Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Some Cities Swallow Stories Whole

Venice sure is beautiful. And that's primarily what makes 1955's Summertime such a joy to watch. You couldn't ask for a better star than Katharine Hepburn and the concept of an older woman falling in love for the first time is certainly an extraordinary premise for the '50s but it's saddled with too much softball comedy business to be really great. Still, its Technicolor photography and director David Lean's persistent use of real locations make it a beautiful document of the famous city from over sixty years ago.

Even many scenes that would've been shot in studio as a matter of course, like dialogue scenes on a ferry or a balcony, are location shots. The depth of detail on Hepburn's hotel patio is breathtaking, and it's just a tame dialogue scene about being tourists.

Even interiors are often location shots, like this second encounter Hepburn has with her love interest played by Rossano Brazzi.

This shot is brilliantly lit. Technicolor cameras weren't very sensitive to light which made for notoriously hot sets as a result of the piles of extra sources of illumination required. This shot has low enough exposure you can still see details in the bright sunny day outside but you can also see both actors' faces inside the shop. And looks perfectly natural.

Hepburn is great, of course, as Jane Hudson, with her inimitable combination of vulnerability and strength she's absolutely perfect for this role. Brazzi's character, unfortunately, lacks any kind of depth and his performance is intensely bland. At the beginning of the film, Hepburn has a meet-cute on the train into Venice with an uncredited Andre Morell, my favourite Quatermass. How much better the film would've been had her romance been with him instead.

There are some lame, Hollywood-ish contrivances, like when Hepburn accidentally falls into a canal while trying to take a picture, a pointless piece of slapstick that apparently made the actress seriously ill. Those seeking a more thoughtful rumination on relationships shot on location in a beautiful Italian city would be better off with Journey to Italy from the previous year--or any number of Italian Neorealist and New Wave films, really. But Summertime has the distinction of being in beautiful colour. It's great to watch in HD and it's available in HD on The Criterion Channel.

Twitter Sonnet #1240

Repeated codes enliven phones for weeks.
Strategic flowers boost the grace of spring.
The winding cloth reveals but healthy peaks.
Each night reminds nocturnal birds to sing.
Continued texts delay the moon and bed.
A picture placed between the eyes still knows.
The printed word was coloured close to red.
But healthy spines were laced with silken bows.
A steady tree preserved the quiet pool.
In ev'ry second, ripples beat the bank.
The hours bring a day that's dark and cool.
To weekly rest the chains in sequence sank.
A mind reports the cake was frosted last.
But tongues report the cup is not surpassed.

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