has left, is finally broken during this heat wave.

So Yusa gets a gun. He needs one in order to rob a bank to give himself the life he deserves and to buy gifts for the showgirl he lusts after. Yusa’s mania isn’t caused by the weather, of course — it was only a matter of time before he finally broke — but when the world seems out to get you, every little indignity becomes another reason to despair, and for him, the summer sun is inescapable. So he rents a gun from a dealer in the city in order to change his own fortune. Unfortunately for him the gun is the stolen property of a policeman, one whose mania, though employed towards a different goal, stems from the same place as Yusa’s — a need to prove to the world he is more than just the things that happen to him.

What we learn about Yusa we learn through the journey of this policeman, a rookie detective named Murakami (Toshiro Mifune) who has every reason to hate the stifling atmosphere just as much as Yusa, if not more. His misfortune begins with a moment of carelessness brought on by the current heat and the sleeplessness of the previous night. On a crowded bus, an exhausted Murakami stands pressed up against the other passengers, sweat dripping from his face. He does not notice that the woman who stinks of cheap perfume has slipped her hand into his pocket, does not register its sudden lightness until he has already gotten off at his stop, finally free of the suffocation of the bus.

For Murakami, the transition back to civilian life was no better than Yusa’s. He too, had his knapsack stolen on the journey back — an occurrence more common than one would hope — and he too became frustrated and disillusioned. But where Yusa took this misfortune and used it to rail against the world around him, Murakami internalized it, extending his responsibility to everything he touched and that touched him.

After he learns about Yusa’s story from his sister, not long after the first bullet from his stolen Colt leaves a man wounded, Murakami sits down with Sato, the veteran detective assigned to the case (Takashi Shimura, playing perhaps one of the earliest examples of a detective too old for this shit) and, over beers, tries to explain why he doesn’t hate the criminal who is using his gun to hurt others. He understands where he is coming from, understands how he feels, and even though Murakami may have chosen a different path, he knows how close he came to being Yusa himself, to being that kitten crying in the rain. “They say there aren’t any bad men,” he tells Sato, “just bad situations.”

But Sato has been around much longer than Murakami; he’s had too many encounters with the Yusas of this world. “You can’t forget the many sheep a lone wolf leaves wounded,” he says, adding simply, “The bad guys are bad.” For Sato, the only thing the two men have in common is misfortune.

It’s not that nothing gets to Murakami. He feels every slight at least as deeply as Yusa does. He is not left unaffected by the unrelenting humidity or the havoc Yusa causes. But for Murakami, the heat is no excuse, his fatigue is no excuse; instead he sees their influence on him as his own personal failures, his lack of will, his lack of strength. His stolen gun is not something that happened to him, but something he failed to stop from happening.

When forensics pulls a bullet from the body of a murdered woman, he asks if it was one of his that killed her. His fellow officer replies, without hesitation, “No, it was one of Yusa’s.” But Murakami refuses to recognize the difference.

At the hospital, after a bullet leaves Sato seriously wounded, Murakami demands once again to know if it was his gun that did the deed. No one will answer; no one can look him in the eye. He collapses by the door of the operating room and screams at Sato, begging him not to die, and he continues to do so as his colleagues drag him away.

For my family, the nadir of that first year wasn’t quite so dramatic, but it did end with us in the hospital. My two-year-old son contracted a fever that caused him to seize — something he had never done, something we had never anticipated. He was fine — these types of seizures are more common than one would think, the doctor told us — but I couldn’t help holding it against our new home. It was as if the temperature outside had invaded my son’s body — the endless summer had gone from mildly annoying to actively harmful. I began to look at every cloudless day as a personal affront; a way of telling me that I was not welcome there. It wasn’t true or fair, of course, and I knew that, but I couldn’t quite let it go.

Because our problems weren’t nearly as dramatic and because we were not in a movie, I didn’t go out and rob a bank to get back at the world or to pay for the medical expenses we accrued. I didn’t hurt anyone or scream at the universe, but I wanted to. I was tired of taking responsibility for everything, even though everything was clearly my responsibility. I was tired of feeling like a failure. And it’s so much easier to get mad at something that can’t fight back than to take on the blame yourself.

Somewhere between Murakami and Yusa lies Harumi (Keiko Awaji), the showgirl with whom Yusa claims to be in love. Harumi doesn’t feel the same way about Yusa, but she appreciates his kindness, and she too feels the world has misused her. When Murakami confronts her, asking after the fugitive’s whereabouts, she rebuffs him. Sure, he bought her a dress using stolen money, but so what? She would have stolen it if she had the guts. “They deserve it for flaunting these things,” she tells him.

Why should Harumi care about what injustice Yusa has perpetrated? What kind of world treats its veterans this way? At least this time events have transpired to work in her favor. She puts the dress on in front of Murakami and twirls for him, telling him all the while how wonderful it is. But her words come out as screams.

Earlier in the movie, Murakami trails the woman who stinks of cheap perfume. He knows she can shed some light on the whereabouts of his gun, but she is refusing to do so. The woman spends the entire day trying to ditch him, to exhaust him, but he is dogged, determined, and finally, she gives up. She comes out to him in the cool of the night and tells him what he wants to know; doing so is a great relief. The woman sighs and lies back, appreciating the slightly less stifling night air, looking at the clear night sky. “In the last twenty years,” she sighs, “I’ve forgotten how wonderful the stars are.”

There has to be a happy medium between Yusa and Murakami. There is only so far you can get, blaming the sun, because the sun is just a big dumb star that will shine on you whether you welcome it or not. But you can’t take everything on yourself, either, even if you should. That is another sort of madness that can leave you collapsed outside a hospital door, consumed by guilt. The pickpocket may not have it all figured out, but at least she knows when she must finally let go, lie back, and appreciate the stars.

