Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Summer in St. Tropez (1983)

(aka: Un été à Saint-Tropez/Sommer in St. Tropez, Ein )

I suppose David Hamilton's A Summer In St. Tropez is a strange film to run across here at horrorman Blogs. It is certainly not horror. And technically, it's not exploitation. In fact, it's quite the opposite, despite the abundance of nudity. Hamilton, in all his photographic genius manages to capture the innocence, grace and beauty of seven young girls who reside together in a remote country house in the South of France. The girls pass the hours unselfconciously with one another in their idyllic life of innocence, whether running along sunset tinged beaches, riding bicycles or horses up quiet and shady country roads, picking flowers in a meadows, ballet dancing, washing their hair outdoors, even sleeping. So why am I posting about A Summer In St. Tropez? Because I loved it.

Be warned, though, Hamilton's film is art...unapologetic art. The director utilizes the actresses and the French countryside to keep the screen alive with beautiful imagery throughout, and disregards dialogue completely, though the characters do occasionally laugh and giggle. Unless you appreciate the art of photography (I was actually a part-time professional photographer back in the early 90's...big woop, huh?), I could see some growing bored with this film. There is no plot to speak of. Just sixty-minutes (yep, it is a pretty short film) of the seven lovely lasses going about their daily routines. Lucky for us, they are nude much of the time. Hamilton shot the film around his own house in Saint Tropez, which is 800 years old. Seeing this film makes you want to go to the South of France. The area is truly spectacular. Another factor which may put some off is Hamilton's trademark use of soft-focus photography and diffusion filters. I've heard many people remark that the quality of the DVD transfer is of poor quality; however, if you've ever seen any of Hamilton's photography books, you'll know that this is simply his style. Speaking of his books, stills from A Summer In St. Tropez can be seen in his 2005 book La Danse. Also, there are a handful of shots in the film that were taken from his books Sisters and Dreams of a Young Girl.

Many of Hamilton's books depicts young teen girls nude, and unfortunately, he has been the subject of controversy and even child pornography allegations, mostly from the U.S. and Great Britain. This is a shame, because much like American photographer Sally Mann, whose early books contained nude pictures of her own adolescent children, Hamilton is one of the most talented photographers the world has ever known. Not to mention one of the most successful (his books have sold millions). Because of differing attitudes regarding age and nudity in France and much of the rest of the world, Hamilton has not received this negative attention in his adopted home. “A distinction must be made between eroticism and pornography," the 73 year-old Hamilton said. "The media have blurred the disparity to an unforgivable degree. For those intelligent enough to recognize the difference, erotica will continue to hold a unique fascination. Social evils should not be confused with the pursuit of true beauty.”

I find it disturbing that some use Hamilton's photographs and films to fuel the "is it art or pornography?" debate. True, most of the model/actresses in St. Tropez are a few years older than many of those in his books and other films (17-18), but to think that someone could look upon his work and call it "pornography" or "obscene", regardless of age, astounds and alarms me. What does it say about the society we live in when a picture of a young girl innocently washing her hair in a garden tub is viewed as pornography? I'm not naive. I know that this is not the mere unfounded rantings of right-wing religious fanatics. Unfortunately, there are some sick, disgusting people in this world who get their rocks off by looking at photographs and films of little girls. Child pornography is a distressful shortcoming of the Internet age, a crime for which I think perpetrators should be punished harshly and severely. However, in the U.S. and other areas of the world, this could turn into something akin to the Salem Witch Trials. When Sally Mann's black-and-white photographs of her eleven year-old daughter climbing a tree without a shirt is looked upon as pornography... Well, it seems to me that those doing the accusing aren't that far removed from the perverted sicko masturbating in front of his computer screen.

From what I've seen from David Hamilton (Bilitis, Laura: Shadows of a Summer with Maud Adams, Tender Cousins, Premiers désirs), his films and books are beautiful and awe inspiring. After watching several of Catherine Breillat's grim films which explore female sexuality in a perverse stark and cold style, Hamilton offers a refreshing "flip side" to that, giving us a glimpse into the true beauty and pure innocence of seven lovely young women. This film isn't for everyone. As I've said, their is no dialogue and basically no plot. Just a master photographer doing what he does best.

Ready to buy A Summer In St. Tropez?

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