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Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: Vilmos Zsigmond's 'Summer Children'

May 5, 2011 |  7:30 am

  Summer Children

The short life and times of the '60s beach movie was based on a simple formula -- sun, surf, sand, bad boys, bikini girls and usually some brew. “Beach Blanket Bingo,” “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” “Girls on the Beach,” “Beach Girl and the Monster” -- even Elvis went beachy in “Girl Happy.”

The movies  proved irresistible to a generation working its way toward real rebellion. In 1964, “Summer Children” began as an under-the-radar bit of indie mischief that literally was lost in that pop culture wave. A dispute with distributors saw it locked away in a vault for nearly 40 years. The fight to give it a second chance began in 2007.

As a film, it was very much of a time, unremarkable except for the cheekbones of its star Stuart  Anderson and its exquisite black-and-white look, a stylish mix of beauty, seduction and provocation. Summer Children But what it shows is the way talent can impact even a slight project.

The cinematographer was a Hungarian refugee named Vilmos Zsigmond whose footage of the revolution had paid for his ticket out. He knew how to work with what the natural world gave him: the way light plays off faces and flexed muscles; a beach after midnight, its shadows hiding both threat and safety; fevered youth in the crush of rock 'n' roll mating dances. 

“Summer Children” and just about everyone attached to it was soon forgotten, lost to time. Zsigmond went on to become one of our cinematic greats -- he won an Oscar for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and nominations for “The Deer Hunter,” “The “River” and “The Black Dahlia.”

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Egyptian Theatre, you can see the newly resurrected, remastered beginnings -- a forgettable film made unforgettable by an unknown who would become a master.

— Betsy Sharkey

Top photo: Diana (Valora Noland), West (Stuart Anderson) and Frankie (John Hanek) in the throes of summer love as seen through the lens of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond in "Summer Children." Credit: American Cinematheque.

Bottom photo: Zsigmond made faces unforgettable, as he did with Stuart Anderson's in "Summer Children." Credit: American Cinematheque.

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