Summer Madness

Director: David Lean

U.K.-U.S.A.| 1955. Colour. 100 mins.

David Lean’s 1955 ?lm is re-released in a beautifully restored version by the British Film Institute. Summer Madness forms a fascinating bridge—to use a characteristic Lean image— between the early ?lms (with its essentially small-scale, bittersweet account of another brief encounter) and the later ‘blockbusters’ (with its location shooting and use of colour). It is amongst the most visually beautiful and most melancholy of Lean’s works; it is also, perhaps, one of his most personal (Lean named it as his favourite), stressing the arti?ce and limitations of ?lm in the area of emotional experience so central to his world.
Jane Hudson (Katharine Hepburn), a middle-aged American spinster, arrives in Venice intending to capture all its romantic charms with a cine camera. Like other Lean heroines, she is personally creating a romantic fantasy— as is Lean himself—but in this case it is a two-dimensional one which does not involve anyone she knows. She uses the camera, like the dark glasses she wears, to retreat into self-repressing ultra-independence. The beginning of her emotional involvement with Renato (Rossano Brazzi) is signalled when she puts down her camera to look at the red goblet in his shop, where she almost leaves her glasses. Jane’s accidental fall into the canal, her urchin friend catching her camera before she goes in, results in Renato’s visit to her and declaration of love. For the remainder of her stay in Venice, Renato and direct emotional (plus sexual) experience replace the camera and glasses.
Summer Madness is a wonderful ?lm, with Katharine Hepburn’s tragicomic personality of brashness and ?uster providing many of its wonders. Above all, and perhaps more than any other Lean ?lm (even the epics), it is a work to be experienced and enjoyed: as Renato tells Jane, ‘The most beautiful things in life are those we do not understand.’

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