Spring Night Summer Night [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Flicker Alley
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th October 2020).
The Film

The Ohio town of Canaan in the Appalachian region of the United States is just like any other small American town in the late sixties. Some have settled, some run around, and some are just plain restless. All of these attitudes can be seen in the family of farmer Virgil (John Crawford) whose eldest son Carl (Ted Heimerdinger) does not respect him, his fun-loving wife Mae (Marjorie Johnson) was rumored to have been a loose woman before marriage and may still be, and his daughter Jessie (Larue Hall) has heaped her mother's chores on top of her own and is becoming a drudge. Living in close quarters, half-siblings Carl and Jessie try to ignore uncomfortable stirrings with different means of escape: Carl dreams of getting away from the farm to the city, and whispers are already starting about Jessie's reputation with the local men. When Carl catches Jessie carousing with men at a local dance, he drags her off into the field and… well, the nature of consent is a bit ambiguous. Six months later, Carl returns home after trying to make it in Columbus to discover that Jessie is pregnant and his alcoholic father is misdirecting his anger and concerns about his reputation from cheating Mae onto finding out the identity of the father of Jessie's unborn child. As Carl tries to assure Jessie of his love for her and convince her to leave town with him – bringing up the possibility that she might not even be Virgil's daughter given Mae's reputation – the number of dead ends Virgil encounters in his quest are driving him to violence.

While Night of the Living Dead and Carnival of Souls were independently-mounted in Pennsylvania and Kansas respectively by teams of filmmakers and actors with experience in television ads, highlight reels, and industrial films, the initially non-exploitative but envelope-pushing Spring Night Summer Night was the collective brainchild of Ohio State University's Department of Photography's newly-appointed film teacher Joseph L. Anderson, graduate student Franklin Miller, and local television personality Doug Rapp (who was set to star before his untimely death in a motorcycle collision with a police car driving with its lights off in the dead of night), along with film students and technicians whose only prior experience was in still photography and music recording. Five years in gestation – during which Anderson helmed three artistic short films about Ohio suburban life in addition to scientific films with Miller's physicist father – Spring Night Summer Night is a mixture of fictional narrative and a semi-ethnographic portrait of Appalachian rural life that presents quite a different, almost "suburban" look at the "backwoods" of the American Midwest during the economic downturn after the Second World War, quite in contrast not only to the image formed about rural poverty – indeed, the film was seen as inauthentic by the jurors of the Pesaro Film Festival in Italy because its impoverished characters owned cars – and other more exploitative examples like the contemporary "Hicksploitation" films or the later post-Deliverance clashes of inbred goons and city folk, be they "urban flight" idyll-seekers or chance victims of a Wrong Turn. The film presents this region of the country as a place where World War II was the good old days, with Virgil getting to see the world on tour of duty while Mae and Rose () – who has for some reason returned to the countryside while flouting her worldliness as having lived in New York – recall having their own spending money from factory work and similarly cash-loaded soldiers taking them out to dance every weekend. While Carl has settled into life as a farmer, he admits that it is Mae rather than himself as a soldier who has "seen too much" for the kind of life he wants. The younger generation like Jesse, Carl, mechanic Tom Morgan (Ron Parady) – one of the possible suspected fathers of Jessie's child – and his sunbathing girlfriend Donna (Betty Ann Parady), the only alternative to flight appears to be spinning their wheels aimlessly (Tom taking Donna for aimless rides around the countryside on his bike or Carl shooting out the headlights of Virgil's tractor knowing he will have to pay to fix them). The incestuous aspect of the story has an almost mythical resonance but the fallout is contemporary battle of the sexes, as Jessie takes less offense at Carl's assertion that she might not even be Virgil's child than that possibility being Carl's reasoning in pursuing a sexual relationship with her in the first place; on the other hand, Carl takes personal offense when Jessie suggests that Carl might not even be Virgil's child. Similarly, when Mae cannot even lie about whether Jessie is Virgil's child or not to give her some comfort, Carl calls her a "real bitch" but she retorts "They don't have a word for you." The film builds towards the possibility of two different cop-out endings before a more low-key and ambiguous resolution. The film sadly had little traction as an art film, getting bumped from the 1968 New York Film Festival in favor of John Cassavetes' Faces, and ended up in the grindhouse with X-rated inserts shot by Anderson under the semi-soapy/semi-clinical title Miss Jessica is Pregnant from exploitation honcho Joseph Brenner (Torso, Autopsy, Eyeball, The Rape Killer, Almost Human, and Shock Waves among others) before vanishing into obscurity.

