In this breaking-the-fourth-wall scene from AIP’s genre-creating 1963 surfsploitation movie, Professor Sutwell (Robert Cummings) and his assistant Marianne (Dorothy Malone, the bookish bombshell from The Big Sleep) bail out [far left] once Frankie (Frankie Avalon) and his crew discover that the oldsters are studying the mating habits of aboriginal Southern Californians — i.e., them. Because it lampoons previous teen movies from The Wild One and Splendor in the Grass to Gidget and Blue Hawaii, Beach Party helps demarcate the end of the Fifties (1954-63). The blocking here symbolizes the moment at which the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation grows up; the question now is whether they’ll adopt a reformist cause (the movie’s subplot, which prompts a spooky-kooky Vincent Price cameo) or instead remain simultaneously utopian (Avalon’s stage name reminds us of that blissful island, from Arthurian legend, which is populated by scantily clad youth) and skeptical about the competing ideologies of their elders. Sutwell, who represents the Partisan Generation, favors the former; but if you dig the surfers’ scene, you’ll disagree.
An occasional series analyzing some of the author’s favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie.
THIRTIES (1934–43): It Happened One Night (1934) | The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) | The Guv’nor (1935) | The 39 Steps (1935) | Young and Innocent (1937) | The Lady Vanishes (1938) | Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) | The Big Sleep (1939) | The Little Princess (1939) | Gone With the Wind (1939) | His Girl Friday (1940)
FORTIES (1944–53): The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) | The Asphalt Jungle (1950) | The African Queen (1951)
FIFTIES (1954–63): A Bucket of Blood (1959) | Beach Party (1963)
SIXTIES (1964–73): For Those Who Think Young (1964) | Thunderball (1965) | Clambake (1967) | Bonnie and Clyde (1967) | Madigan (1968) | Wild in the Streets (1968) | Barbarella (1968) | Harold and Maude (1971) | The Mack (1973) | The Long Goodbye (1973)
SEVENTIES (1974–83): Les Valseuses (1974) | Eraserhead (1976) | The Bad News Bears (1976) | Breaking Away (1979) | Apocalypse Now (1979) | Caddyshack (1980) | Stripes (1981) | Blade Runner (1982) | Tender Mercies (1983) | Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)
EIGHTIES (1984–93): Repo Man (1984) | Buckaroo Banzai (1984) | Raising Arizona (1987) | RoboCop (1987) | Goodfellas (1990) | Candyman (1992) | Dazed and Confused (1993)
NINETIES (1994–2003): The Fifth Element (1997)
OUGHTS (2004–13): District 9 (2009)
Joshua Glenn’s most recent books (2012) are UNBORED: THE ESSENTIAL FIELD GUIDE TO SERIOUS FUN (with Elizabeth Foy Larsen); and SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES ABOUT ORDINARY THINGS (with Rob Walker).