When Yusa is finally caught, he too, has the opportunity to lie back and look at the sky — to rest, if only for a moment, and if only while wearing handcuffs. It is a beautiful summer day, the heat wave has finally broken. Above him are flowers in bloom; a dragonfly flits by. In the background he can even hear children singing. He sees beauty in the world, but realizes he abandoned it long ago. Like Harumi and Murakami before him, he screams, but he knows there is no one who will listen.

In the hospital, a recovering Sato tells Murakami to look out of the window at the city below him. Out there, he says, there are many Yusas, and a few good people who will become their next victim. Murakami may not yet be able to get Yusa out of his head, but soon he will blend in with all the other arrests Murakami will make. Soon he will just hate them, that’s all.

In Stray Dog, it’s a thunderstorm that finally breaks the heat. It even contributes to Murakami catching Yusa at last — he slips in the mud when fleeing Sato and stains his new linen suit, giving Murakami the opportunity to identify him. The heat will no longer be there to drive people mad, at least for a little while, though something else will no doubt come along to take its place.

In California, it still hasn’t cooled down. An even hotter year followed that one, and there is still no rain in sight. But for us, at least, the heat broke. Things slowly improved and continue to do so. I’ve stopped cursing the summer, although I still miss the rain. And I will try to remember that it’s just another season; we will remain exactly who we are, but eventually the heat will break.


Kevin Harris spends most of his time writing articles for other people and becoming too emotionally invested in the cartoons his children watch. The two are unrelated. He lives deep in the suburbs of Los Angeles with his family.


Wake Up!

by Jacqueline Ristola

illustration by Michael Hay

illustration by Michael Hay

It begins with a saxophone. The dulcet tones of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” dubbed the Black American National Anthem by the NAACP, plays as the title Do The Right Thing appears on the screen. The song fades and the screen goes to black. And from that darkness emerges Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power,” roaring across the soundtrack as Rosie Perez furiously dances for nearly four minutes against a colorful backdrop.

And the music doesn’t stop there. The jazzy score (composed by writer/director Spike Lee’s father) follows the black elders of the block, while Public Enemy follows a black youth. Lee’s editing brings the musical styles into creative tension: like the different generations, they express the same longing for liberation, but in contrasting ways.

Unresolved tension flows throughout Do The Right Thing. And we don’t just see it. We feel it in every aching body, every face full of sweat. Do The Right Thing is viscerally human, and few walk away from it unshaken.

*

I remember the first time I shared the film. I was a sophomore in college, and finally figured out what I wanted to do with my life: I wanted to study film. I enrolled in film courses and even joined a student leadership group that taught other students pop culture criticism. In January, our group leaders asked me to present the film and then lead a discussion with the rest of the group.

I presented Do The Right Thing in the Art History lecture hall, and for two hours we sat as the blood and sweat of the film seeped into our bones.

When the film ended, most were bewildered as they tried to articulate a response. They tried in vain to figure out the eponymous "Right Thing". If only it were that easy.

*

How does a film about a series of encounters, of conversations, of arguments, of debates, of clashes within a single city block of Bed-Stuy in 1989 create such an astounding effect?

For starters, Do the Right Thing perfectly captures a moment—a hot summer day in 1989—and the audience experiences it fully, in all its sweltering intensity. The orange-tinted cinematography of Ernest R. Dickerson imbues the film with the heat as it bullies this particular block. The discomfort. The sweat. The unending tension. The heat bears down, unrepentant, and we feel it.

We also feel for the characters. To describe Do The Right Thing is to describe a series of movements, interactions between various individuals and groups within a confined set of space. There’s Mookie, his sister Jade, and his girlfriend Tina. There’s Sal the Italian pizzeria owner and his two sons, Pino and Vito. There’s the Korean grocers across the street. There’s Mister Señor Love Daddy, the radio DJ down the block. The Puerto Rican kids hanging out on their favorite stoop. The Celtics fan that owns the Brownstone. Smiley the stutterer traveling the streets.

The film starts in tension, with a contrast in its music. The script addresses the same tension in a different way.

As Sal’s opens for business, Mookie’s friend Buggin’ Out enters, buys a slice, and sits down. Right before he bites into the slice, he stops and looks at the wall. He sees white faces staring back at him: DeNiro, Pacino, Sinatra. White Italian men with prominent film careers return his gaze.

Sitting in the middle of Bed-Stuy on a hot summer morning, Buggin’ Out asks a pertinent question:

Hey, Sal, how come they ain't no brothas on the wall?

From there, the conversations build, the arguments fly, and the tensions flare as we learn about the block, its characters and history.

We spend time with all of them and grow to understand them, their personalities, their weaknesses, and their ideas. Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) is an old black man who has seen the Civil Rights revolution, and its failures, and now mostly bears the burden through alcohol. Mookie (writer/director Spike Lee) is often an emissary, tying the community together, but he’s also obsessed with money and neglectful of his family. Sal (Danny Aiello), who loves and feels loved by the community, also clings to his baseball bat—a symbol of both violence and the heartland of America.

Then there’s Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn). A young, strong, black man with a fierce sense of pride in his identity, blaring “Fight The Power” from his massive boombox as he constantly walks the block. His presence is so powerful that the camera often tilts as Radio Raheem asserts his identity.

Everyone in Do the Right Thing articulates an idea, a history, with a presence both symbolic and utterly real at the same time. The block is not just a metaphor with skin, but a fully realized, connected being of character and meaning.

Near the end of the film, Lee shows us the entire block. And we know it well, both its geography and its people. We’ve spent well over an hour watching this dynamic neighborhood function, perhaps even briefly thrive. (All the more traumatic when we see it fall apart.) We’ve watched the frays and the clashes, the arguments surrounding who belongs on the block, what it means, and how they're going to live in it. By closing time at Sal’s pizzeria, the film quiets down to a peaceful reflection. It was a good day, right?

