June is here, and summer has more or less begun, even if we have to wait until June 21 for the official start date. I'm here in the Bay Area, under a blanket of fog, wearing a sweater (if you saw last year's wonderful Colma: The Musical, you'll get a visual) while everywhere else people are sunbathing and drinking frosty frappuccinos. No matter. I've spent many summers like this and I have my share of fond summer memories even if they happened in the freezing cold rather than the relaxing heat. I was just remembering back to my first summer here. I had a pretty laid-back, part-time job that allowed me to go to as many movies as I wanted. So this week I thought I would do a flashback to the summer of 1991. (Imagine a pre-Tarantino world!) Things started well with the 50th anniversary re-release of Citizen Kane, and although I'd seen it many times before (and since) I got to see it on the big screen for the first time.
Next up came the documentary Truth or Dare. I wasn't a particularly big Madonna fan, but there was one scene that made the movie an event. Warren Beatty (then dating Madonna) turns up in her dressing room and is nonplussed about the intruding cameras: "She doesn't want to live off-camera, much less talk. There's nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it's off-camera? What point is there existing?" Little did we know that those words would come to define our country and culture in the 21st century.
Studios gambled on films by black filmmakers that summer, and we got to see Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, John Singleton's Boyz N the Hood and 19 year-old Matty Rich's Straight Out of Brooklyn. None of these were terribly outstanding, but it was a very exciting moment, and it felt something like a mini-revolution. Singleton even became the first (and only) black director to receive a Best Director Oscar nomination. A few years later, too many black films had flopped and Hollywood stopped gambling.
It was a big summer for stupid movies making a lot of money and good films left behind. Bill Murray made one of his worst films, What About Bob?, which -- sadly -- also became one of his biggest hits. Rather than his usual cool, wryly observant character, he played an annoying guy who torments Richard Dreyfuss. Ron Howard's firefighter movie Backdraft also made a lot of money. It has great fire effects and Jennifer Jason Leigh has a sex scene on top of a fire truck, but otherwise, it was almost totally without personality. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was the most expensive and the worst Robin Hood ever made, complete with Kevin Costner's wobbly accent and a truly horrid Bryan Adams theme song that plagued radios for the rest of the year. At the same time, Michael Lehmann's odd, funny Bruce Willis movie Hudson Hawk was labeled as a turkey before it even opened and the reviews and ticket buyers responded in kind.
It was a good summer for comedies. I enjoyed City Slickers, with Billy Crystal, though I suspect that Jack Palance winning the Oscar and doing one-armed pushups was far more memorable. Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear was a good, funny sequel with Leslie Nielsen still adhering somewhat to the deadpan comedy style that made him a star (rather than the broad, slapstick stuff that eventually made his star fall again). Hot Shots! was its equally funny companion piece. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey was a bizarre, memorable sequel that rolled the dice on some unbelievably nutty ideas (Bill and Ted playing "Twister" with Death). Michael J. Fox had his last good leading role in Doc Hollywood, a sweet, traditional rom-com about a big city doctor stuck in a small town and falling for sweetie Julie Warner (though Bridget Fonda and Woody Harrelson were far more memorable, as was George Hamilton in a great cameo). The unsung Christina Applegate landed a starring role in the Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead, a bland movie with a great first ten minutes and a great title.
In art-house movies, I saw Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table and Ridley Scott's Thelma and Louise, both much appreciated. I loved the relaxing simplicity of Yves Robert's two-part My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle, based on novels by Marcel Pagnol. I saw Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa that summer, but now I can't remember any of it. Slacker made me want to keep an eye on Richard Linklater, and Hal Hartley's Trust was unexpectedly moving inside its snarky exterior. The hit documentary of the summer was unquestionably Paris Is Burning, a humanizing movie about drag queens performing and competing in a fancy-dress ball. Kenneth Branagh followed up his Henry V with a very good thriller, Dead Again, partially shot in black-and-white and featuring a very funny Robin Williams in a small role (with a memorable line about smoking). Alan Parker's crowd-pleaser The Commitments had me singing R&B oldies in the street. And I was lucky enough to see a midnight sneak preview of Joel and Ethan Coen's Cannes winner Barton Fink, which wouldn't have been as good during the day.Only a couple of years out from Die Hard, action movies were still a big deal. I wanted to like The Rocketeer more than I did; it should have been darker and sexier, but Disney decided to make a PG movie for kids. My friends and I laughed and hooted our way through the latest Jean-Claude Van Damme film Double Impact, in which he played twins. (Twice the action! Twice the Van Damme!) Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break has become the ultimate cult film from that summer, with Keanu Reeves as an undercover cop and Patrick Swayze as a surfing, skydiving, Zen bank robber who wears U.S. president masks. But unquestionably the movie of the summer was Terminator 2: Judgment Day. It had everything: cutting edge (early CGI) visual effects, slick action sequences and human characters (more or less). That year it was the most expensive movie of all time, but now doesn't even rank in the top 50. Like Iron Man, it united critics and audiences and created a little community, even for those of us in the fog.