CinemaDope: Taking the Bait

The lure of summer movies

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Thursday, August 23, 2012
Photo copyright Maria-Helena Buckley
A scene from Caravaggio

Summer movies have been much on my mind lately—or more precisely, the experience of watching summer movies has been on my mind. The sub-arctic blast of a darkened theater's air conditioning, and the delicious first hit of sun when you head back outside; the tall, icy drinks you hold against your head. In so many ways it doesn't matter what you go to see, as long as you go.

I had always assumed that this was a more modern phenomenon—without that steady chill of the AC, it just doesn't seem the same—but according to NPR, I was wrong. It turns out (if you believe the guys over at Car Talk, which is where I first learned this bit of history) that movie theaters were in the vanguard when it came to climate control, getting in on the action in the early 1900s. That's when Chicago was digging out a system of tunnels to make space for phone lines and other utilities, and when some enterprising soul hit on a game-changing idea. All those tunnels meant a whole lot of cool subterranean air, and it wasn't long before theaters were paying to have it pumped into their screening rooms to cool off urban moviegoers.

And so a summertime tradition was born. And while it surely took Hollywood a little longer to perfect the summer-movie balance of entertaining and easily forgotten, there's no doubt that it's been a more pleasurable century because of it all. This week, one of the best summer movies we've yet made comes to Hadley's Cinemark theater for two shows on the 23rd as part of the Classic Series, which features digitally restored films brought back for the big screen treatment. So grab a sweater and a soda, and settle in for the perfect fish tale: Jaws.

The 1975 picture by Steven Spielberg, about an enormous Great White shark whose dietary habits strike fear into tourist destination Amity Island, is the prototypical blockbuster: a mix of thrills and sunshine that leaves you smiling from the adrenaline rush. But to call it just that does it an injustice; though it set the tone that films have followed for decades, it still manages to be a better film than most of its descendants, one whose rather ridiculous storyline is belied by wonderful performances—Robert Shaw as the crusty shark hunter Quint is one for the ages—and a steady kind of storytelling often absent from our more modern thrillers. Jaws will stay with you—when I first saw it as a kid, I refused to take a bath for a week.


Also this week: If you prefer a more modern blockbusting experience, Cinemark also screens The Bourne Legacy, the fourth film in the spy vs. spy series and the first one not to feature Matt Damon in the leading role. In his place is Jeremy Renner, not as the spy-gone-good Bourne but as another former government agent on the run from his old handlers. This installment is directed by Tony Gilroy, who wrote the screenplays for the first three films. Reportedly unhappy with the action-heavy bent of earlier films, Gilroy takes a quieter approach to his turn at the Bourne helm, focusing less on the acrobatics and more on the verbal sparring—though he's not one to pass up a good old-fashioned motorcycle chase, either.

And finally this week, Amherst Cinema presents Moretti and Monteverdi's Caravaggio, recorded live in Berlin, as part of its Ballet in HD program. Screening Tuesday night at 7 p.m., the performance draws inspiration from the Italian painter's famously dark canvases, which drew the viewer in through a dramatic chiaroscuro. With his realistically depicted saints and sinners, Caravaggio's paintings—much like his own life—created a scandal in their time but have always been recognized as the work of a singular genius.

Jack Brown can be reached at

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