There you are, staring at the calendar. Sure, it’s still summer, but the expiration date on this season is coming up quick. The kids will be home from camp soon. The days are getting a bit shorter. You know that any day now, you’ll stop thinking about baseball as much as you do now and start thinking about college football.
It’s still hot out. Everyone is still dressed in T-shirts and shorts and sundresses. The air still wafts with the aroma of sunscreen and grilled chicken. It’s still summer, alright, but the thought starts to occur to you that pretty soon another summer is going to be in the books and that will be that.
Well, let’s hold onto summer a little bit longer. Today I want to propose several movies to celebrate August and the end of summer so we can all hold on to it a bit longer.
Sometimes when summer ends, you don’t go off to college. Sometimes, you go off to war. That’s the premise of this lovely movie set in a small town in California during World War II. I was completely enchanted with this movie when it first came out and found it lovely all over again when I watched it recently. Sean Penn and Nicholas Cage (and, whoa, are they young-looking here!) play a pair of friends in Mendocino, CA, who are shipping out for the war in six weeks. Penn’s character falls in love with a young woman (Elizabeth McGovern) whom he assumes is rich but isn’t. Cage’s character gets his girlfriend pregnant. And that’s when things get complicated. This was the first screenplay from Steve Kloves, who wrote most of the Harry Potter movies, among many other huge hits. It’s a well-told tale and beautifully directed by Richard Benjamin, who also directed Goodbye, Columbus (1969), Catch 22 (1970), and Westworld (1973).
Back in the 1950s and 60s, movie theaters used to regularly feature short-run surf and ski documentary movies. You could go to your local theater on a Saturday afternoon and see a movie about a surfing trip to Polynesia or skiing in Colorado. The master of this form was Warren Miller, who made such charmers as Around the World on Skis (1954) or Are Your Skis on Straight? (1958). This movie is a classic of the surfing documentary sort. It was directed by Bruce Brown and chronicles the globe-trotting adventures of two Los Angeles dudes in the mid-60s, traveling around the world, chasing summer and waves long after summer ended in California. The Endless Summer is one of the most enjoyable movies ever made. When the surf music by the Sandals comes on, you’ll break into a smile that will stay with you long after the movie ends.
At one point in his life, George Lucas was capable of making a truly great movie. This was his second directorial effort, and it is his masterpiece. Set in Modesto, CA in 1962 on the last day of summer, American Graffiti introduces us to a group of friends just before they go off to college or war or just stay home in Modesto. Modesto, for those of you unfamiliar, is a farm town. It’s a big farm town, but it’s still just a farm town. Lucas uses a remarkable ensemble cast to tell the story of that final day and night in town. Included in the cast are Ron Howard, Richard Dreyfus, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, Paul Le Mat, and Mackenzie Phillips. And the soundtrack is incredible. The movie is worth watching just for the soundtrack alone. This is a beautiful elegy for an America that has gone away. Underneath it all is an astonishing level of melancholy. This movie is worth seeing many times over.
While this movie isn’t specifically about the end of summer, it certainly is about the end of a way of life. A group of middle school kids in the Goon Dock area of Astoria, OR, go on an adventure looking for pirate gold one afternoon, days before their neighborhood will be demolished to make way for a country club. For many Gen Xers and Millennials, the film resonates as powerfully with them as American Graffiti does for Baby Boomers. Directed by Richard Donner (of the X-Men series) from a story by Steven Spielberg and script by Chris Columbus, the cast includes Sean Astin, Josh Brolin, Corey Feldman, Martha Plimpton, and Ke Huy Quan. Go to any Millennial or Gen Xer you know and ask them what they think of Goonies, and I can virtually guarantee this response: “Oh, man, I LOVE that movie!” Time to rent it again, and introduce it again to a new generation. A perfect movie for an end of summer party.
Although this movie is about the last day of school, (not the end of summer) it marks a life that is passing for a group of kids in small-town Texas in the early 1970s. Working with a large ensemble cast, the Richard Linklater film is structured similarly to American Graffiti in that it covers one typical night in the lives of these kids. It’s funny, crude, insightful, moving, and sad. The cast, which consisted of largely unknown actors at the time, is remarkable: Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, and Parker Posey, among many others. For many people, the last day of high school was a liberation day, a chance to finally say goodbye and good riddance to all of that. For others, however, life after high school would never be so sweet and uncomplicated again and thus they can never quite move past it. And for many of us, both of those statements are true. This explores all of those feelings, and as a bonus, gives us Matthew McConaughey’s iconic line that follows him everywhere: “Alright, alright, alright!”
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.