Let’s face it: things are pretty slow at the moment. Shops are closed, everyone is sluggish, even the multiplex isn’t really firing on all cylinders (the week’s only new release, Mile 22, has now been postponed to next week). There are really only two things you can do in mid-August: watch movies, and go to the beach – but what if you wanted to combine the two and watch movies about going to the beach? That’s where we come in.
THE ENDLESS SUMMER (1966). Here’s a seldom-noted tragedy: the US, our most reliable source of cinematic goodies, is simply not a beach culture. Geography plays a role in this; how, after all, are you going to find beaches on a giant rectangular lump caught between two oceans? Even California, which comes closest to our own Mediterranean hedonism, is useless for swimming, the Pacific being cold and inhospitable. It is, however, great for surfing – and The Endless Summer is the ultimate surfing documentary, following a couple of SoCal lads on their worldwide search for the perfect wave. The footage is incredible, the glint of sunlight on aquamarine (which we have in Cyprus) being almost as dazzling as the monster waves (which we don’t, except for that one beach in Paphos). Other good surfing movies: Big Wednesday (1978), Blue Crush (2002), Point Break (1991) and this year’s Breath, an Australian coming-of-age film with some wicked waves.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953). OK, From Here to Eternity isn’t really a beach movie – but it does have That Scene, its most famous scene, with the waves breaking on the sand and the camera panning to reveal Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embracing passionately in the surf. She gets up and lies on a towel, he looms over her with his hair all wet and water dripping from his torso – then kneels down and kisses her again, long and hard. “I never knew it could be like this,” sighs Deborah, clearly unaware that sea-air and swimwear do wonders for the libido. Similar seaside shenanigans take place in the opening scene of Grease (1978), scored to ‘Love is a Many Splendoured Thing’ – and also in The Naked Gun (1988), where Frank Drebin frolics in the waves to the strains of ‘I’m Into Something Good’.
BEACH BLANKET BINGO (1965). I have not seen this film, one of many clean-cut ‘beach party’ musicals made in the 60s with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, but I’ve always wondered: who takes a blanket to the beach? And why would you want to play bingo? Guess the US really isn’t a beach culture…
THE BEACH (2000). Thailand, on the other hand, has some of the world’s finest beaches – though the problem, as revealed in this so-so adaptation of the Alex Garland novel (starring Leo DiCaprio at the peak of his teen-idol phase), is that it’s impossible to show just how idyllic a beach is. You can describe it in a book, with imagination filling in the gaps – but, no matter how many times characters insist that the beach in The Beach is Eden personified, what we actually see is a mildly scenic tropical resort populated by didactic neo-hippies. It’s a nice beach but hardly the beach, not to mention that there’s no water sports and you have to catch your own fish. Unsurprisingly, it all ends in tears.
PAULINE AT THE BEACH (1983). The beach experience is endlessly mutable. It can even be the setting for characters to fret about their romantic problems, as in French director Eric Rohmer’s light-hearted talk-piece. Pauline is just 15 years old, on holiday with her older cousin on the sandy beaches of Normandy; the cousin is courted by a surfer but opts for a sexual adventurer, while Pauline pairs off with a boy her own age. Yet more evidence that beach = romance, though that blue-grey northern European sea is no match for our own lovely waters. Rohmer may have been a bit arty but he clearly understood the allure of summer, having also made A Summer’s Tale (1996) and indeed Summer (1986).
CAST AWAY (2000). What do you mean ‘It’s not a beach movie’? There’s a beach, isn’t there? It’s a movie, isn’t it? Maybe so – but you also have Tom Hanks, as a FedEx courier going increasingly loco after crash-landing on a desert island (the film was shot in Fiji and the Philippines). On the one hand, he proves quite resourceful, building a hut and writing ‘HELP’ on the sand in giant letters; on the other, he also starts talking to a volleyball named Wilson. An excellent film, but anyone who’s lain on a remote, empty beach and wished they could stay there forever should probably be careful what they wish for. See also: The Blue Lagoon (1980), The Red Turtle (2016) and any iteration of Robinson Crusoe.
JAWS (1975). Umm… maybe we should just rephrase that opening paragraph. Avoid the beach, it’s far too dangerous! Just stay home watching movies.