*

The block is not just a community, but a multitude of communities, each and every one with their own cultural scripts. Language, tradition, history—everyone lives by their own cultural codes, clinging to them for stability. After all, who are we without our identity?

Do The Right Thing’s characters, and their cultures, coexist in a contested space. Black, Italian, Korean, they all brush and bristle against each other on the block, cultures clashing in the real world. And they will use any means to preserve their sense of identity.

Sal holds fast to property ownership to justify the cultural barriers within the pizzeria, decorated in the colors of the Italian flag. He forbids any “jungle music” playing in his establishment. He smothers, one way or another, black cultural expression. Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out will endure no more. Entering shortly before Sal closes up shop, they demand he put pictures of brothers on the wall. Smiley stands by them, while “Fight The Power” blasts from Radio Raheem’s boombox. Sound and fury pervades the air as everyone begins to argue. It escalates.

By the end, Sal’s Pizzeria is in flames, and Radio Raheem is dead.

*

In our discussion, the group leaders—who were white—described the first time they saw the film.

They walked away incredibly moved by the loss of the pizzeria. Much of their lifelong work is about the importance of place within a community, and the destruction of the cultural space in the film spoke to them. It took more time, and a second viewing, for them to realize that Radio Raheem was dead.

Their reaction was much like the rest of America when the film premiered in 1989. As a former professor of mine put it, when the film premiered it was like white and black audiences saw entirely different movies.

By the end of the film, it’s as if a part of us has been ripped away. We spend two hours with these characters, this block, this pizzeria, that radio station. Do The Right Thing moves us by illustrating their experiences and makes us sympathize with their various plights. But the film also presented us with a split. Is the path to freedom through peaceful resistance, the way of Da Mayor and the people of yesteryear, symbolized by the jazz score accompanying the elderly folks in the film? Or will the revolution be promulgated through the hip hop score of Public Enemy, led by Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem? What's the answer, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X? Did Mookie do the Right Thing?

The film does not rest at mere equivocation. In the morning after, Da Mayor remarks to fellow elderly community figure Mother Sister “I hope the block is still standing." To which she replies, “We’re still standing.”

Because it’s people who make a block. It’s people who make a community. And it’s people who make a difference.

*

Before the pizzeria goes up in flames, the crowd—the community—processes what just happened.

-They Killed Him
-They Killed Radio Raheem
-It's Murder
-Did It Again
-Just Like They Did Michael Stewart
-Murder
-Eleanor Bumpers
-Murder
-It's Not Safe
-Not Even In Our Own Neighborhood
-It's Not Safe
-Never Was
-Never Will Be

The cries continue today. Twelve year old Tamir Rice, killed two seconds after the police arrived. Eric Garner choked to death by police, his final words a desperate cry of “I can’t breathe.” Michael Brown, killed the night before his college debut. Walter Scott, with evidence planted near his corpse to justify his murder. Trayvon Marton and Oscar Grant, killed for having the audacity to exist in a way that their killers found “suspicious.” Not to mention countless more who fall dead and forgotten; Rumain Brisbon and Akai Gurley. Kajieme Powell, Tyree Woodson, Yvette Smith, Victor White III. All form a list that is both already too long and sadly unfinished.

This film blazes. It blazes with the rage against racial injustice, and it blazes with truth. Not just because the film captures what our nation was like back in 1989, but because it hasn’t really changed. We haven’t changed. Systemic racism continues, and the bodies pile up on the floor.

The heat in Do the Right Thing isn’t just the heat—it’s the symbolic state of the nation. A nation that claims to be a melting pot, but is more like a broiling swath of culture clashes, groups with various identities brushing up against each other with increasing friction as each try to eek out a living. It’s the intensity of living in a cross-cultural landscape arising from a foundation of genocide, rape, and slavery.

Do The Right Thing surrounds us with its heat. It forces us to peer into our boiling pot of a nation and deal with what gets reflected back. We can hardly bear the gaze.

“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”


Jacqueline Ristola begins her graduate degree in Cinema and Media Studies at York University this fall. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


I Carried a Watermelon

by Amanda McCleod

illustration by Brianna Ashby

illustration by Brianna Ashby

We’ve all been there. Those long summer car trips with friends or family, ambling off towards some far away, inevitably lakeside destination that we’re only able to shrug our shoulders at. Adulthood lies in wait beyond some distant horizon, in a future where you’re finally the one driving the car and your destination is dictated by you and you alone. But for now you’re young and your summer’s fate lies in the hands of an over-packed station wagon. A cracked passenger window forces the scents of sunscreen, bug spray, and half-eaten snacks to intermingle, all the while your sibling’s annoyance at the whole predicament palpably escalates. What could be more awkward than having to spend those first moments of post-tween self-realization crammed into unavoidable proximity with your family? Throw in growth spurts, heightened heartbeats, and burgeoning adolescence and you’ve got quite a heady cocktail. Summer vacation, barreling down the road and back again—counting the cars and having no real expectations beyond a sunburn, a swim, and just getting through it.

Dirty Dancing opens with the Houseman family driving up to Kellermen’s, an affluent resort in the Catskill Mountains. It’s 1963 and the family of four—Mr. and Mrs. Houseman and their daughters, Lisa and Frances—arrive at Kellermen’s in hopes of having a relaxing, enjoyable, wholesome family vacation. In terms of idyllic summer getaways Kellerman’s seems to offer just about everything: sprawling cabin bungalows, group activities, morning announcements, attractive camp counselors, a lake with a dock, and ample opportunities for embarrassment in front of your peers. The resort functions as a kind of platonic ideal for how one should spend an all-American summer, which fits perfectly, since Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey) belongs to a model all-American family: Dad is a physician, mom is a looker with a good golf swing, and sister Lisa is equal parts bratty and beautiful. Frances, the kid sister on the verge of college, with dreams of someday joining the Peace Corps, first appears to us dressed down in white keds and one of her father's old shirts.

