'70s films, adults only, Any Mathieu, auteur theory, best friends, Blue Summer, Bo White, Chris Jordan, Chuck Vincent, cinema, coming of age, Davey Jones, dramas, Easy Rider, Eric Edwards, erotica, Film auteurs, film reviews, films, grindhouse, Harding Harrison, high school grads, hippies, hitchhikers, horny teenagers, Jacqueline Carol, Jeff Allen, Joann Sterling, Larry Lima, Lilly Bi Peep, Mark Ubell, Melissa Evers, Mike Ledis, Movies, non-professional actors, porn, random adventures, Richard Billay, road movie, Robert McLane, set in 1970s, sex comedies, Shana McGran, soft-core, Stephen Colwell, summer vacation, Sylvia Bernstein, vans, writer-director-editor
Chances are, whether you’ve actually seen the film or not, you’re at least familiar with Dennis Hopper’s iconic, counter-culture ode to the death of the idealistic ’60s, Easy Rider (1969). Crisscrossing the U.S. on their choppers, trying to make some sense of the whole mess, Hopper and Peter Fonda rode right off the screen into our collective consciences via their unforgettable (and, oftentimes, extremely random) encounters with various flower children, rednecks, authority figures, hip cats and square losers. Nearly 50 years after its release, Easy Rider still manages to capture the imagination of anyone who realizes that America’s best stories are still the ones collected on her back-roads: the ways in which we all act and interact, on a personal-level, will always say more about us than any casual examination of current politics and social mores ever could.
While I’m willing to wager that most folks have heard of Easy Rider, I’m just as willing to wager that almost no one recalls adult film auteur Chuck Vincent’s Blue Summer (1973). What does one have to do with the other? Well, to put it bluntly, Blue Summer is the soft-core, sex comedy “reimagining” of Easy Rider. Okay, okay: maybe not the “official” reimagining…there are no coy taglines connecting these spiritual cousins, nor is there even an undue focus on motorcycles (although one does figure prominently in the narrative). The film’s don’t share plot points, per se, and there are no clever, specific allusions to Wyatt, Billy or any of the various people they run into.
Despite the aforementioned, however, Blue Summer actually owes quite a debt to Easy Rider: like the “original,” Blue Summer is all about the assorted adventures that a pair of young men have on the road, adventures that lead them towards not only a greater understanding of the world at large, but also the worlds that exist within them. Throughout the course of the film, our young heroes will deal with “May-December romances,” free-loving hippies, Bible-thumpin’ traveling evangelists, casual sex, genuine love, small-town lunkheads, mysterious bikers and a quirky cult who freely believes “what’s yours is theirs.” Indeed, with more emphasis on the narrative elements and less focus on the simulated intercourse, Blue Summer would actually be a pretty decent bit of coming-of-age fluff. Ah, the ’70s…you crazy, gonzo, amazing little decade, you!
Our intrepid teenage heroes, Tracy (Davey Jones but not THAT Davey Jones) and Gene (Bo White) have decided to have one, last summer adventure before their lifelong friendship is tested when they both go off to far-flung universities. Loading their trusty van (the Meat Wagon) with enough cases of beer to get good, ol’ Bluto Blutarsky blasted, the duo decides to head out for scenic Stony Lake. The only things on the agenda? Why, drinking, driving, having fun, seeing the sights, keeping their minds off college and getting laid, obviously!
As Tracy and Gene travel the back-ways of America, they have a series of encounters that include a couple of thieving hitchhikers (Lilly Bi Peep, Joann Sterling), a stone-faced biker (Jeff Allen), a begging evangelist (Robert McLane), a hippy cultist and his free-loving acolytes (Larry Lima, Any Mathieu, Shana McGran), a middle-aged, married woman (Jacqueline Carol), a town-lush/nympho (Melissa Evers) and her group of redneck admirers and a mysterious no-named diver who seems to be the epitome of the ’70s “manic pixie girl” (Chris Jordan). Along the way, they go from silly, constantly giggling knuckleheads to…well, slightly less giggly, decidedly more grounded knuckleheads. The final shot/sentiment is a real corker: no much how much fun they’ve had, no matter how many different women they’ve “bedded,” the end of the trip signifies, for better or worse, the ends of their adolescent lives: from this point, they’re grownups…and nothing will ever be that awesome again.
