BR: Summer Lovers (1982)

August 30, 2015 | By

 

SummerLovers1982_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  August 10, 2015

Genre:  Romance / Drama

Synopsis: An American couple engage is a ménage a trois with a French archeologist on the exotic Greek island of Santorini.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary by writer-director Randal Kleiser / Isolated Mono Music & Sound Effects Track / 1982 featurette: “The Making of Summer Lovers” (12:14) / Screen Tests with Hart Bochner, Patrick Swayze, Valerie Quennessen, and Barbara Rush (15:10) / Theatrical Trailer / Bonus 1997 Documentary: “Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music (48:13) / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film Historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 

 


 

Review:

After achieving a meteoric career boost with Grease (1978) and The Blue Lagoon (1980), Randal Kleiser took time off in Greece, and quickly noticed the swathes of young adults arriving by boat and plane, camping on the nude beaches, and engaging in assorted relationships before heading back home by fall season. An idea for a ménage a trois (whoopee among three) formulated, and within months Kleiser had written a script, pared down to its most elemental dialogue so visuals would ultimately tell the story of two Americans whose lives are changed by a fellow vacationer from France on the island of Santorini.

Michael (Peter Gallagher) and Cathy’s (Daryl Hannah) efforts to deepen their 5 year relationship in Greece over 8 weeks undergoes a transformation when a threesome develops with Lina (Valerie Quennessen), a resident archeologist and neighbour across from their little hillside rental home. Put another way: boy meets new girl, new girl meets old girl, boy gets both girls, new girl leaves couple for odd boy (Hans van Tongeren), threesome reunite in harmony before End Credits.

Summer Lovers was a box office hit – it even managed to be broadcast on TV in an incoherent edited version – and while very much geared for the North American market (sexual preference is fixed in having two women attracted not to each other, but one man), it is a valiant attempt by a mainstream American filmmaker to present a R-rated European love story with a level of candor and nudity unheard of for the U.S. market.

As several critics have pointed out – and Kleiser himself, on the Blu-ray’s commentary track – it’s also a snapshot of a pre-AIDS world where a variety of sexual relationships could be explored without biological fear; everyone is happy, friendly, and living out fantasies under the gorgeous Greek sun. (Kleiser points out several of the production’s skilled make-up, art direction, and photographic artists who succumbed to the disease in the following years.)

Kleiser’s directorial skills reside as a visualist, having an impeccable eye for composition, colours, and emphasizing drama through spacial relationships between characters and their immediate environment, but as a dialogue writer, most of what’s said by the cast is fairly banal, making it easy to dismiss the film’s dramatic underpinnings as bubbleheaded. Once in a while the minimalist dialogue clicks, capturing unease, nervousness, or mystery, but it’s the images and sounds that convey what fans have regarded as an honest portrayal of a threesome.

It’s also easy to write off the film’s soundtrack as just a pastiche of top hits designed to sell a record, but Kleiser was pretty prescient in being his own music supervisor, dropping into scenes as source cues or now-classic montage underscore a variety of songs from international bands to convey the melting pot of international lovers who flock to the Greek islands during the summertime. Blue Lagoon composer Basil Poledouris did contribute a score, but they’re mostly short theme statements that emerge from the background when there’s a genuine need for more introspective music that advances the emotional relationships between the three main characters.

When stripped of its North American conventions – the dialogue, songs, montages, and plot conventions (including the feel-good finale) – Summer Lovers may be one of the most daring attempts by an American director (up until 1982) to evoke European sensibilities within a purely escapist container. The nudity is the film’s most risqué aspect, but to Kleiser’s credit, it loses its sensationalism once the three-way romance emerges, although being a scenario created by a mainstream director, there’s still clunky dialogue designed to explain things to average audiences which European filmmakers would’ve junked altogether in favour of minimal statements, reactions, and perhaps more provocative action.

One could also presume the chances of a happy ending – Lina riding to the airport just in time to stop her companions from leaving, and finishing off their ménage over the remaining 3 weeks, all to the bombast of two Chicago power ballads – would’ve been rather slim in a Euro production.

Kleiser’s comedic injections are meant to lighten the tone after a heavier emotional scene, but they don’t always work: the trio’s visits to a music video set being shot on a nearby island are pretty ridiculous, and the ‘sudden’ arrival of Cathy’s mother (Flamingo Road’s Barbara Rush) and her friend (Carole Cook) is an excuse to feature awkward encounters between conservative American parents and their liberated kids. Two scenes – mom’s arrival, and a dinner – are played for laughs – but the latter does lead into a dance club montage which signals a key shift in the trio’s relationship.