Dirty Dancing is one of those films that will make me scream “WHAT?!” in your face if you dare to tell me you haven’t seen it yet. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I should confess that I hadn’t actually seen it myself until somewhat recently. Once I had seen it, though, I immediately began to wonder in earnest what sort of person I might have been had I caught the film in middle school, high school, or even college. Baby was the protagonist I had always needed but could never find: a relatable female character with pluck and self-conviction who manages to not only better the lives of those around her, but to woo all-around cool guy Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). She was clumsy, naive, and decidedly teenage-ish, but never let any of that impede upon her genuine good nature. She was, much like me, all heart and no cool.

Like Baby, I was once a sheltered young girl. I grew up in the shadow of the church, wearing strict school uniforms and attending weekly mass until I graduated high school. To say my upbringing was conservative would be a grand understatement. I was a gawky, shy, impossibly awkward kid, before finally “blossoming”—rather lacklusterly—into a classic textbook version of a goody two shoes. A closet tomboy with no playground guts, I spent most of my youth daydreaming outside in Florida’s eternal summer heat. Like most introverts, I had a rich inner life and a strong internal sense of self, but outwardly I often struggled to assert or believe in it. Life seemed to be parading me along haplessly, my youth like one long, inescapable, humiliating conga line that I could never quite shirk away from.

Growing up I read plenty of comics and fables where "good" consistently trumped "bad". But let's face it, being "good" is rarely “cool” and being cool is just about all that matters to teenagers (with the possible exception of crushes). Nevermind actually dancing—or any other sort of honest outward expression—the likes of which seemed just plain impossible to me. To dance would have been to perform an insufferable display of vulnerability. Who doesn’t still cringe at the memory of their first middle school dance? The fumbling hands on waistlines, being forced to leave room for the “holy spirit”. The burden of an unprecedented sense of abstract longing (aka: a crush) and having no means with which to articulate that longing, except to gently sway and be consumed whole by embarrassment. I didn’t learn how to love dancing until I found a way to stop feeling continually embarrassed on the dance floor. This took years, decades even, and somewhere along the way I realized it applied to the rest of my life as well: I didn’t really learn to deeply enjoy anything until I stopped worrying about trying to be cool.

Baby resonates so deeply with me because she initially presents with the gentle naivety of a young girl, only to eventually reveal an underlying, immovable moral fiber. Her transformation throughout the film could be considered somewhat unremarkable—certainly the story of any young woman’s coming-of-age/first love could be fraught with frivolity, the soft focus stuff of a Nicholas Sparks screenplay. The thing that strikes me about Dirty Dancing, though, is that the catalyst for Baby’s transformation is never entirely centered on romance. Despite her attraction to the seemingly unattainable Johnny, there’s no one moment in the film that leads us to believe Baby takes all the risks she does simply to impress him. Her actions seem as much for her as they are for him, or anybody else. The twist—if you can call it one—is that Baby’s nerve and apparent fearlessness are ultimately what pull Johnny into her orbit. Dirty Dancing is not a makeover story: Baby becomes Johnny’s love interest simply by being her unbridled, earnest self.

Throughout the film we witness a girl in slouchy sweaters and over-sized shirts slowly growing into her own posture and, moreover, assuming a position of increased agency and dominance both in her own life and on the dance floor. Baby is continually uncovering as much about the world as she is about her own potential. Jennifer Grey’s performance is nuanced enough that we get to see Baby fully, in moments of both awkwardness (“I carried a watermelon”) and of heartbreaking honesty with her father (“If you love me you have to love all the things about me”). In one scene we see Baby boldly confronting her sister’s sleazy suiter, Robbie, while wearing a long sleeve striped shirt. In the scene that follows she’s cut the sleeves off that shirt, in an attempt to better fit in at the secret staff dance party. Show a little skin, stand up straighter, look aloof, and the rest is a bluff waiting to be called. Ultimately we see Baby transition from girlhood to womanhood, asking Johnny to dance alone in his room (“Dance with me.” “What here?” “Here.”) while Solomon Burke’s “Cry For Me” plays. Baby moves from fumbling to taking charge, from not knowing any of the steps to playfully scolding a smitten Johnny to keep out of her "dance space".

Contrast this to Swayze’s Johnny Castle, who feels continually put down by his superiors, his job, his status in life as the son of a unionized house painter. At first, Johnny is unable to reconcile his worldview with Baby’s seemingly naive and tireless optimism, dismissing the integrity Baby shows. He initially writes Baby off, until her commitment to their dance routine is forcibly asserted in a moment of heated frustration, as Baby retorts “I’m doing all this to save your ass, what I really want to do is drop you on it!”. (In real life, Grey and Swayze infamously despised working with one another, so those moments when Swayze’s patience breaks are likely heated for a reason.) Grey is unflappable and her chemistry with Swayze—or supposed lack there of—imbues the film's narrative with a palpable passion. The resulting smiles and stolen glances shared between the characters on the drive back from their successful mamba performance become every bit as memorable as the final act’s iconic “lift”.

Dance was certainly something of a preoccupation for director and choreographer Emile Ardolino and screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein. Ardolino’s early career work with PBS on Dance In America and Live From Lincoln Center won him a total of 17 Emmy nominations. Eleanor Bergstein based the screenplay on her own life, having spent her summers dancing at camps and competing in teen mamba competitions. You don’t have to love dance or dancing to loveDirty Dancing, but the film certainly doesn’t disappointment if you do. (I do.) Besides being enormously entertaining and achingly romantic to watch, the dance scenes also serve to underscore the larger themes of communication, trust, and courage that drive the film’s plot. Dancing, not unlike the many transitions of one's adolescence, forces an unavoidable honesty, an openness from which you cannot hide or recoil. As Johnny puts it: “It’s a feeling, a heartbeat.” Find yourself a good dance partner in life and everything else becomes white noise, a faceless audience concealed by backlighting.