Lest any gentle reader think I’m attempting to give writer/director/editor Vincent (who alternated between his real name and pseudonym Mark Ubell) more credit than even he probably felt he deserved, let’s be clear: Blue Summer is very much a soft-core, ’70s sex comedy, with all of the pluses and minuses that the descriptor carries. There’s plenty of nudity (although, as with most films like this, by and large of the female variety), simulated sex and non-professional acting (the rednecks, in particular, could only be called “actors” by an extremely loose application of the term), along with some appropriately ludicrous dialogue, line-delivery and general production issues (the lighting, in particular, is never great).
Now, however, to paraphrase the late, great Roger Ebert: let me get my other notebook. While Blue Summer is easily recognizable for what it is, it also has more heart, imagination and restraint than most of its peers. While there’s never much empty space between the assorted sex scenes, these “in-between” scenes are really where the film sets itself apart from the usual rabble. The subplot with the “mystical” biker never makes sense but does payoff in a nicely kickass (if pathetically sloppy) fight sequence, while the vignette involving the preacher features a really nice, subtle dig at the concept of passing the collection plate, especially where holy-rollers are involved.
The bit with the hitchhikers has a genuinely funny payoff, as does the one involving the cultists (the image of the snoozing hippies laying in the middle of the open field is a great punchline): there’s also some really nice points being made about the concept of sharing your earthly possessions with others (those who have the possessions do the “sharing,” while those without merely do the “suggesting”), as well as the concept of anonymous sex with strangers (“Miss No-Name” doesn’t feel obliged to introduce herself to Gene since “he won’t remember her name, anyway”…he doesn’t disagree, indicating that she’s probably right).
One of the film’s most surprising moments, however, comes after Tracy’s “nooner” with Margaret, the middle-aged, married woman. After having sex, she fixes him lunch in a manner that might best be described as ‘maternal.’ As Tracy eats, he goes on and on about how much he likes Margaret, rebuffing any and all attempts by her to trivialize their encounter. Just as Tracy seems to have convinced Margaret to overcome her reservations and meet with him again, however, her teenage son comes in from swimming, oblivious to what has just transpired between his mom and her young visitor. As Tracy watches the young man, who just so happens to be his age, the eagerness and intensity goes out of his face: both Margaret and Tracy look ashamed and he quickly takes his leave, never looking back.
It’s an intensely sad, mature moment in a film that certainly didn’t require it but benefits immensely from its inclusion, none the less. During moments like this, it’s easy to see Vincent as fighting a two-front war: on the one hand, he needs to deliver a soft-core porn flick, with all of the requisite trappings. On the other hand, he also wants to deliver something a little more substantial, something with enough blood flow to use more than one organ at a time. It’s a constant battle and one that’s not always won: the fact that Vincent fights it at all, however, gives him a leg up, in my book.
Ultimately, despite how fun and “innocent” Blue Summer actually is (all of the sex in the film is extremely positive: no one is ever forced, at any point, and both men and women seem to be having an equally good time), there’s no skirting the issue of its genetic makeup: this is a silly, ’70s sex comedy, full of simulated intercourse, full frontal female nudity and wacky antics, through and through. Deep down, however, it’s impossible to miss the film’s bigger, underlying themes: it might be a “dirty” movie but it’s not a stupid one. If you’re a fan of the sub-genre or just want to see what a “porn-lite” version of Easy Rider might look like, jump in the van, pop the top on a cold one and let Blue Summer take the wheel.
You know that old chestnut, “they just don’t make ’em like this anymore?” Well, they really don’t make ’em like this anymore. But they used to. If you think about it, that’s kind of amazing all by itself.