Video

Rarely seen in its original form and presumably little-booked in its grindhouse form as a black-and-white feature in 1970, Spring Night Summer Night was restored by Peter Conheim's and Ross Lipman's Cinema Preservation Alliance with the financial support of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn utilizing the original 35mm camera negative which had been recut to the X-rated Brenner version and the rediscovered original negative trims, with only the original version of the sex scene having to be incorporated from a rare 35mm print. The film made its digital debut as a region free Blu-ray from Powerhouse Film's Indicator line. While the menus screens are different, Flicker Alley's Blu-ray is the exact same encode of video, audio, and extras – not unlike the shared encode/different menu U.K. BFI and U.S. Mondo Macabro Blu-rays of Symptoms. From its wide variegation of grays and stable whites during the daytime exteriors and lit interiors to the deep blacks of the night scenes, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.66:1 widescreen transfer looks quite stunning for the most part with any preservation issues difficult to tell from the rough edges of the original production. It is regrettable that neither disc included the Brenner version since that cut has too been preserved from the negative and does indeed include footage shot by the director himself.

Audio

The sole audio option is an uncompressed LPCM 1.0 mono track in which the dialogue is mostly clear but subject to the limitations of the original recording conditions – particularly the scenes with extras going about their routines without direction like the early bar dance scene – while some possible looped dialogue is perfectly in keeping with the methods of production of the time. English SDH subtitles have been included.

Extras

For a little-known "regional flick", the disc has an impressive array of supplements – ported over from the Powerhouse edition – starting with "Spring Night Summer Night: 50 Years Later" (24:23) in which we are quite relieved to discover that leads Hall, Heimerdinger, and Crawford are still with us along with director Anderson, producer Miller, and post-production sound man Tom Peterson. They discuss the origins of the project, the death of third collaborator and intended star Rapp, their initial intention to dramatize a summer stock play only to discover that it had played on Broadway and would be cost-prohibitive to license, knowing that whatever story they told would have to be shaped to the locations they were scouting, recruiting the cast and crew, and working with the Athens, Ohio locals (including the family who owned the farm and were actually living the impoverished lives of the characters). "I'm Goin' to Straitsville" (14:07) is a first-personal camera revisit by Peter Conheim of the film's rural and urban locations (including the Columbus locations used for the cut sequence depicting Carl's time away from Canaan). Much more fascinating is "In the Middle of the Nights: From Arthouse to Grindhouse and Back Again" (13:19) in which Ross Lipman narrates an account of the recutting of the film for Brenner's X-rated version and how Anderson requested that a pick-up shot from the reshoot be integrated into the original cut, as well as how the X-rated cut actually served to fill in holes and mitigate some of the ambiguities of the original with regard to the degree of consent in the film's central encounter (while also depicting how cutaways to a sex scene with Betty and Ron Paraday's characters intercut with the original sex scene change its tone). In addition to showing the footage exclusive to the X-rated cut, the featurette also includes outtakes from the original shoot and the reshoot that in one instance is far more explicit than anything in either version of the film (calling to mind some of the outtakes footage shot for the original The Seventh Dwarf of what would become Game Show Models with somewhat more mild nude inserts).

The "Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque Q&A: 17 April 2016" (47:15) features the same participants from the retrospective documentary, with Anderson and Miller repeating some information and expanding upon the early days at Ohio State while Heimerdinger recalls how he was discovered by them in an acting class on a day he was asked to do the instructing as well as spending weeks researching the lives and speech styles of the locals, Crawford discusses his stage work before the film – despite the age of his character, he was only twenty-seven at the time of the film – and Hall reveals that she got married after the film's production and worked in front of the camera and behind it with her husband in Italy. The "Behind-the-Scenes" footage assembly (62:57) plays either silent or with optional commentary by writer Franklin Miller and Peter Conheim in which the former discusses the art films that influenced himself and Anderson, how the actors were directed to play scenes amidst the dancing and drinking extras, and revealing that they got people to come to the bar by offering five dollars of fake money to spend on drinks with the production picking up the tab, not realizing how many people they would end up getting and how much beer they would be paying for at a quarter a glass. The disc also includes three short films by Anderson, with "Football as it is Played Today" (1961; 5:40) and "How Swived" (1962; 5:26) depicting life in a rural college town using undercranking, and "Cheers" (1963; 5:06) similarly revealing life in the sticks in contrast to popular depictions. Also ported from the Powerhouse edition is the still gallery of sixty-seven images.

Packaging

No longer exclusive to the Powerhouse edition is a booklet with a new essay by Ian Mantgani, Glenn Litton’s memories of director Joseph Anderson, Peter Conheim on the film’s restoration, a look at the career of distributor Joseph L Brenner, an overview of critical responses, and film credits reprinted here and hopefully in future pressings unlike the U.K. company's model of limited first pressing exclusives.

Overall

A regional flick that went from the arthouse to the grindhouse and back, Spring Night Summer Night is a rediscovered wonderful missing link in the history of American independent filmmaking, particularly the American New Wave previously dominated by West- and East-coasters.

 


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