Dirty Dancing’s summer of new romances, self-discovery, sneaking out, and deceiving parents eventually draws to a close with a talent show grand finale, complete with famous lines (“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!”) and a big swelling dance number. Everyone has had “the time of their life” at Kellermen’s, and, thanks to Baby and Johnny’s dancing, things just might work out okay for the old-fashioned camp. Sure, there’s probably a symbolic correlation between Baby finally being able to do the lift and her own personal self-actualization. Gravity defying dance moves and catchy songs distract, however, from an earlier, tender moment that always stood out to me even more. Shortly after Johnny’s initial dismissal from the camp, a quiet farewell between Baby and Johnny illustrates the equals they've come to discover in one another, and echoes a sentiment we all hope to hear at the close of summer:

“I’ll never be sorry.”

“Neither will I.”


Amanda McCleod is a freelance writer and sometimes illustrator living in Brooklyn. She is very enthusiastic about dancing.


The Dizzying Heat of Summer Nostalgia

by John Douglass

illustration by Amanda McCleod

illustration by Amanda McCleod

One of the best things about teaching is the time off. I love my job, I really do—but I also love when it ends for three months and I have a significant amount of time to spend doing projects, reading and generally relaxing. The downside to the scheduled summer vacation time is the reaction it incites in others. People often argue that it justifies the relatively low salary most teachers receive, but I believe the real reason summer vacation upsets these detractors is that they are jealous. No matter how much one loves one’s job, or—even more prevalent in most cases—the money one makes from said job, I don’t think it a stretch to say that most people would enjoy taking a break from that job for a few months every year.

I live in the upper Midwest, where summer is treasured in that way specific to any place that spends half the calendar year with temperatures hovering around freezing. My summers these days are an incredible panacea to the ills of the inevitably dragging school year, but my enjoyment of summer vacation now is nothing compared to my delight in the school year’s end when I was young. To describe myself as nostalgic for those immensely free summer vacations is to understate things significantly.

Nostalgia, in my case, is easy. My childhood was pretty idyllic by most standards, particularly in the summer, and not that dissimilar to the one depicted in the 1993 summer baseball pastiche, The Sandlot. Our house bordered a few acres of woodland comprising a meandering creek—at that point still filled with small fish and crayfish to collect—and a few steep drop-offs in the landscape that seemed cliffs to us when we were small. I spent months down there with my siblings and friends, building forts and campfires out of found wood, pretending we were on any number of adventures. When we were not outside, we watched movies; naturally, one of our favorites was The Sandlot. I connected to The Sandlot because it contained a perfect storm of things important to me: harebrained schemes, young male friendships, a killer oldies soundtrack, and baseball.

The local ballpark was a mile or so away from the house where I grew up, and very early on, we were allowed to take our bikes there whenever we had practice. My brother and I spent as much time at that ballpark as possible, at least until I started to realize I wasn’t really any good at baseball, despite how much I loved it. We idolized the older “coaches” in the summer league. To us, they were mystifyingly mature and accomplished ballplayers, with skill sets that qualified them to play, if not for the Twins, at least in college or Single or Double A ball. It was later—sometime in high school, I think—when I realized that I could apply for and likely get that coaching job myself, which certainly brought those childhood giants a bit down to earth. I was no Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez, for whom, as The Sandlot says, “Baseball was life,” but I recognized and identified with that feeling. In a way, I wanted it—spending time at the ballpark, pee-wee or professional, is one of the best things to do in the summertime. As an adult with no kids, the latter is still achievable, but the former I miss.

As a movie, The Sandlot is baked in the dizzy heat of summer vacation nostalgia. But let’s get this out of the way first: The Sandlot is not a great film. It is less a coherent whole than a series of vignettes following the same characters. Story and character arcs appear and resolve themselves almost immediately in no real structurally significant fashion. The story opens on geeky misfit Scotty Smalls, a recent transplant to the neighborhood after his mother—played with incredible support in just a few tiny scenes by Karen Allen—has moved in with his new stepfather, a delightfully subdued Denis Leary. Smalls loves Erector sets (apparently the early 1960s equivalent of video games), can’t throw or catch a baseball, and—horror of horrors—doesn’t know that The Great Bambino is just a nickname for Babe Ruth. Smalls' progression, from a kid who runs a retrieved ball in to the pitcher from left field because he is so embarrassed by his throwing ability, to a home run hitting baseball aficionado, happens absurdly quickly, as does his acceptance by the other boys. All of that is wrapped up in the film’s first twenty minutes. The middle section of the film is simply individual scenes made up of small conflicts: home runs are hit; feuds are established and quashed; illicit chewing tobacco is sampled and subsequently ralphed off a carnival ride; a beautiful, entirely age-inappropriate lifeguard is tricked into kissing a kid named ‘Squints.’ The third section involves a traditional quest to retrieve a signed Babe Ruth baseball after it was hit over the left field fence into a yard guarded by a notoriously bloodthirsty dog. It’s a silly movie. Not all of the pieces work, and many of them don’t fit together, but everything about it is enjoyable. Flaws aside, it’s the kind of movie that kids can’t help but love, and to love it as an adult is to have loved it as a kid. The power of nostalgia enhances the magic of the movie and glosses over its weaknesses.

The film itself is obsessed with nostalgia—an unexpected and surprisingly bold direction for a film directed toward children, as the target audience of the film is ostensibly living the life it will spend its adult days nostalgically pining for. The framing device involves a now middle-aged Smalls calling a Dodgers game that just so happens to feature his childhood pal Rodriguez. The entire movie is a flashback seemingly triggered after the camera lovingly scans past some odd baseball ephemera—all of which will show up in the film—and lingers on a picturesque old photograph. Throughout the movie, the boys speak constantly about their reverence for Babe Ruth and other ball players of old. They gather for a campout to tell ghost stories about Mr. Mertle, the man behind their sandlot’s fence and the owner of “The Beast,” the legendarily bloodthirsty dog—a tale helpfully presented in grainy, faux-old-timey, black-and-white flashback.