That hint of a looming breakup works, but it’s also the point where the drama loses its steam, and characters wander and pose in meticulously composed shots with music: montages interrupted by brief arguments, and the inevitable separation of Lina from the threesome before a classic / clichéd finale; some of the roles within the template are split and recombined with slightly different DNA, but it’s still a boy meets girl / loses girl / gets girl scenario.

Kleiser’s happy ending ensured audiences walked out feeling peppy, knowing all ended well, even though the three would ultimately separate once Michael and Cathy’s cottage rental had run its full 8 week term, sending them back to the U.S. in an emotionally and sexually enlightened state.

As Kleiser states right at the beginning of his full-length commentary track, fans have been screaming for a proper home video release for years, and Twilight Time’s gorgeous special edition features a properly composed widescreen transfer (the old MGM DVD zooms into full screen after the opening titles) and extras that apparently stem from the director’s own archives.

The newly recorded commentary has Kleiser prepared with notes, quotes, and small ephemera, and while he’s often reading, it’s not wholly robotic and is very scene-specific. He contrasts his own observations and recollections with quotes from fans and bloggers, good naturedly taking to task critics, including some funny dismissals from highly conservative viewers who apparently never read the film’s synopsis and emerged aghast at the nudity and threesome material.

It’s a pretty fact-packed commentary, and he lauds Greek cinematographer Dimitris Papakonstadis who took over shooting when credited DOP Timothy Galfas didn’t quite work out. Kleiser also points out Poledouris’ cameo when Michael and Cathy arrive, and describes the various locations which he meticulously plots out early into the film to ensure the audiences knows the geography of the stunning islands.

Not mentioned (but deserving of attention) is editor Robert Gordon (who edited Kleiser’s Blue Lagoon and later Grandview, U.S.A.), and the sharp montages which occasionally contain sophisticated sound overlaps of dialogue that compress action without feeling forced.

Whereas MGM’s DVD was extras-free, TT’s disc features the theatrical trailer, a rare montage of screen tests featuring Hart Bochner and Patrick Swayze (whom Kleiser would ultimately cast in his next film, Grandview, U.S.A.) with Quennessen by a pool, and the promo featurette “The Making of Summer Lovers” which must have been aimed at Pay TV stations in light of the heavy nudity that’s interspersed with brief cast & crew interviews. (In Kleiser’s commentary, the director notes the work of a fashion make-up artist flown to Greece to create Quennessen’s ‘eye design,’ a move that seems excessive until one sees the actress in the audition footage, and realizes the new look gave the character of Lina extra depth and power, especially in her intro scenes.)

Of the main cast members, the film forms a memorial for Quennessen, who died in a car accident in 1989. Her best-known works include French Postcards (1979) and Conan the Barbarian (1982). Actor van Tongeren debuted in Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters (1980), and was cast in Summer Lovers purely by accident when spotted vacationing in Greece. Soon after the filming, he committed suicide.

Poledouris’ music is presented in an isolated mono music & effects mix, which perhaps hints the original score tapes no longer exist. (Besides the original soundtrack LP that reproduces two cues in full stereo, this is as good as it gets.)

Kleiser and Poledouris were both USC film school alumni – the former edited the latter’s short directorial effort Glut (1967) – and would collaborate on Blue Lagoon (1980), Summer Lovers (1982), White Fang (1991), and It’s My Party (1996), and although the director doesn’t discuss the composer in the commentary track, Poledouris is showcased in the bonus 1997 documentary Basil Poledouris: His Life and Music (1997), an hour-long film produced by TT’s Nick Redman ( and reviewed separately).

For fans of the film, this special edition is a must-have, boasting gorgeous visuals, a solid 2.0 stereo mix with decent bass, and definitive extras that contextualize a not necessarily great drama, but a notable attempt to create a commercial hybrid which few directors have since recaptured with such candor. The lead cast of Gallagher (who reportedly replaced a bailed Dennis Quaid just prior to principal photography), Hannah, and Quennessen are extremely attractive and fit their roles perfectly, and 33 years later Summer Lovers is also a time capsule of a sleepy island community that’s been since upgraded to a more trendy, pricey, upscale escape for the jet set.

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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