When I was a child, we used to spend summer weekends watching movies. It’s hot in Los Angeles County, and none of my family handles heat very well. I’m not sure quite when we got our first VCR, though I can tell you two things. My father was still alive, so it was before February of 1983, and the first movie we rented was The Black Stallion. But on summer weekends, we would go to Webster’s on North Lake, where there was a tiny video rental place. We would rent dumb comedies, movies that didn’t require thinking, and that would be what we would do in the heat of the day, watch those movies. I can still taste the air conditioning.
Everyone has their favourite Christmas movie (mine is The Ref, followed by The Bishop’s Wife), and when I was telling my boyfriend that I would be writing this piece, that’s what he immediately thought about. We also talked about Halloween movies; I decided, as we talked, that our Halloween tradition when we have a house and our son is older will be to play Halloween movies all afternoon and evening and invite friends to come by during any stretch of that to watch movies and have snacks. This is in part inspired by a friend in college who used to do horror movie marathons in the dorms. There are people with movies they have to watch for Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve, and I would not be at all surprised to hear of a lot of people watch Groundhog’s Day for Groundhog’s Day.
To me, though, it goes beyond that. I have three must-watch summer movies. It’s an odd assortment, I admit; it’s two ’80s comedies and one Hayley Mills movie. Two of them were movies we rented at Webster’s once and then ended up owning, because it was cheaper. We might only have rented them once a year, but once a year every year adds up. The other was a staple of the Disney Channel in those long-ago days when they played stuff out of the Vault on the Disney Channel. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen any of them, but it’s probably dozens by now.
Major League is one of two baseball movies I own. (Oddly, they both have Charlie Sheen. What can I say? I turned thirteen in 1989.) It’s the story of an underdog baseball team that comes together to win the World Series, because it’s a baseball movie that isn’t Eight Men Out (the other baseball movie I own) or Field of Dreams. I don’t actually watch baseball, mind; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game from beginning to end. I have spent my entire life within broadcast range of a city with at least one Major League team, and you could probably count the number of real baseball players I can name without taking off your shoes. (If you did have to, I’d advise Joe Jackson as the first one to start with after you move on from fingers.) Somehow, though, my summer isn’t complete unless I’ve seen the Cleveland Indians fight their way out of the basement.
Summer School doesn’t seem like my kind of movie on a lot of levels. There’s Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) and Dave (Gary Riley), for heaven’s sake, horror movie buffs who spend the entire movie trying to get into an Italian foreign exchange student’s pants. Still, it’s more intelligent than you’d expect; it is, after all, about a bunch of slackers being taught remedial English by a gym teacher, so you figure there’s got to be some education, right? Certainly it stresses the importance of learning.
And then, beloved of all beloveds, there is Summer Magic, Hayley Mills and her movie family moving from Boston to Beulah, Maine, around the turn of the last century. Burl Ives is in it, too. It’s your standard mid-’60s Disney fare; IMDb claims it was originally planned for Annette Funicello, which rather boggles the mind. It was released in the summer of ’63, and it’s charming and heartwarming and family-friendly and all that—and also, in several places, extremely snarky and well aware of the fact that you may love your family, but you don’t always like them. The songs are good, too, classics by the Sherman Brothers. “Pink of Perfection” and “Femininity” have long been favourites of mine.
I could do this for other seasons, too. Arsenic and Old Lace as the air turns crisp. Fantasia for a long winter night, for all the Disney Channel hyped “Night on Bald Mountain” for Halloween. Heathers is a good one for spring—prom season, you know. Mary Poppins is spring as well, when the cherry trees are in bloom. (I did mention I watch a lot of Disney, right?) Pump Up the Volume for the last days of school, because that’s when I watched it a lot when I was in high school. Yes, you’ve also got your obvious Halloween and Christmas and even Easter (so I own Jesus Christ Superstar; don’t judge me!), but you can usually tell what time of year it is by what of the movies I own I reach for.