When we finally meet Mr. Mertle, he, just like Denis Leary’s Bill, is obsessed with not just his own baseball past, but that of his contemporaries’, filling his house (and in Bill’s case, a specifically designated “trophy” room) with mementos and signed photographs explicitly tying him to the men he used to know and admire. When Benny is running from the seemingly murderous dog, the epic chase takes him through a movie theater playing the 1942 film The Wolf Man. While tangentially thematically appropriate to the idea of mythical beast creatures, it is nonetheless an old movie, even for the time the film is attempting to portray—again tying the film to its own past.

As in life, the nature of memory is a funny thing in The Sandlot. In some early scenes, as well as in the flashback, The Beast is clearly some sort of animatronic puppet, a nightmarish mecha-canine behemoth worthy of the adversary role the boys have assigned to it. When Benny finally “pickles” The Beast, though still impressively large, it is a realistic and recognizable bull mastiff. Similarly, the story Squints tells about The Beast and Mr. Mertle’s origins, while romantic in a ghost story kind of way (despite its obvious narrative implausibilities like man-eating garbage-protecting dogs and “people concerned about all the missing thieves”), of course turns out to be completely wrong. I choose to see these choices as deliberate in their attempts to visualize for the viewer the mythic proportions The Beast achieved in the minds of the boys.

In these moments, the obsession the characters have with the past of their town and the sport they love is inseparable from exaggeration or even downright falsehood. They believe in the mythology of Mr. Mertle and Babe Ruth, “The Sultan of Swat,” with all fibers of their beings. Literal truth is irrelevant when one can place oneself on a continuum of human existence that includes such legendary figures.

Nostalgia itself is a fascinatingly slippery entity. Here’s the thing: I didn’t live in 1962. That doesn’t change how nostalgic I feel for that time. Even as a kid, I actively missed that time. Like the characters in the film, I wanted to be part of that mythos; it is not an uncommon feeling to feel like the best time to be living is the time your life just narrowly missed.

Perhaps in part The Sandlot’s false nostalgia stems from the way the film glorifies the freedom that the boys shared, a freedom that would likely cause those wary of the allegedly recent trend of “free-range” parenting to suffer an absolutely debilitating panic attack. I mean, at one point Scotty’s mother instructs him to “climb trees. Hop fences. Get into trouble, for crying out loud.” My parents, though incredibly permissive and supportive, never quite reached that level. I watched the movie as a kid and wished to live in that time, but I think really it was more that I wished to have that life. I had friends, but I didn’t have The Sandlot kind of friends. I had fun, but I didn’t have “build an incredible erector set catapult that was piloted from your club’s amazing tree house in order to launch a Babe Ruth signed ball over a fence to free it from a miserly murderous beast-dog” fun. At the time, I equated those desires with opportunities only available in a time gone by, a byproduct of the movie’s enforced nostalgia.

Really, I’m not sure anybody lived in the 1962 of The Sandlot. That was a perfect time. A mythic time. The kind of time that only really exists in the movies when visuals, music, slang, and honest history can combine into a sort of alchemy that represents a time period in a way that is at once reverent and completely unfair. As an adult, I see movies that try to work that kind of magic and approach them with a cynical aloofness that dulls their impact. But if I encountered them as a kid, they worked. They still work because that enforced nostalgia is all tied up in my honest, if premature, nostalgia for my own childhood.

There’s a scene in The Sandlot that is perhaps the movie’s most shameless in this regard. Benny comes to round up the boys for a legendary “night game.” It’s the 4th of July, as stereotypically as possible, and the gang plays their usual game under the lights of the fireworks display. At one point, Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful” is playing on the soundtrack, and the boys are, to a one, completely transfixed by the moment. The scene plays out in slow motion as the camera jumps from face to face, each rapturous in the beauty of their own, idyllic lives. It’s absolutely shameless, but it’s gorgeous, and I’ll always see it that way. It’s the life I wish I could have lived and the life I have, all at once


John Douglass spends his day job teaching literature to high schoolers. He lives, works, and enjoys summer in Minneapolis.


You're The One That I Want

by Gillian Singletary

illustration by Brianna Ashby+

illustration by Brianna Ashby+

When I was in high school and wanted to spend a summer night out past my midnight curfew, I would wait until the wall clock by the front door struck the hour and, in one motion, I would slide the deadbolt open, slip out the door and close it behind me while the chimes were still going.

I had to sneak out because the assumption was that my parents would be terrified if I was ever out past midnight. They would punish me to protect me from the monsters that lurked somewhere out there in the dark. I was never caught, though, so I was able to run directly into the arms and beds of all those terrors, as long as I kept getting the timing right.

The summer after my first year of college, I came home and resumed those same ill-advised trysts, now an important year older. The deadbolt no longer scared me because there were no deadbolts or curfews where I had been. The newfound confidence that came home with me would have been fine on its own, but like a puddle of melted popsicle it came with a lot of other dirty things stuck to it: infidelity, regret, and a beautifully blossoming ability to self-medicate.

When you're young, summer is a bridge that dangles between semesters and eventually stands there, daunting and unprotected, trying to lure you across a deep chasm and into the world of adulthood. It's terrifying, but the views are spectacular.

In Adventureland, James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) wants to take his time getting across that bridge, starting with a trip to Europe and taking the long way through grad school. But as soon as he gets home for the summer, his parents tell him they can no longer afford to bankroll his European trip—and Columbia isn't looking too good, either. He has to get a summer job and, with his limited skills, the only one he can land is at the titular local amusement park.

