Friday, July 23, 2010

Beach Culture

I liked Gary Morris’ “Beyond The Beach” essay, which begins with a little history on American International Production, one of my favorite production and distribution companies through the 60s and 70s. As Morris’ points out, AIP began to view the American teenager as a commodity and began financing beach genre films. Most of these films starred Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, and the first was Beach Party (1963). Beach Party was the first of many films to follow, though Morris’ believes that Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) is the best realized. The beach films follow a certain formula, which usually is some teenage romantic entanglement with outbursts of song and dancing. The beach films also follow much of the Hollywood musical genre in spirit, while using a teenage subculture slang and customs as its hook. Like the musical, there is a certain amount of “chaos” through the fantasy element (as Morris points out) that would be “intrusive” in a narrative film. The film’s teenagers were restricted solely to white suburban kids who had unlimited access to car, surfboard, property near a beach (or in their “backyard”). Usually there was a juxtaposition of good teenager and bad teenager, with the character Eric Von Zipper imitating a very silly Brando type leader of a motorcycle gang. Beach Party also has some strange adult characters like Robert Cummings who plays an anthropologist who is studying the surfer teenager and their mating rituals. It’s interesting that the director is clearly taking an etic approach in its projection. Cummings has always been an enjoyable lead (in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942) and Dial M For Murder (1954)) and he kind of sold the movie for me, for Frankie Avalon is a bit limited in his acting ability. I also enjoyed Vincent Price and a beatnik Morey Amsterdam (from the Dick Van Dyke Show) in their cameos. AIP was sure to present surf music in the film, and Dick Dale and the Del Tones show their talent. I especially liked the Dick Dale’s playing of the bongos with one earring in his ear.

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