Although initially distraught about the possibility of spending a summer as part of the Games crew, James quickly befriends Joel (Martin Starr) and Em (Kristen Stewart). Early in the summer, Em invites James to a party at her house while her father and stepmother are gone. James and Em end up in the pool together, barely clothed. She is brazen. Like many summer parties, this one serves as an important catalyst. James and Em are fresh acquaintances, but in the embrace of the chlorine, they begin to see each other a little more clearly.

After the party is over, a mysterious phone call ends with Connell, the park's resident handyman/musician/philanderer, at Em's door. It's clear that he's welcome, but Em never smiles. Not when she looks at him. Not when they kiss.

Is it daddy issues that drive her into his arms? Or is the mere fact of having a father and becoming a woman enough to make older men more enticing? Connell is exactly the kind of monster that lurks in the dark. Charming. Handsome. Married. Not afraid to wrap his arms around her and hoist her hips up onto the back of the sofa. And she clings to him because her value to him is her value to herself.

Getting older is not a choice. Becoming an adult whom your parents have no control or claim over is not a choice. But its inevitability doesn't make it any less frightening. When there is no one listening for the deadbolt after midnight, no one looking over your shoulder when you check your email, no one trying to keep you home at all, late night passions take on a whole new color. It's not a playful scandal anymore. It's your life.

Em, like all of us, is flawed. Not damaged, seemingly, by her own insecurities but rather by the abandonment of her father who replaced her dead mother much too quickly. Being flawed is actually an integral part of her cool girl persona, after all. Em's damage is implied by sarcasm, cut off shorts, and band t-shirts. The music.

What would a summer be without a soundtrack? Adventureland may suffer somewhat from the desire to include every favorite song from its era—even the guilty pleasures like the park's incessant "Rock Me Amadeus"—but the resulting soundtrack goes a long way toward locating the film within a very specific time period, and even supplies the season.

With so much free time in the summer, favorite albums or mixtapes are often on repeat. For me, that summer, it was Liz Phair. She had a new (terrible) album out but I was still listening to whitechocolatespaceegg. Even though I don't remember telling him, one of the men I was seeing (though perhaps that's not exactly the right word for what we were doing in his basement apartment) knew I liked her and took me to a show. It's strange to go out in public with someone you normally see only in private. What is there to talk about in the car or between bands or with his much older friends? All that new self-confidence seemed to disappear when I had my clothes on and all I felt was anxiety. Even the raw and powerful femininity of Liz Phair couldn't rescue me from that fear. My body was fine, as perfect as it would ever be, even. But what else could I offer? What else would I ever be able to offer?

James is a character entirely on brand for Jesse Eisenberg: slouchy, awkward, overly intellectual with a tendency to talk too much at the worst possible times. But Em likes him anyway because it's college summer. Because there is nothing to do but drink and stay out late, giving flimsy excuses for the time your car finally rolls up the driveway. Does any father of a college-age girl actually want to know where she was last night, anyway?

The 4th of July comes and Em is still embroiled in her affair with Connell (Ryan Reynolds), while seeing James at the same time. During the fireworks, Em leans up against James and the innocent rush of attraction, of anticipation is stunning. A spark is a bridge, too.

As the summer comes to a close, Em ends her relationship with Connell but as she's leaving their love nest in a torrent of tears, James comes out of the shadows to confront her about the affair, spouting stinging words and then driving away. Em goes back to New York and maybe everything is over. Isn't that the beautiful simplicity of a summer romance? In a torrent of tears or a rearview mirror, it's clean and it's over.

But James can't let go. He takes a bus to New York, no tuition for his first semester at Columbia, and waits for her in the rain. She tries to send him away but he tells her that "you can't just avoid everyone you screw up with." There is an uncomfortable Prince Charming quality to this conclusion, but the idea that James can recognize that Em is indeed being too hard on herself, and can offer her forgiveness, is where the real fairy tale comes in. Is that what growing up is? Letting go of pride and accepting the faults and flaws of the people you love? If so, how many adults have ever made it that far?

Adventureland, I realize now, is definitely about James. But I often forget that because the way in which Em splinters under the pressures of adulthood, of womanhood, is what actually makes the film special. The story of a college graduate losing his virginity is hardly enough to make me look twice, but the story of a girl who is clearly drowning in sorrow and self-doubt is something that speaks directly to me.

We'll never know if this young romance will go past one passionate night, but the image of the rain soaked young lovers gives us hope that there is something worthwhile on the other side of the bridge.

Maybe that's the hardest part about the summer and its inherent, torrid romances: you walk across the bridge together but as the path widens on the other side it becomes so easy to lose contact. And when you see that disconnection coming, it feels that much more tempting to jump


Gillian.jpeg

Gillian Singletary is a writer living in Los Angeles. She loves dogs, eyeliner, and air conditioning. She used to be a teenager and somehow she survived.


The Rich Stuff

by Anna Sjogren

all photos courtesy of the author

all photos courtesy of the author

You have seen this movie a hundred times. Why else would you be sitting here, of all places?

Here, in a bright football field in Astoria, the gem on the North Coast of Oregon. It is Saturday afternoon. The sun is setting.

This harbor town, perched on the Columbia River as it barrels to meet the Pacific Ocean. It is quaint and rickety and old and sleepy and starting to be cool, at least on the weekends. You visit every few months and go to the good vintage shop and the good brewpub and the amazing cajun diner and the fish & chip shop on the bay.

You were born in 1985. You and The Goonies are both turning 30 this year.

Your day is spent wandering around Astoria to check out all the sites where they filmed the movie. The old County Jail where the villainous Fratellis break out of prison—their bullet-ridden 1984 Jeep Cherokee is still parked out front. The bowling alley where Chunk smashes his strawberry milkshake against the glass as he’s riveted to the police chase outside.

You’re starting to get a sunburn on your shoulders.

(Okay, in case YOU haven’t seen The Goonies a hundred times, here’s the rundown. A group of friends get together for a final weekend before their homes in the Goondocks neighborhood are torn down to make way for a yuppie golf course. Our lead kid is Mikey, joined by his older brother Brand, nerdy gadget-obsessed Data, obnoxious Mouth, and beloved clutz Chunk. Meanwhile, the comic-book-villains, Ma Fratelli and her son, have just sprung the second Fratelli brother from the county jail. They’re on the run.

While rummaging through Mikey’s dad’s collection of historical knickknacks in the attic, the boys discover a crumbling Spanish pirate map and a brass doubloon. Nearby in the attic is a newspaper clipping describing the adventure of a man named Chester Copperpot who went off in search of the pirate One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Enchanted, Mikey is convinced that they need to find this treasure and rescue their homes. Along with Brand and two of his classmates from the local high school, the Goonies set off on an adventure following One-Eyed Willie’s map, through a series of dangerous booby traps while being chased by the baddies. They also learn some things about friendship along the way.)

At the swag tent in Astoria, you can buy a dozen different Goonies tee shirts, Goonies mugs and shot glasses, magnets, socks, onesies, hats, action figures. You can take home a bottle opener shaped like the pirate key in the film. You can buy a foot-tall statue of Michelangelo'sDavid, just like the one that Chunk knocks over and breaks (although David’s dick is not removable so it’s not the most authentic of souvenirs). Baby Ruth candy bars are for sale all over town.

Let’s not forget that it’s summer! You pay high morale prices and Vitamin-D deficiency for nine months of the year in exchange for the perfection of Oregon summers. Residents pour onto the sidewalk like open fire hydrants. They flock to the nude beach, the bar patios, revealing as much skin to the bright as possible.

Parks across the state host movies on weekend nights and the city square in downtown Portland screens classic films on the brick steps with the vagrants and downtown traffic swirling around. There’s even a rooftop film series of independent and foreign cinema on top of a hotel.

The early evening is warm but as the sun sets, it quickly cools. You pack a lot to film-go in the summer: blankets to sit on and cover up with, picnic food, the kids, the dog, your neighbors, your coworkers.

Outdoor movies are such a perfect place to love cinema. Finally, you can shout and cheer for the hero and scorn the villains. You can be distracted by the crowd and the stars because you’ve already know what’s going to happen.

You’ve watched The Goonies on your birthday every year, starting around age nine. You watched it when your dog died when you were thirteen and you watched it when you were snowed in with your boyfriend in college. It plays in the background when you make dinner some weekday nights. It’s your go-to movie for anything: for winding down, for re-calibrating. It’s so comforting to see home on the big screen. Here’s an authentic portrait of Oregon during those not-summer months: on-and-off rain, windy adventures in Ecola State Park, dark evergreen forests. You’d get along great with these misfits and would certainly join them in protesting the yuppie golf course. You feel a sense of solidarity with them.

Especially when you’re sitting in the crowd of The Goonies 30th Anniversary in Astoria. There are 1980s costumes and Cyndi Lauper tributes. Everyone is here to watch a pack of kids on an underground pirate adventure. People are going to go nuts at the Truffle Shuffle and there will be a drunk couple sitting behind you who will be literally shouting every line out loud along with the actors. (Luckily for you, they will not last long).

Onscreen, Mikey will talk enthusiastically about the pirate treasure, “the rich stuff” they might be able to discover. “THE RICH STUFF!” your neighbors will howl. “DOWN HERE, IT’S OUR TIME!”

Well, they have a point. This is the rich stuff. You have so many memories with these characters!

But you are turning 30 this year. Childhood feels far away now and will only get further with each passing year.

Maybe you just came here to remember what it feels like. Before it’s too late, before you forget everything. The optimism, the exuberance, the energy. How did you change so much over the years?

“Down here, it’s our time!”

You are turning 30 but you’re also the same age you were when you first saw this movie. Let the weight of adulthood melt away in the setting sun and be your younger self for a few hours.

C’mon, try! Pull up a picnic blanket, the show’s about to start!


Anna Sjogren lives in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. She writes for the Portafilterland coffee profile project and is publishing a memoir this Spring through the Independent Publishing Resource Center's Writing Certificate program. She gets out of town as often as possible, via film, novel, or airplane.


Moon Tower

by Arielle Greenberg

Mikey tells me the section he likes best is the hum of in-between,
and although I haven’t thought about it like this before,

I can see what he means: the soft middle, the evening fade; the melty,
start-of-summer Texas gleam of the day, from dusk through twilight to dark.

House party cancelled, groups arrange and rearrange,
shotgun and tailgate and back seat, then converge to shuffle again while parked.

Then: some blankly full hours of aimless cruising.
Just driving around. Nowhere in particular to be.

Hanging out on the verge, the cliff, the curb, the ground;
the kids are nearly seniors, nearly high school, nearly done,

nearly themselves, with a stretch of empty, hot months ahead
in which to churn or bloom or rot.

The run-up, the waiting-to-see-what-comes-next—
this is what all of adolescence felt like, right?—

but even as it feels like nothing’s happening, everything is:
zero to sixty, you are suddenly and constantly charged and up,

gunning for a fight or a fuck or a truth delivered fast and sloppy,
like beer through a funnel, like when what you’ve wanted you get too soon.

Eventually, kids need to land at a landmark, a beacon,
where it can get started, where it will seep through,

and then they will need to scatter and roll over and depart
when it unfurls in the way of mornings after:

a drop-off, kiss at the door. For now, though: a passageway.
A liminal space. The dark side of the moon.


Arielle Greenberg is the Resident Poet at Bright Wall/Dark Room. She is the co-author of Home/Birth: A Poemic; author of My Kafka Century and Given; and co-editor of three anthologies, including Gurlesque. She lives in Maine and teaches in the community and in Oregon State University-Cascades' MFA; she is currently teaching a course in American cinema to insightful students at the Maine State Prison enrolled through the University of College at Rockland (hi, guys!). Arielle writes a regular column on contemporary poetics for the American Poetry Review.